ACEPA Trains Members of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL)

The two-day training workshop involving members of the inter-religious members of Sierra Leone aimed to equip participants with critical skill sets that will enable them to effectively engage key stakeholders, particularly Parliamentarians in the quest to maintain peace and tranquillity in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections slated for June 2023.  The training also sought to introduce participants to the concept of Freedom of Religion or Belief, (FoRB), and to understand and appreciate the challenges and opportunities of FoRB in the context of Sierra Leone. The training on FoRB provided participants with a shared understanding of the basic concepts of FoRB and examined both the legal and ethical perspectives of FoRB.  A major plank of the training focused on the workings of parliament, procedures and norms that guide the work of parliamentarians, entry points for outsiders seeking to influence proceedings in parliament as well as knowing key actors in parliament.

On day one, The facilitator, Dr. Rasheed Draman noted that the primary role of parliament is to legislate; conduct oversight by exacting accountability from the executive; represent citizens’ interests in the House, and to conduct constituency work, seeing to the day-to-day concerns of constituents. He observed that even though parliamentarians are inclined to place much premium on the legislative responsibilities, it is becoming increasingly clear that citizens on the other hand place greater emphasis on MPs’ constituency responsibilities.

There was a debate as to whether the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone constituted a civil society organization or not.  Eventually, it was agreed that IRCSL is a civil society organization because it possesses most of the attributes of a CSO such as independent, self-governing, and non-governmental, and has both regional and national reach. CSOs were variously described by participants as the ‘’voice of the people, fight for the rights of all, advocate for change, independent body with a passion for change.’’

The presentation sought to contrast CSO mandate and functions with that of parliament and also highlighted areas they could collaborate for better development outcomes.

The second-day presentations focused on unpacking what Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) stands for, understanding and appreciating the global trends that have catalytic effects in promoting FoRB, and challenges that tend to undermine progress of FoRB. and measures being adopted to overcome these challenges.

Participants were asked to share their understanding about the concept of FoRB, and below are some of their thoughts:

-rights to belong to any religion

-no discrimination for one’s religious beliefs

-right to choose for myself

-FoRB is a double-edged sword-on the one hand, advocates for freedom of religion or belief, on the other hand, it has been weaponised to foster anti-religious feelings

-it promotes ideology that is anti-religion, new to our culture

-LGBT promotion through religion, is a threat to FoRB  

Clearly, some of the views expressed by participants amply justified the selection of this topic for training; it was crucially important to disabuse some these misconceptions about FoRB.

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