Sunday, September 26, 2010

Parliament member in Sierra Leone says police don't know how to handle disability issues

From the Concord Times in Sierra Leone:

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — A ruling party Member of Parliament has accused the Sierra Leone police of lacking the personnel, capacity and awareness to handle issues dealing with access to justice for persons with disability.

Speaking during the opening of a round table discussion on access to justice for persons with disability and the proposed pre-legislative meeting on the Disability Bill 2010 organised by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, Hon. Julius Nye Cuffie - a disabled person himself - said miscarriage of justice always starts from the police, noting, "The police lack the capacity, personnel and awareness to man the access to justice for disabled persons."

"It is a shame that the police, which is an integral part of criminal justice in Sierra Leone, has refused to attend the meeting. There is no specialized training in the judge's rule for police officers taking into consideration persons with disability." he said. Hon. Cuffie urged the police, prisons and judiciary to train their personnel in order to be able to handle access to justice issues for disabled persons.

"If the police are the first to begin to boycott issues of justice for the disabled, then such a trend will continue even in the court of law," Hon. Cuffie maintained. The APC MP further observed that the juvenile justice system in the country was nothing to write home about, adding that the ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs was not up to the task of addressing such a 'thorny issue'.

A representative from the Human Rights Commission, Patrick James Taylor, said the aim of the discussion was to create a dialogue with authorities in the administration of justice and the community of persons with disability on human rights-based practice on the access to justice.

"The forum will also establish a common understanding so that access to justice for disabled persons will become a reality. Several cases have been recorded where disabled persons find it very difficult to access justice," he said.

President of the Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues, Kabba Franklyn Bangura, thanked the commission for organizing such a discussion, which he said would go a long way in addressing access to justice for the members. A representative from the Social Welfare ministry, Unisa Conteh, said access to justice remains a critical building block in democratic society.

He said government recognizes that persons with disability are valuable human resource of the country, and therefore his ministry would give preference to juvenile justice in the coming year.

The forum also discussed basic understanding of human rights and international human rights instruments, challenges facing persons with disability in seeking justice and the role of civil society organizations in the protection of access to justice with reference to disabled persons, among others.