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Cablegate: Sierra Leone's New Human Right Commission Sworn In

VZCZCXRO3207
PP RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #1018/01 3462010
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121946Z DEC 06 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0586
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0216

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FREETOWN 001018

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C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDING SIPDIS CAPTION)

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM SL
SUBJECT: SIERRA LEONE'S NEW HUMAN RIGHT COMMISSION SWORN IN

REF: FREETOWN 819

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SUMMARY
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1. (U) Sierra Leone achieved another milestone in its
post-conflict recovery on December 11 with the inauguration of the
new Human Rights Commission (HRC). The five commissioners, who were
proposed by civil society organizations, were sworn-in on
International Human Rights Day in the presence of President Kabbah,
who pledged non-interference in their work. The HRC initially will
be responsible for monitoring implementation of Sierra Leone's Truth
and Reconciliation (TRC) recommendations. The UN, which assisted
with the identification of Commissioners, continues to assist the
HRC with surplus funding from the TRC budget and a lease on a new
building in central Freetown. END SUMMARY.

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The Swearing In - Finally
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2. (U) On December 11, the Ambassador attended the swearing-in
ceremony for five members of the new Human Rights Commission (HRC).
Presiding at the ceremony at the office of the President, Minister
of Justice and Attorney-General F.M. Carew explained that the HRC
was the result of a recommendation of the 1999 Lome Peace Agreement,
and was established under the Human Rights Act passed by the
Parliament in 2004. He said that its members were proposed by
representatives from the Inter Religious Council, the Sierra Leone
Women's Forum, labor and civil society organizations, as well as by
the Association of Paramount Chiefs, in accordance with the law.
Legislation requires that two of the five members must be women, and
that two should also be lawyers. Although all the new members are
Christian, the selection process does take into account religious
and geographic considerations. The HRC mandate is to implement
recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which
published its final report in 2005 on the causes and effects of the
civil war.

3. (U) Carew announced that the GoSL had deposited $100,000 for a
Trust Fund for initial operations, but that the GoSL would continue
to look to donors for financial assistance. He credited the UN
Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) office in Geneva for sponsoring
a stakeholders' meeting to identify TRC recommendations that can be
immediately implemented by the HRC and those that will require donor
assistance.

4. (U) In his remarks, Gebremedhin Hagoss, Chief of Peace and
Governance Section of the United Nations Integrated Mission in
Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) told the audience that the HRC was
established in accordance with the 1993 Paris Agreement on Human
Rights, and that GoSL budgetary support is critical for the HRC. He
also said that beginning in January a resident advisor from the
UNHCHR would help structure the HRC, and that the UN will reallocate
remaining TRC funds for support. After the event, he told the
Ambassador that the UN is negotiating a lease on a new building in
downtown Freetown to house the HRC.

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President Kabbah Pledges HRC Independence
-----------------------------------------

5. (U) After the commissioners were sworn in, President Kabbah
emphasized that human rights violations were one of the main causes
of the 11 year war in Sierra Leone. He said that implementation of
the HRC had been delayed by the need to solicit various
stakeholders' input and by the slow UN bureaucracy. He pledged that
the GoSL would not interfere with the HRC's operations.

6. (U) One of the TRC recommendations is the abolition of the
death penalty in Sierra Leone. Noting that the U.S. ambassador was
in attendance and that the death penalty still existed in the U.S.,
Kabbah said that from apart from a few court marshals during the
civil war when individuals were executed, the GoSL had not
implemented the death penalty under the current constitution and
would not do so while he is President. He added that the death
penalty was an effective deterrent and should be "left in doubt."
He concluded his remarks stating that "I will not interfere with
verdicts of the independent judiciary, but will use my prerogative
of mercy" to commute death sentences.

7. (SBU) Conspicuously absent from the ceremony was the Chinese
Ambassador, although his car was at the President's office as guests
arrived. A number of other foreign missions were represented
including the Iranians, Libyans, French, British, Nigerians,
Germans, and Liberians.

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Composition of the Commission
-----------------------------


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8. (U) The Human Rights Commissioners were nominated, vetted and
approved by various civil society organizations. A final list of
seven nominees was prepared. While the President was able to choose
the final five commissioners from this list, he had no involvement
in the choice of the seven nominees he was presented, thereby
underscoring the independence of the Commissioners. The five
Commissioners biographies were provided reftel.

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Comment
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9. (SBU) While a long time coming, the final swearing in of the HRC
commissioners is a welcome event - timed, perhaps not
coincidentally, on Human Rights Day. While the UN has provided
Commissioners with a home and an advisor, the seed money provided by
the GOSL will not last long, and donors clearly will have to provide
support. The way the commissioners were chosen, and President
Kabbah's pledge to respect the independence of the HRC is welcome.
The HRC swearing in is a milestone as Sierra Leone consolidates
peace and security. After the opening fanfare, the GOSL will need
to stay focused and recognize their responsibility to this important
body and ensure that the work and recommendations of the
Commissioners are implemented. END COMMENT.

HULL

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