Christian Lawyers Centre condemns Police intimidation letter to the Medical & Dental Association

Radhid Dumbuya, Head of Christian Lawyers Centre Radhid Dumbuya, Head of Christian Lawyers Centre

CHRISTIAN LAWYERS CENTRE (a.k.a LEGAL LINK) is a non– profit legal company that provides legal assistance through public interest litigation in the courts, hold state and private actors accountable, provide comprehensive legal education and sensitization, seek redress and justice for the religious community as well as vulnerable groups; and enforce respect for domestic and international laws that guarantee fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Christian Lawyers Centre has received numerous complaints from vulnerable groups and persons about the ongoing health workers strike action and its impact on their right to health, life and dignity as a person.

It could be recalled that the Sierra Leone Medical & Dental Association as well as the Junior Doctors Association staged a nationwide protest several weeks ago in a bid to agitate for comprehensive healthcare reforms within Sierra Leone’s healthcare system.

Amongst the numerous demands sought by the health workers includes improved salaries and better conditions of service. Negotiations between the health associations and the ministries of health and finance have seen however several twist and turns and have also been largely unsuccessful.

The impact of the deadlock in negotiations has been far and wide reaching. There are unconfirmed reports that a lot of people in hospitals have been adversely affected leading to fatal consequences. Vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, pregnant women, lactating mothers, children as well as older persons have been worse hit by the on-going strike action.

Admittedly, while such strike actions have occurred in time past, Christian Lawyers Centre is particularly concerned over the prolong and staggering engagements that have ensued so far and the way and manner in which the current negotiations are being handled as well as the state institutions that have voluntarily involved themselves in the negotiation process.

Notably and with particular concern is the letter written by the top management of the Sierra Leone Police dated 13th December 2018 inviting the President of the Sierra Leone Medical & Dental Association at the police headquarters for an engagement over the impasse.

Without prejudice to the constitutional duty of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) to ensure law and order and protect lives and properties, it is certainly an overstretch for the SLP to intervene over a peaceful protest by legitimate associations acting through lawful means to seek the welfare of their members. The invitation by the police could therefore be best described as a ‘subtle intimidation tactics’ aimed at silencing and suppressing the legitimate aspirations of health workers in the country.

In support of this view, we note with utter consternation and disbelief that the Sierra Leone Police in their letter dated 13th December 2018 never saw the need and importance to invite all the relevant parties for a comprehensive engagement (the Minister of Health, the Minister of Finance, the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, the Junior Doctors Association and even civil society organizations working around health rights)but rather decided to only limit the invitation to the President of the Sierra Leone Medical & Dental Association.

This omission, we humbly submit, questions the SLP’s claim to have acted in good faith since a comprehensive resolution cannot have been reached in the absence of the other relevant parties within the health sector.

It is important to also emphasize that Sierra Leone is a signatory to many international and regional instruments that guarantees the right to health. Chief amongst many others are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR), CEDAW, the ILO Conventions and Labour Standards, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights,the Maputo Protocol and the Abuja Declaration on Health to name but a few.

All of the above legal instruments put obligations on the government of Sierra Leone to absolutely guarantee the right to health for its citizens and ensure improved conditions of service for healthcare workers. Any attempt therefore to deviate from these obligations would amount to a violation of international law.

While the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone does not guarantee the right to health as well as its enforceability, it is vital to stress however that the same constitution under section 16 does guarantee the right to life and approves of its enforceability in the courts of law should there be a violation of the same.

It is this window of opportunity that Christian Lawyers Centre aims to explore and bring public interest litigations in the superior courts of Sierra Leone for and on behalf of vulnerable groups and suffering masses that have been worse hit by this impasse should this matter continues to persist.

No doubt, a state’s failure to address the comprehensive healthcare challenges of its citizens would negatively affect their enjoyment of the right to life.THIS IS THE PREMISE OF OUR CASE!

While we acknowledge the immense strides that have been made by government in terms of budgetary support to the health sector, we hope that the government of Sierra Leone through its relevant institutions and agencies will speedily resolve this matter in the best interest of the suffering masses.

END

LEGAL TEAM

Christian Lawyers Centre (Legal Link)

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