The chairperson for the training, Lawyer Francis Gabiddon said the organizations represented at the training have a pivotal role to play in ensuring free, fair and credible elections. ‘If we do not get the elections right, we risk undermining the peace,’ he said. He added that the organizations represented at the training have the capacity to prevent election violence by embarking on community sensitization and resolving old disputes and grudges in the community.
The Consultant to the Legal Aid Board, Madam Memunatu Pratt, Head of Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Fourah Bay College led discussions in the following areas: Elections & Electoral Violence; Peace, Conflict and Violence; Causes of Electoral Violence, Disputes and Conflicts; Election Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in Electoral Conflict Mitigation and Elections Conflict Mitigation, Legal Education and Representation.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles sensitized the participants on the Public Elections Act 2012 focusing on electoral offences.
Madam Pratt spoke on the politics of colour and profiling which should be eschewed to ensure peaceful elections. ‘People should be at liberty to wear colours of their choice without being falsely accused of being partisan,’ she said. ‘We all have our colours and should not be harassed or intimidated for wearing them.’
Madam Pratt returned to a regular theme regarding relying on social media for information. She warned against relying on social media and rumours for information on the electoral processes and results of elections. She said people should rely on our newspapers, radios and televisions for information because we have institutions that will hold them to account if they break the law.
She added that the people should respect the rights of others to belong to a political party and participate in the electoral processes. In addition, they should not engage in activities including secret societies that will instill fear in people and stop them from exercising their rights to participate in the elections.
The participants suggested that sport galas and musical concerts should be organized to bring communities together and sensitize them on issues of peace and credible elections.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles explained the electoral offences to the participants. These include vote buying, destroying posters of opponents, undue influence, aiding and abetting and impersonation.
Prior to the commencement of the training, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles explains the aimed of the workshop. She said the training is the third in a series meant to empower staff of the Board and partners to work with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for peaceful and credible elections.
‘It is important for these groups to be well aware and sensitized on the electoral offences, causes of electoral violence and strategies to mitigate electoral disputes and conflicts,’ she said. ‘It is hoped that at the end of this training our Trusted Partners will be well capacitated to understand when, where and how to avoid electoral conflicts and violence.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said to provide effective legal education and representation for clients in all the districts, the Board would need to work with its satellite offices, the Community Advisory Bureaus, and trusted partners.
The President of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, Jennings Wrights said the country has a lot to learn from the peaceful conduct of the recent elections in Liberia. He spoke on the importance of tolerance. ‘We can agree to disagree on issues of politics and still be on speaking terms,’ Wright said. ‘We can argue because without it politics will not be sweet but this should not degenerate into violence.’