SIERRA Leone’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mamadi Gobeh Kamara (pictured), has spoken of the country’s ‘religious tolerance’, which she described as ‘one of a kind and worthy of emulation’.
She said: ‘My country…is blessed with committed people who continue to demonstrate, uphold and nurture this cultural phenomenon.’
She was speaking at the recent International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in London.
The two-day gathering brought together governments, parliamentarians, faith and belief representatives, and civil society to urge increased global action on freedom of religion or belief for everyone.
Addressing the over 700 delegates from more than 100 countries, Ms Kamara highlighted the religious diversity of Sierra Leone’s demography with members of different belief systems ‘associating peacefully and practising their faiths freely’.
‘…it is worth noting that Sierra Leone’s Constitution and other national policies provide for the protection and promotion of freedom of belief, conscience, thought, association, worship and religion.
‘They also protect the rights of religious minorities as well as preserve and respect all holy, religious, and historical sites in the country and around the world,’ Ms Kamara added.
‘The religious composition of our demographics is one of the most diverse, tolerant and peaceful in the world…’ she said.
According to Kamara, these comprise Muslims (including Ahmadis, Sunnis, Shia); Christians (including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox Christians, Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints); and other religions and faiths (including Jews, Hindus, Bahai).
‘On all matters of belief and religion, citizens associate, live, speak and act according to their beliefs peacefully and publicly.
‘We believe that this has been largely responsible for the peace and cohesion we enjoy as a nation.
‘Without any iota of doubt, religious tolerance in Sierra Leone is one of its kind and worthy of emulation,’ Ms Kamara added.
She went on: ‘We have established institutions to foster and strengthen both inter and intra-faith dialogues among various faith-based organisations.
‘For example, the role of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone in religious coexistence, peace building and addressing emergencies is not only commendable but also indispensable.’
The conference also brought together members of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) who are committed to advancing Article 18 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.’
Founded in 2020, the Alliance has grown from 27 to 36 member countries.
Sierra Leone’s Deputy Foreign Minister noted that because ‘religious intolerance has a devastating effect on individual well-being and global peace, supporting religious intolerant nations to consider freedom of religion or beliefs as a human rights and development issue must be a critical outcome of this conference’.
She said Sierra Leone stood firmly with the Alliance, adding: ‘Sierra Leone values a world that is free of religious restrictions, stereotypes and stigma; a world that upholds religious diversity and equity; and, a world where religious differences are accepted, celebrated and valued.’
The first wife of Sierra Leone’s first and only Muslim leader so far, the late President Tejan Kabbah – who was in power from 1996 to 2007 – was a Catholic.
Conversely, current President Julius Bio, a Catholic, has a Muslim wife.
Promoting FoRB is one of the UK’s long-standing human rights priorities, with the government saying that it remains ‘deeply concerned about the severity and scale of violations and abuses of FoRB in many parts of the world’. ‘Persecuting people, or discriminating against them, because of their religion or belief is often closely linked to other foreign and development policy challenges,’ a British government statement said.
During the conference, the UK announced £500,000 of funding to ‘support everyone’s ‘fundamental freedom to follow a religion or belief’.
Of this, £200,000 will go to protecting and promoting FoRB and £300,000 to providing British legal expertise to countries where FoRB is under pressure.