In less than two months, Sierra Leoneans will head to the polls for the third time since the end of a civil war. The country has been peaceful for just over a decade, and though the past two elections have been relatively free of civil unrest or violence, some worrying political events of the past year are causing concern whether 2012 will be a peaceful one.
The media plays a significant role disseminating and communicating information to the public throughout the election process. It can help to facilitate peaceful and transparent elections, but it can also be a tool for inciting violence and discrimination, jeopardising human rights.
The media are also able to use elections as an opportunity to hold politicians accountable for the promises made during the campaigning period. After all, the results of these votes will affect the entire country for the next five years.
On September 12, 2012, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to assist in the preparation and conduct of the elections. They call the elections a “key benchmark” for peace consolidation in the West African country, extending the mandate of the UNIPSIL, as the United Nations presence in the country is known, until the end of March 2013, in part, to assist the Government in the run-up to a “potentially transformational event.”
In this meeting, the Security Council emphasised the the important and positive role that the media can play through accurate and balanced reporting, and called on practitioners to remain committed to providing professional, independent, and factual coverage and to promoting public education and dialogue during the electoral period.
In the lead-up to the November 17, 2012 polls, Journalists for Human Rights is receiving support from the UNIPSIL – the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding in Sierra Leone- and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to host an eight week workshop series for Sierra Leonean journalists.
Beginning on October 11, journalists from media houses across Freetown will study and report on a variety of human rights concerns that emerge during the election period. Topics covered will include election timelines, human rights issues, election legislation, story-gathering techniques, and safety considerations. Participants will produce three human rights election stories each, for publication or broadcast at media houses. The workshop series will conclude with an awards ceremony, coinciding with International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2012.
Though it is natural for a certain amount of tension to exist in the lead-up to such a momentous event, this application of democracy has great potential to encourage politicians to commit to improving human rights in their constituencies.
To learn more about jhr’s work in Sierra Leone during the 2012 Presidential Elections, visit http://www.jhr.ca/en/sled.php.