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Sierra Leone

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1) what steps the United Kingdom is taking to help monitor the Sierra Leone elections (a) unilaterally, (b) through the EU and (c) through the UN; and what representations she has received on this matter; (113044)

(2) what steps the UK Government are taking to ensure free and fair elections in Sierra Leone; and what representations her Department has received on the participation of international observers in those elections.

The Government view credible elections in Sierra Leone in July this year as crucial to consolidating the post-conflict peace and stability there. Practical support to Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) is a high priority and we have committed £4 million to the UN Development Programme's “basket fund”, which finances the NEC and contributes to the cost of the elections. It is essential that Sierra Leoneans should be able to participate fully in the elections and that the result should reflect their choices. To this end, the UK is implementing a £2.5 million programme of electoral support that will provide training for political parties, strengthen the capacity of national and local media to cover the elections and address the gender disparity surrounding elections. Our high commission in Freetown is also working with the full range of political and civil society to support free and credible elections.

Effective election monitoring will also play an important role in the elections. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) received representations on this issue from the interim leader of the People's Movement for Democratic Change, Charles Margai, during his December tour of the UK. Our high commission and the DFID office in Freetown have also discussed election monitoring with the main political parties, the NEC, local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international partners, in order to assure adequate coverage before and during the polls.

Our £2.5 million electoral programme will support a coalition of national election monitors, the “National Elections Watch”, which intends to host observers in every polling station in Sierra Leone. DFID will also be funding international election observers through the National Democratic Institute (NDI), an international NGO with expertise in election issues. NDI will host two observer missions prior to elections, one during the voter registration period and another during the campaign period, and one mission of 34 observers on election day. UK Government election observers will also be deployed for the critical phases of the electoral process and for the elections themselves. We have also called, in the EU Africa Working Group, for the deployment of an Election Observation Mission. Additionally, we are also engaging wider partners, including the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Carter Centre, to push for international support for the election monitoring effort.