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OPENING REMARKS DELIVERED BY SHEKA TARAWALIE, DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS

My Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. Joseph Bandabla Dauda, members of the high table, all other protocols observed…

The need for a police force in any country needs not be over-emphasised; or perhaps needs to be over-emphasised. I’ve heard of countries without an army – countries like Costa Rica, Mauritius and Andorra are without a standing army – but no country can do without a police force. Even the Vatican City, which is a country within a country, has its own police in the form of the Swiss Guards regiment.

As long as communities exist in the modern world, there has to be law and order, there has to be a protection of lives and property, and there has to be a police force. The general civilian population needs protection – hence the need for the police.

In essence, the primary job of the police is to protect the general population from the inevitable inimical activities of criminals. In order for this responsibility to be carried out effectively and efficiently, there has to be trust between the two.

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I must admit that it is a very delicate and crucial trust. Crime scenes can be chaotic and hyper-suspicious. The professionalism of the police would be called to order at the highest level. If during the execution of their duties, the police kill or manhandle people, there has to be some justification, there needs to be an explanation to ward off any suspicion of impunity or the impression that the police themselves are above the law. Not at all, No one is above the law. The police are not above the law. But the incidences of police high-handedness or killings are not akin to any one police force in the world. It is a universal issue. In fact, killing is not prohibited in the police force. The police would always try, should always try, to avoid killings. But there are circumstances when they would be required to use their weapons against those who threaten state security.

In August 2012, the New York police decided to shoot a man carrying a knife in Times Square, killing him on the spot. The police said he was a threat to security and that he refused an order to surrender. Yet there were people saying the police should have shot him in the leg and incapacitate him. In the UK in 2005, the British police shot and killed Jean Charles De Menezez, a Brazilian national, at a train station on suspicion of being a terrorist. It was later found out that he was innocent. Questions asked included, ‘could the police not have done a better job?’ In Sierra Leone, there have been several cases of police killings (The latest one happening yesterday at Lumley Beach where a man wielding a weapon was killed by the police. The public is now asking questions). Hence the need for greater supervision and civilian control over police activities!

This need is felt at the UN level through the Human Rights Council. Philip Alston, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in making the case for greater civilian monitoring of the police, stated that, “While not all killings by the police are unlawful, the circumstances in which the police may use lethal force are strictly circumscribed by international human rights law. In short, the police may only intentionally use lethal force where it is necessary to protect life…” And he went on to assert that, “International human rights law requires that police killings are thoroughly investigated, and that the police responsible for unlawful actions are prosecuted and convicted… If violations are left unpunished, a culture of impunity forms, which in turn encourages further violations.” He therefore stated that “An independent and effective complaints system is essential for securing and maintaining public trust and confidence in the police, and will serve as fundamental protection against ill-treatment and misconduct….”

And just this year, Sierra Leone has been made a member of the UN Human Rights Council.  By so doing, we have been put on the spot. We cannot afford to be left behind. In other countries like the UK and the US, there are independent bodies given the responsibility to provide civilian oversight on police excesses. In the example of the case I made mention of earlier about De Menezez in the UK, pressure from the public and the Independent Police Complaints Commission forced the British police to financially compensate the family of the victim; while the USA Times Square incidence was established as a case of lawful killing by the police.

The current status quo in Sierra Leone of the police investigating the police through the CDIID is certainly not enough. The public will never be satisfied if their complaints against police officers are also or just handled by police officers. They hardly know the difference. The problem is compounded by the fact that serving in any department in the police is rotational or moveable, meaning a police officer who is a head of Traffic today would be head of CDIID tomorrow or vice versa. The public is therefore wary of the current set up.

And this is not to say that the CDIID has not been doing a good job. There have been cases where police officers have been investigated, arrested, charged to court, suspended or dismissed as the case may be. We have been able to even lend credence to the credibility of the police by introducing the Local Police Partnership Boards requiring the police to work with community leaders in the execution of their duties. But still this is not enough – it is not enough in the eyes of the public; it is not enough in the eyes of human rights campaigners. Government has had to set up commissions of enquiry to investigate certain complaints and come out with recommendations. But this is still not enough.

The answer lies in the setting up of an independent police complaints board, manned wholly and solely by civilians, with a running secretariat purposely devoted to investigating complaints from members of the public with regards police excesses.

By virtue of the powers given to it by the Constitution of Sierra Leone, through Section 158 the Police Council, responding to the aforementioned needs, drafted a bill to the effect, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The draft bill has now got cabinet approval and is on its way to Parliament. With support from the DFID-funded Access to Security and Justice Programme (ASJP), the Ministry of Internal Affairs is launching this nation-wide sensitization campaign to further cement the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ through a strong and trusted relationship between the police and the public. It has to be said that the IPCB does not end the work of the CDIID, as the former would only deal with very serious complaints like deaths and injuries resulting to contacts with the police, or matters that the commission would deem necessary to investigate.

I would like to state that this draft bill should not be seen as an indictment on the police; but as an inducement for more professional work. This is why, hand in hand with this proposed bill, we are also putting the final touches to another document that primarily looks at the improvement of the welfare, terms and conditions of serving personnel in the Sierra Leone Police. A common parlance is, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ I would like to add that ‘from whom much is expected, much should be given.’

If a policeman is hungry, you can’t expect him to reach the ideals of his career. The hardworking government of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma is very much aware of this. That is why even before the formulation of this draft bill, the government went ahead to demonstrate its commitment to improving the conditions of police personnel by providing rice, vehicles, arms, uniforms, boots, overseas deployment, frequent trainings and many other inducements that greatly helped them in providing adequate and satisfactory security during the November 2012 elections.  Special congratulations to the Inspector General of Police and all members of the Sierra Leone Police. And just the other day, I heard Parliament heaping praises on the police force for financial transparency and accountability. More congrats!

Having said that, the Ministry of Internal Affairs believes that, judging by the spirit of cooperation got from all stakeholders, including the leadership of the police, this draft bill will get the approval of Parliament, the assent of the President, and the acceptance of the public in order for us to forge ahead on the road to building a decent, developed and civilised society through President Koroma’s ‘Agenda for Prosperity’.

I thank you all and God bless you, God bless Sierra Leone

SHEKA TARAWALIE
Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs
Ministry of Internal Affairs
48 Liverpool Street
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Tel. +232 33 232 989 / +232 76 795 293
Email – shekitotee@yahoo.com

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