The African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA), an African not-for-profit organisation based in Ghana and dedicated to building the capacity of African Parliaments, has urged members of the newly launched parliamentary caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) and faith leaders to champion the cause of human rights, especially rights that relate to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) across Sierra Leone, especially at this critical moment the country is preparing for Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
The launching was spearheaded by ACEPA, with the support from its partners – FoRBLN, Church of England, and in collaboration with the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) and African Parliamentarians Network for Human Rights (AfriPAHR),under the auspices of the FoRBLN initiative on Friday, January 20, 2023 in Freetown, Sierra-Leone.
Present at the launching were members of the parliamentary caucus, faith based leaders (representatives of Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone), among others.
In his welcome remarks, the Executive Director of ACEPA, Dr. Rasheed Draman, explained that ACEPA and its partners firmly believe that the respect for freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental prerequisite for the advancement of peace and stability in the world, emphasising that, the right of every citizen to practice or not to practice any religion or belief is at the heart of democracy, the foundation of our shared humanity.
These beliefs, he added, are the driving force behind the efforts of ACEPA and its partners to engage with Parliaments, faith leaders and Civil Society Organizations around the world.
Dr Draman further observed that Sierra Leone is the second country on the continent, after The Gambia, to set and officially launch a Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).
This, he noted, is a clear demonstration, not only of the leadership and exemplary role of Sierra Leone on matters of religious tolerance and co-existence, but also of the value placed on FoRB in Sierra Leone.
He however assured members of the Caucus and faith leaders gathered at the launch that ACEPA and its partners would continue to work with them in the years to come to nurture and maintain religious belief and tolerance in Sierra Leone.
While commending the caucus, the ACEPA Executive Director also extended his sincere words of appreciation to the British government who, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made funding available to ACEPA and its partners to advance this noble human cause.
The Rt. Hon. Speaker of the Parliament of Sierra Leone, the Leadership and the Clerk, were equally acknowledged for the warm welcome extended to ACEPA and for providing space in Parliament for the launch of the caucus.
The Chairman of the Sierra-Leone Parliamentary caucus on FORBN, Hon Sama Sandy noted that Sierra Leone is a religious tolerant nation and therefore freedom of religion or belief is not a new phenomenon.
According to him, Section three (3) of the national Constitution enjoins the government to promote the right to freedom of religion in tandem with the article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
He added that, coming together to launch the parliamentary caucus on FoRB, is ample demonstration of “walking the talk”.
He therefore urged members of the caucus to work in collaboration with other stakeholders to advance the caucus of FoRB; and that they needed to be cognisant of creeping religious tensions and never take for granted the current peaceful co-existence among various communities in the country.
Hon Emerson Lamina, who represented the Speaker of Parliament indicated there is a unique inter-religious tolerance in Sierra Leone where people of the Islamic faith easily co-mingle with other religious faiths through inter-marriages.
Tolerance, he noted, means respect; the spirit of respect of one another’s religion underpins the religious tolerance that obtains in Sierra Leone. Hon Lamina expressed profound gratitude to the British Government and Aid Direct for funding FoRBLN project in Sierra Leone.
He assured the caucus of the Speaker’s readiness to support them to develop policies and regulations aimed at sustaining religious tolerance and upholding respect to freedom of religion or belief.
A Representative of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL), Rev. Dr. Fornah expressed his appreciation for the support the IRCSL has enjoyed through close working relation with ACEPA and its partners.
He indicated that as result of capacity enhancement (training) on FoRB provided by ACEPA to members of the IRCSL, members are now equipped with the requisite skills to engage/interact with parliament and forge a positive agenda for peace.
Rev. Dr. For ah also urged MPs to step up in replicating religious tolerance in the arena of politics with a view to fostering political tolerance and ultimately lower the embers of conflict in the upcoming elections in Sierra Leone.
The highlight of the launch of the Caucus was the signing of the Freetown Charter for Freedom of Religion or Belief. All participants present signed the Charter and committed themselves to:
a. Promote freedom of religion or belief for all persons through their work and respective institutions.
b. Enhance global cooperation by endeavouring to work across geographical, political religious lines.
c. Undertake efforts to jointly promote freedom of religion or belief, share information, and mobilize effective responses.
d. Support appropriate initiatives that advance freedom of religion or belief for women and young people;
e. Identify and support future parliamentarians and faith leaders who show a commitment to freedom of religion or belief.
Source: Contributor/ Sierra-Leone