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JHR Partners with UNDEF

20 October 2006 at 01:37 | 1323 views

By Alicia Filipowich

Journalists for Human Rights’ Sierra Leone project is now a reality thanks to a new partnership with the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).

This project will transform the Sierra Leonean media environment by increasing the number of human rights stories in local media by over 200 per cent, regularly reaching four million Sierra Leoneans a week with human rights content and allowing 150 journalists to participate in one or more levels of JHR-sponsored training.

"We are very excited to start larger operations in Sierra Leone. The environment is right for a project like this and there is a need for a greater JHR presence," says Ben Peterson, JHR co-founder and Executive Director.

The 24-month long project is set to begin operations in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in early 2007. The project is designed to build on the successes of JHR’s Ghanaian office, which began operations in 2003 and has served as the organization’s test project.

JHR’s work plan in Sierra Leone is built on a five-year strategy based on principles of sustainable development. This approach creates positive and sustainable change without creating dependency on JHR’s work.

The initial set-up phase, which is expected to last three months, will include initial baseline data collection, monitoring of the media environment, hiring of local employees and the establishment of a Freetown office.

Youth journalism trainers and older expert trainers will be involved in activities ranging from in-the-field story production with African colleagues to hosting informal workshops, teaching seminars, developing teaching curriculum and creating a Human Rights Reporter’s Network.

As a second-generation organization, JHR benefits from the freedom of expression that is being established in post-war Sierra Leone. An initial local needs assessment has already been carried out and the organization has partnered with 13 media outlets. Currently, there are approximately 15 newspapers, two television stations and six radio stations in the country.

JHR has two trainers in Sierra Leone already, one based in Freetown and the other in Kenema in the Eastern Region. Domestic Programs Coordinator Emilee Irwin credits JHR’s staff on the ground with the successful of the UNDEF application. “Heather Avery, for one, was essential to getting the grant,” she says. Avery not only established the media contacts that were essential to our forthcoming operation, but she also secured the support of the United Nations inside Sierra Leone.

JHR is awaiting a response on a similar grant to assist their upcoming project in Liberia. The organization also hopes to extend their project in Ghana through Canada Corps, a Canadian International Development Agency-funded initiative.

After a 35-year period of political instability, there have been four years of relative stability in Sierra Leone since democratic elections in 2002. The next elections are planned for 2007. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), tasked in 1999 with implementing the Lome Peace Agreement and assisting with the implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, has also completed its mandate.

More than two million Sierra Leoneans, almost one-third of the population, were displaced and tens of thousands killed during the civil war, which officially ended in 2002. Innumerable atrocities, including wide-spread rape and the forced recruitment of child soldiers, marked the crisis as one of the deadliest in modern African history.

Source: JHR Newsletter.

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