Tag Archives: UN

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JHR Leading Workshop Series on Human Rights Reporting in Sierra Leone for 2012 Elections

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.

Success story for Liberia, empowerment potential for Ghana

Before leaving Kumasi, myself, Laura and Ashley decided to get some expert opinions on film for our documentary projects.  We spoke to Dr. Charlotte Abeka, former United Nations (UN) chairperson and human rights expert who was scheduled to speak on Know Your Rights last week about the topic of women’s rights.  This is fitting, as she was the chairperson for the UN’s Committee on Women.  I expected to jump straight in to the questions I had for her about women’s participation in governance here in Ghana, but instead, we began to about an article she contributed to “The Circle of Empowerment”, a recent book published by a New York feminist publishing company, and her work with the UN in Liberia that inspired it.

What followed was the success story of one Ghanaian women who was able to spur on the fight for the human rights of an entire country.  It started in June 2002 during the last days of Castilla’s leadership in Liberia.  At this time, the human rights abuses were so severe that a human rights expert monitor had to be appointed under the confidential procedure due to dangers associated with the position.  Though Dr. Abeka was still the chairperson for the Committee on Women, and up to this point, no one had ever been appointed to two positions simultaneously, Dr. Abeka was offered the role.  She accepted after an allowed 48 hours to deliberate whether the task was worth the risk to her life.

She spent the next few years in Liberia, travelling around the country by armoured  car, reporting on the status of human rights.  Her confidential reports to the UN Human Rights Council (now the Human Rights Commission) detailed human rights atrocities, impelling the UN to send over an investigative team.

However, the investigative mission concluded after only five hours in Liberia where only Jack Cline, the UN special envoy to Liberia, and Castilla himself were interviewed.  The team left the country without the slightest effort to engage with everyday Liberians and even lodged for the night in Accra, Ghana.  After such a brief mission, the team delivered an exceptionally rosy report to the UN that strongly contradicted Dr. Abeka’s findings.

Thankfully, Mary Robinson, then the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, would not accept their report and called an urgent meeting of the Human Rights Council at which Dr. Abeka presented her confidential report.  According to Dr. Abeka, France, Russia, the United States, and China were outraged that the UN would carry-out such a defunct mission.  Subsequently, Dr. Abeka’s report was made public and used as the official account of the situation in Liberia.  The outcome of these events was the Accra negotiation, leading to Castilla’s arrest and placing Ghana at the forefront of the global fight for universal human rights.  The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was then signed on August 15th, 2005.  With her report and position no longer under confidentiality, Dr. Abeka continued to monitor the events in Liberia until 2008.

I am not sharing Dr. Abeka’s story with you because it is in any way miraculous or beyond belief.  On the contrary, I share her story as an example of one Ghanaian woman whose actions contributed to the protection of human rights for many.  It became clear throughout my talk with Dr. Abeka that the key to getting more women into decision-making bodies, improving women’s health and generally improving women’s livelihoods, a cornerstone of any county’s development, is empowering women through education.  This sounds simple enough, but many Ghanaians still believe that it is more important for their daughter to get married and have children than to complete their education.  It is time that Ghanaian girls and women look to those like Dr. Abeka and realize that they, too, have the potential to impact not only Ghana, but the world.