The campaign was launched by the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA) with a seminar for Members of Parliament and civil society.

Report On Two Day Seminar With Members Of The Defence And Presidential Affairs Committee On Disarming Domestic Violence And The Bill On Arms And Ammunition

July 2009

BACKGROUND

Domestic violence (DV) in Sierra Leone became a serious human rights issue during and after the eleven years of civil war. The issue was being raised and discussed by international agencies that were working with internally displaced persons in camps and trickled down to the host communities. Over the years domestic violence has become a national concern. In response, the Sierra Leone Police – as part of its security restructuring efforts - set up the Family Support Unit (FSU) to deal exclusively with domestic violence.

Consequently, domestic violence is now taken very seriously; each community in Sierra Leone has at least a Unit or one focal person, trained to handle and report domestic violence to the appropriate authorities. However, the focal persons are either ineffective or have moved out of these communities over the years, and domestic violence remains a big problem and is threatening the lives of poor and excluded people nationwide.

Women in Sierra Leone, who are mostly victims of domestic violence, have developed a culture of silence simply because the perpetuators are hardly punished by either the state or the traditional leaders. In fact, most women have accepted these crimes as part of their way of life.

To help address this issue, Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms launched the Disarming Domestic Violence Campaign in Sierra Leone in June 2009 as part of events to mark the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence.

Disarming Domestic Violence is a campaign spearheaded and led by International Action Network on Small Arms and it is the first International campaign aimed at protecting women from gun violence in the home. Documented reports from other countries corroborate claims that perpetrators of Domestic Violence use firearms to harm partners and that most often that not, where arms are involved, DV results to serious fatalities, including death.

In Sierra Leone, a survey result indicates that at the moment Sierra Leoneans do not use firearms in DV, except in extreme cases, rather, they have used other weapons like knives, sticks, stones, and machetes.

However, even though deaths and injuries are not commonplace in Sierra Leone, yet we need to take action in a bid to forestall such happening in future. It is in this vein that the campaign is engaging the government to fast track the passage into law of The Arms and Ammunition Bill and the establishment of a National Commission on Small Arms and Light Weapons, as prescribed by the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms, which Sierra Leone has ratified.

The primary goal of the seminar, and by extension the Campaign, is for the government to harmonize gun and domestic violence laws, which among other clauses should make it mandatory for spouses and partners to be consulted before a gun license is granted - an essential measure to protect women. The rationale for this is that, the nonexistence of these laws does not only expose women to harsher forms of DV, but also deprives community people from legitimately licensing their guns.

Both SLANSA and Action Aid believe that incorporating specific and unambiguous clauses in the proposed bill would mitigate the vulnerability of women and young girls to domestic violence inspired by small arms abuse and misuse in the home.

Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA), with support from Action Aid-Sierra Leone, engaged members of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Presidential Affairs at the seminar room of Parliament on July 21 and 27 respectively.

For the purpose of this seminar, the target was members of the parliamentary Committee on Defence and Presidential Affairs.

OPENING COURTESIES

Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Captain (Rtd) Abdul R. Kamara, welcomed participants, organizers and guest to the seminar. He commended the contribution of SLANSA to post-conflict peace, security and stability through advocacy on human security and disarmament, and made mention of the long working relationship between SLANSA and his Committee.

Ms. Joseline Secky, an intern at the Action Aid introduced the chair of the seminar, Mrs. Ebun James as the Director Human Rights and Social Services at the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, a social worker, educationist and an advocate of the rights of children. In her opening remarks, Mrs. James revealed that the Sierra Leone signed the instrument on the right of the child in 1990. She also maintained that both the government and parliament have enacted various other laws aimed at fostering and enhancing human rights and security, whilst also acknowledging that Sierra Leone has joined global partners in discussing the need for security and development, and attitudinal change in every facets of society, including how men and women relate to each other in society. Mrs. James emphasized that the purpose of the meeting was for the organizers and MPs to discuss the bill and make recommendations where necessary aimed at positively influencing the mindset of MPs into making the gender-friendly when it would be tabled before parliament.

The Coordinator for SLANSA Florella Hazeley in the overview said SLANSA is a consortium of civil society organizations that work on small arms control as part of their contribution to enhancing human security. She revealed that since 1996, no license had been issued to prospective gun owners. She said the time was right to discuss some of these problems as government is about to enact a new law on arms and ammunition. Mrs. Hazeley dilated that the goal of DV campaign was to deny persons with a violent history the right to own a licensed gun in a bid to address the protection of spouses in the home – the main theater of domestic violence.

In her remarks, Mrs. Zainab Senesis of Action Aid told the seminar that women are at the center of her organisation’s new policy shift. Accordingly, she justified, because women represent 52% of the population, yet the male patriarchal status-quo makes them more vulnerable. She talked about the rights of human beings to life, food and security, among others and opined that people’s rights are being violated routinely as a result of domestic violence. By way of a response, she said, such should not be tolerated in a post-conflict country like Sierra Leone, where the populace, especially women, have been traumatized a lot. Ms. Senesie maintained that her organization, like SLANSA, works towards reducing hazards. She underscored the need to engage MPS of the Defence Committee in a bid to make the bill on Arms and Ammunition gender friendly. Also, she argued, without the bill, legitimate hunters are deprived of their livelihood, wild animals continue to ravage crops and threaten the peace of communities, whilst rampant armed robberies, with the attendant rape of women and girls would continue. Hence, she pleaded with the MPs to consider the Seminar significant since the bill would address the plight of poor and marginalized persons, including women.

PRESENTATION ON THE PROPOSED BILL

Mrs. Hazeley did a presentation on the proposed Arms and Ammunition Bill. She used this opportunity to highlight the few gray areas the SLANSA-Action Aid partnership would want MPs to input into positively so as to positively impact domestic violence against women. Specifically, she admonished, for the purpose of this seminar and the overarching goal of the campaign of Disarming Domestic Violence in Sierra Leone, MPs should inter alia pay due cognizance to Article 20 which covers the criteria for obtaining license to own firearms. Whilst not oblivious of the significance of the other conditions for granting license, however, the presenter posited that an additional clause should be added, wherein, a spouse should testify whether or not an applicant had been a perpetrator of domestic violence before a license could be given or rejected. This she emphasized would act as a bulwark against domestic violence involving a gun which could invariably result to serious injuries or death.

By way of response, some MPs remarked that women play an integral role in the community, including the home and therefore should have a role to play in whether or not their spouses should hold guns. On the other hand though, others were of the view that such could give women too much power and hence subject to abuse or manipulation. However, it was impressed on the MPs who frowned on giving women such a “powerful” role that “spouse” could mean either man or woman. The presenter also stated that such an addition to the draft bill would go a long way in fighting the culture of silence in the home, especially where abused women are too timid to come forward and reveal the truth about the pains they are made to suffer in the hands of abusive spouses.

Meanwhile, to answer the question as to what happens if a license was granted to a spouse who suddenly becomes abusive, it was explained that the Bill makes provision for checks and balances wherein licenses could be cancelled, suspended and even forfeited, depending on the seriousness of the offence. That notwithstanding, licenses are renewable annually and in each application the spouse has to ascertain whether or not the applicant had been abusive before a new license is issued. Meanwhile, Ms. Senesie stressed that even if domestic violence in the country was not being perpetrated by the use of guns, yet the bill should be passed having in mind both the present and the future generations.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Day One of the seminar ended with agreement from all parties that the documents before the committee should be taken home and studied thoroughly before the next round of meeting on Monday, July 27. This was partly necessitated by the fact that most, if not all the MPs were only seeing the Bill for the first time.

Furthermore, a consensus was reached that the Bill should borrow from some key sections of the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons.

DAY TWO – Monday, July 27 2009

Proceedings recommenced on Day Two with the usual courtesies and pleasantries extended to MPs present. The chair of the Defence Committee, Hon. Abdul Rahman Kamara acknowledged that some progress has been made since the start of the seminar. He did consent that Article 20; subsection four of the Bill should be restrictive by way of sanctioning that a certified testimony of a spouse as to violent nature or not of the partner should be a sacred criterion for the issuance of any gun license. With facilitation from Mrs Florella Hazeley, MPs and the rest of the other participants saw the need to add, delete and rephrase some relevant sections of the proposed Bill in other to make it gender friendly. To this end, the following was agreed:

  • In Article 20, subsection (i), the age limited for qualification to own a gun was reduced to Eighteen (18) years from the previous twenty-five (25).
  • In the same Article, subsection (iv) was modified to read: “has record of good behaviour duly certified by any person of note in his/her community and family”. Accordingly, “certified” replaced “testified”, “her” and “family” added.
  • In addition, a new subsection (iv b) is added to read: “has a record of non-violence nature in the home duly certified by the spouse”.
  • In Article 21, subsection (2 a), in addition the Office of National Security, the proposed National Commission on Small Arms was deemed competent enough to seat on the Small Arms Advisory Board.
  • Also, Civil Society working on small arms and disarmament was recommended to seat on the said Advisory Board.
  • In Article 22, subsection B 1, for the offence of illegal possession and use of small arms, it was agreed the guilty person: “on summary conviction to a fine not less than five million leones or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both such fine and imprisonment”
  • Meanwhile, whilst not oblivious of the need to harmonise some sections of the ratified ECOWAS Convention with our domestic law on guns, it was proposed that some relevant sections of the Convention be captured in the Bill. As a result, participants decided to co-opt some sections of Chapter V of the Convention, titled Operational Mechanism which deals with control of possession of small arms and light weapons by civilians.
  • To this end, Article 14 subsections C, D and E of the Convention was recommended to be part of the Bill but to read:
  • “Proof from the Sierra Leone Police of a legitimate reason to possess, carry or use for each small arms;
  • Proof from the Sierra Leone Police that the prospective owner has undergone safety training and competency training including training in the relevant laws regarding small arms; and
  • Proof that the weapon will be stored in a safe place and separately from its ammunition.

CLOSING REMARKS

Upon the completion of the above modifications and provisions to the Bill on Arms and Ammunition, SLANSA and Action Aid thanked members of the Defence and Presidential Committee, for making the seminar an interesting and fruitful one. On their part, the MPs promised to continue perusing both the Bill and the Convention in preparation for when the Bill will be tabled to Parliament. They also undertook to keep SLANSA informed about the Bill in order that further work would be done on it.

HIGHLIGHTS ON A ROUNDTABLE MEETING WITH THE DEFENCE COMMITTEE & PRESIDENTIAL AFFAIRS IN PARLIAMENT

The Human Security Theme together with the Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms facilitated the holding of a day’s session with parliamentarians from the defence committee & presidential affairs to discuss the bill on Arms and Ammunition.

The last Arms & Ammunition law was the 1955 law, this is now obsolete and cannot be used, the HS theme is engaging this process from two angles;

  1. Since the disarmament process in 2004 no guns have been licensed so some groups such as the local militias who were disarmed have been unable to license there guns, so legally they are not suppose to own a firearm; because of this they are having difficulties in providing for their families and also unable to protect their communities from danger such as wild animals. Most times when these animals attack women, children and the aged are the most vulnerable.
  2. From another angle we want to ensure this bill reads gender friendly by ensuring women who are in violent relationships are protected from fatal domestic violence.

The point on making the bill gender friendly was not deemed necessary by the committee but we went into a short debate and by the end of which they grudgingly gave their consent to have it in. Our suggestion was not to allow a person with a violent history to license a gun, and one way of assuring this is maintained is not to just rely on the community & police but also to get the spouse to sign on the registration form to confirm eligibility; this way if the woman has been suffering some form of violation she will have an opportunity to speak out and protect herself and her kids. Below is a short summary of what ensued in the meeting.