The Anti-Elections Violence Platform campaign of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board has entered its final and crucial phase following successful presidential runoff. This phase of the campaign will last for four months, to end in July.
The Anti-Elections Violence Platform is an initiative of the Board aimed at ensuring credible and peaceful elections. Prior to the March 2018 elections, the platform organised community outreach events on the Public Elections Act 2012, civic responsibility and human rights. They also mediated disputes, especially those with the potential to cause violence, political intolerance, undue influence on members of the community to vote in a particular way and the destruction of campaign materials of opponents.
During that period, the Board's lawyers defended 257 such cases - nine in the High Court and 248 in the Magistrate Court - involving accused persons charged with election related offences.
Also, the Board's lawyers and paralegals provided legal assistance to suspects who were being investigated for electoral offences.
Moreover, the paralegals intervened directly in incidences of violence between supporters of political parties around the country. The Board's paralegal in Freetown, Mathew Belden, had to intervene to quell violent confrontations between supporters of the All People's Congress (APC) and Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) in Chapel Street, Brookfields Hotel, Ogoo Lane in Brookfields and Old Railway Line in Freetown.
"The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles, drew my attention to this violence and asked me to intervene with a view to resolving them," Mathew said.
Mathew spoke to both parties and used a public address system to talk about the need for peace and for people to understand that political differences are normal because at the end of the day people will support different parties.
With the elections behind us, the campaign will focus on unifying the country after divisive elections. This will involve Board staff and partners in civil society holding joint community outreach events to preach peace and reconciliation.
Additionally, the Board paralegals will spend time in communities to identify and mediate disputes. They will also identify sources of conflicts within the community and take proactive steps to avert them.
"There is serious tension among members of some communities in the aftermath of the elections as evidenced in the eruption of violence in parts of the country," the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles said. "As we speak Kono has become the hotspot. We have to come together with our partners to stop this ugly trend. It is also important that the politicians speak to their supporters not to resort to violence."
The Legal Aid Board will meet with it partners in civil society on Thursday, April 12 to reflect on successes and challenges in the March 2018 elections. More importantly, they will discuss messaging and strategy for the post-election campaign.