Training workshop involving Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus members on Freedom of Religion or Belief

The two-day training workshop for members of Sierra Leone Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) took place at the New Brookfields Hotel, Freetown, Sierra Leone on 20-21 January, 2023. Twenty-two (22) MPs participated in the training workshop, of this number, three (3) were female, two MPs and a committee clerk.  The remaining nineteen were male.  The overarching objective of the training workshop was in two folds, firstly to ensure participants have a shared understanding of what freedom of religion or belief stands for, enhance their appreciation of global trends with respect to challenges to FoRB, and map out pathways aimed at enhancing the protection and promotion of FoRB. The second objective is foster interface between Parliament/Parliamentarians and Civil society   actors with the prospects of building a mutually beneficial relationship between civil society groups and parliamentarians.

Session one  examined the potential benefits of collaboration between Parliamentarians and civil society organisations (CSOs). The facilitator, Mr. Issifu Lampo explored the historical mistrust and latent antagonism between Parliamentarians and civil society organisations that has encumbered fruitful collaboration between the two groups. He noted that even though CSOs have organisational missions,  they however,  do not have direct mandate to speak for the people whose interests they seek to represent in contrast to parliamentarians who were duly elected by the electorate.

Session two hovered around the concept of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), it looked at the various elements of FoRB with a view to ensuring all participants have a shared understanding of FoRB, and be in a position to sensitize others on FoRB. The facilitator noted that FoRB is a human right that we all equally have as members of the human family. He added that it is an important right that protects our freedoms, based on the conscience and reason humans are blessed with. He also underscored the fact that FoRB is a fundamental human right anchored in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 18 of UDHR asserts that ‘’everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’’

Mr. Issifu Lampo, the facilitator stressed that in as much as FoRB is a fundamental human right, there are circumstances where these rights can justifiably be circumscribed. This, he noted can only be done in exceptional circumstances, and the threshold of these limitations are usually high and these must be backed with verifiable evidence. It was pointed out that FoRB does not protect harming others, including through physical or psychological force or coercion. This includes limiting freedom of religion or belief by restricting access to healthcare, education or employment based on an individual’s religion or belief.

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