By Bukar Bolori
A Sierra Leonean Judge, Justice Tonia Barnett has said war is a reaction to jeopardised rights, even as she stated that it is only those that have not witnessed war that call for it.
Barnett, who was in Nigeria at the weekend to seek the support of Ambassadors from the West African subregion to get a seat at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said: “If the citizens’ rights are being jeopardised, it allowed for uprising and a peaceful society will not be enhanced.”
The Justice, who addressed ECOWAS ambassadors at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja said: “As Africans we want a peaceful society, we have cried too much. Those who have not experienced war would want war.”
Barnett while recounting her story which highlighted a tale of a woman whose teenage life was robbed by rebel incursion in Sierra Leone, said: “My upbringing made me strong and has given me an opportunity to be here tonight.”
She said her career trajectory was shaped by an event she witnessed as a teenager when a man was hacked down during the Sierra Leonean Civil War on a mere allegation without being tried, “I felt never should a man or woman suffer such faith.”
She claimed that: “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.”
She said that being a judge who has never been investigated and whose morality has never been 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 explained that her work as a legal practitioner and judge over the years, working mainly to protect and promote human rights has also lent credence to her work experience as a precondition.
She said: “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.”
She disclosed that: “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.”
Justice Barnett, who did her LLM in Women and Children Affairs, added that in her work she always upheld treaties and conventions which her country had signed and ratified.
The AU 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.
She explained that: “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.”
“Should I remain in the chair or should I go down to the slums to propagate what human rights is, and I think this platform, if I am given the opportunity, will be the best opportunity for me to serve. It would be fulfilling because it has been my life, my dream and a dream come true.”