Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions
Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. President Ernest Bai Koroma, leader of the All People's Congress (APC) party, has held office since November 2007. The APC also holds a majority in parliament, and the majority of mayoral and local council positions. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, there were serious problems in a number of areas, including: security force abuse and use of excessive force with detainees, including juveniles; police theft and extortion; harsh conditions in prisons and jails; official impunity; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged detention; restrictions on freedom of speech and press; forcible dispersion of demonstrators; harassment of opposition party supporters by ruling party members; widespread corruption; societal discrimination and violence against women; female genital mutilation; child abuse; trafficking in persons, including children; and child labor.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The U.S. strategy to promote democracy and freedom emphasizes building a strong foundation of democratic principles, fostering government transparency, and upholding human rights. To do so requires U.S. programs to promote good governance and the development of a stable political process by supporting local and international organizations that work to expand and strengthen civil society. The focus for the United States is to achieve results through targeted diplomacy and assistance in major areas of concern, including: the development and implementation of fair, transparent, and sustainable democratic processes; the empowerment of women in all avenues of life, from political to economic to social; support for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to ensure punishment for those guilty of crimes against humanity; devolution of power from the central government to regional governments; training for media to ensure accurate reporting of issues; and support for anticorruption initiatives. In addition, increasing informed civic participation of all citizens is a primary goal for the mission.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The United States promotes and supports continuing government efforts to decentralize and become more accountable. One area of focus is the rebuilding of local government institutions, which were abolished in the 1970s, but reinstituted in 2004. The United States provided training for local government leaders, who lacked understanding of the responsibilities of public servants. To support the 2008 local elections, the United States granted direct assistance to indigenous and international organizations to provide civic education, promote political parties' compliance with the election law and codes of conduct, mitigate conflict, encourage a responsible media, and strengthen civil society organizations. The United States also focused on empowering women and the physically challenged in the political process, and supported forums to encourage women's participation as voters and candidates.
The U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. officials use multiple outlets to address human rights-related issues and the need for good governance. Speeches to parliament and the public, radio interviews, development assistance programs, and other fora provide opportunities to discuss the need for engagement on women's issues, rule of law, anticorruption, and labor exploitation. U.S. officials discussed the 2008 U.S. elections at every opportunity in public fora with a focus on advancing the need for free, fair, and transparent political processes, as well as urging active public participation. Public diplomacy efforts also include support for NGOs and civil society through programs that included films, lectures, and discussions on an array of topical subjects, including civil rights, women's rights, and politics in democracy. Through the U.S. International Visitors Program, the United States provided opportunities for participants to study topics such as trafficking in persons and responsible political reporting. The program provides opportunities for free discussion and exchanges of ideas by students, journalists, civil society organizations, academics, and civil servants. The U.S. Government also supported the expansion of educational opportunities for young women and supported programs addressing gender-based violence. Through the U.S. Ambassador's Girls' Scholarship Program, the United States provides educational scholarships to send thousands of young women to primary school.
The United States is the largest contributor to the SCSL, which is charged with bringing to justice persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights in the country since 1996. U.S. officials communicate regularly with senior SCSL officials to determine how the United States can most effectively support SCSL efforts.
The United States also provided assistance to government ministries and senior officials to promote management and monitoring of the diamond industry, encourage legitimate investment, and reduce opportunities for criminal activity, including smuggling and exploitation of child workers. U.S. programs also support efforts to expand educational opportunities for nearly 10,000 children either employed in, or at risk of being employed in, the worst forms of child labor. The U.S. government supports projects that provide services to trafficking victims and that train social workers and care givers on effective psychological and social care to victims.