UN rights report praises Sierra Leone but warns about poor living standards

The West African country “has provided a basis for lasting peace” after years of civil war by establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, setting up the Special Court to hear war crimes trials, disarming and reintegrating thousands of former fighters, and conducting multi-party local elections, Louise Arbour says.With the help of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), magistrates’ courts, police stations and jail services have been commissioned and staff are being trained to fill positions in those areas according to international standards.But the report states that Sierra Leone is well behind schedule to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and ranks last on the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) annual Human Development Index.Corruption and mismanagement, a lack of private investment, low salaries and rising inflation means most citizens have “an abysmally low standard of living.”Basic local products, such as rice and palm oil, which constitute the staple food, are overpriced, with harmful consequences for the economic wellbeing of the people.”The report raps Sierra Leone’s Government for its failure to enshrine and uphold many social, civil and political rights. Judges and magistrates are poorly trained and rare in number, literacy rates are low and women face entrenched discrimination – especially in areas such as inheritance and land ownership – because of cultural traditions.Guaranteeing such rights, and improving basic living standards, are vital “as the best preventive measure against a return to war,” according to the report.The High Commissioner also says her office is committed to pressing the Government to tackle “chronic and rampant human rights issues,” including trials being conducted with legal representation and the failure to harmonize domestic laws with international rights treaties.The Security Council decided earlier this year to extend the life of UNAMSIL, which had been slated to wind up by December, until the middle of next year.

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