By Ifeanyi Nwoko
A Sierra Leonean Judge, Justice Tonia Barnett has sought the support of diplomats from West African states for her candidature for the position of Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.
Barnett, the Sierra Leonean nominee, said at a dinner hosted for Ambassadors and High Commissioners from West African countries, that protection of rights had been her passion hence the zeal for the position.
The dinner was organised by the Sierra Leonean High Commission led by High Commissioner Solomon Gembeh.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Commission, based in Banjul, Gambia was established in 1987 and the term of the current Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso from Ethiopia lapses in 2021.
NAN also reports that some of the countries whose diplomats were present at the dinner with the Sierra Leonean nominee include: Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Liberia among others.
Barnett sought the support of their home governments for her candidacy, saying that having withnessed war and rights deprivation, she is very committed to the tenets of the position.
She said: “As a woman whose teenage life were robbed by rebel incursion in Sierra Leone, my upbringing made me strong and has given me an opportunity to be here tonight.
“My nomination by my President Julius Bio has garnered support from the Judiciary in Sierra Leone and Key Civil Society Organisations including the Human Rights Organisation.”
The nominee said that being a judge who has never been investigated and whose morality never questioned, she had met the qualification criteria for the job as stipulated by Article 31 of the Charter of African Human and Peoples Rights.
She said that her work as a legal practitioner and judge over the years, working mainly to protect and promote human rights, also lent credence to her work experience as a precondition.
“Before I was appointed Judge, I was a Magistrate for 11 years, hearing and determining sexual abuse cases, cruelty to children.
“As a judge of the High Court; I hear and determine cases that border on human rights. Cases like the right to family life, rights of association and right to belong to political parties.
“These are rights that border on the African Charter and human rights, treaties and conventions.
“Presently in Sierra Leone, the Chief Justice is pushing very hard to ensure that access to Justice is a right and must be enhanced and enjoyed by every citizens.
“We hold view that it is not only fair hearing, but you must have the right to make a complaint and be heard by a competent court,” she said.
Barnett who holds LLM in Women and Children Affairs, stressed that in discharging her work she upheld treaties and conventions which her country had signed and ratified.
She said that her believe in human rights resulted in a perceived controversial bail which she granted a frail-looking 75-year-old man who had prostate cancer in a case of sexual abuse.
The man, she said, had not been found guilty and could not be allowed to suffer in the poor prison facilities in his old age and ill health condition while the case was being determined.
The nominee recalled that her passion for human rights and fair hearing was kindled during the war when she saw a man hacked to death over an accusation even without hearing from him.
“Article for of the Charter on African Human And Peoples Right stipulates that the rights of man must be enhanced and that is also entailed in our constitution.
“During the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, my position was – because death is irreversible and wrongful conviction can be detrimental, I said that we should reconsider death penalty.
“To every right, there must be a corresponding responsibility. I want to enjoy my freedom of expression but I must not defame.
“With that in mind and all citizens living up to that, I think we would have a peaceful society.
“So as a candidate for the position, what I bring is vitality. We need to go down, we need to get up from the chairs and walk. We need to canvass with state parties to understand that human right issues is not just a one party issue, it is everybody’s issue.
“If the citizens’ rights are being jeopardised, it allowed for uprising and a peaceful society will not be enhanced. As Africans we want a peaceful society, we have cried too much.
“Those who have not experienced war would want war,” she said.
She assured that the role will avail her opportunity to achieve some of her dreams to impact the lives of African in slums and fostering their rights as well. (NAN)