The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has posed unprecedented
challenges to governments, civil society, and the international
community. Over 20,000 cases of the disease were reported in
2014 across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, with the threat
of an outbreak in a number of other countries. Britain is playing a
leading role in Sierra Leone to fight the disease, and has committed
over £230 million in responding to Ebola. This is in addition to the
UK’s significant support to international agencies.
In response to the crisis, governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea
and Liberia introduced restrictions to stem the spread of infection.
In Sierra Leone emergency measures included: a nationwide ban on
public gatherings not related to Ebola sensitisation; restrictions on
movement of people and vehicles; quarantine controls; protection
of health workers by the police and the military; and surveillance
and house-to-house searches to trace and quarantine Ebola victims
and suspects. Whilst these measures were proportionate to combat
the crisis, and demonstrated a commitment to the rule of law,
quarantine has in some cases impacted livelihoods and access to
health care. There have also been isolated reports of extortion and
excessive use of force by security forces during the enforcement of
quarantines. The security forces largely acted in an even-handed
and restrained way in implementing the emergency measures. As
part of its support to the security forces since the civil war, the UK
has provided human rights training.
The arrest of Sierra Leonean journalist, David Tam Baryoh, under
the emergency measures for incitement, led to international
concern. Amnesty International claimed he was a prisoner of
conscience, arrested solely for exercising his right to freedom of
expression. Mr Baryoh was released on bail on 14 November after
11 days detained without charge in a maximum security prison.
In Liberia, overzealous implementation of controls, such as
quarantining, occasionally led to reports of violations, most notably
the death of a child shot by security forces. There were also reports
of intimidation of journalists, including government threats to close
The Ebola response in each country has demanded an unparalleled
public health response, leaving little capacity to address other
potentially deadly diseases and conditions; such as malaria,
typhoid, dysentery, and childbirth complications.
During her visit to Sierra Leone on 16 December, Secretary of
State for International Development, Justine Greening, announced
a £2.5 million grant for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to support
children who have lost family, or whose parents are being treated
The widespread view is that the senatorial elections in Liberia in
December were free and fair. Public engagement and turnout was
low, partly due to fears about Ebola, but more likely represented
apathy and disillusionment with the political process. Guinea is
due presidential elections in 2015.
Supporting the fight against Ebola has been the UK’s top priority
in each of the three countries. Nonetheless, the UK government
has been able to continue to support a number of important
programmes to promote human rights priorities, including the
prevention of sexual violence.