| SIERRA LEONE | MARCH 20, 2024 |

Starting a Human Rights Movement in Freetown

Discover the story of an activist in Sierra Leone who doesn’t leave human rights violations unchecked.
Mohamed Umar Barrie and his volunteers are raising awareness about human rights in schools and Sierra Leone’s community.

Mohamed Umar Barrie was born in Keiyama, a small village in Sierra Leone, West Africa. His parents were of different ethnic backgrounds. He and his entire neighborhood grew up in thatched houses, living at or below the poverty line. But Barrie had great ambitions from a young age. At six years old, he moved to the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, to live with his grandmother. He took various extension courses which culminated in his receiving certificates on subjects he is passionate about—politics, law, social justice and human rights.

“To say a few things about myself, I am a very dynamic and focused person. I have taken serious and positive steps not only to enhance my knowledge and skills to help gear the attitude of my peers toward social and economic empowerment, but also to become responsible and respected citizens, and understand the difference between what is right and what is wrong.”

Barrie came across Youth for Human Rights International by searching on the internet for a way to defend his rights and those of his peers. He had witnessed human rights violations in his country, such as discrimination, poverty, unequal access to education, arbitrary arrests and detentions and prolonged trials.

“What motivated me to get involved in this campaign was to raise awareness about human rights of the youth of my community, as I saw how they were marginalized and they misunderstood human rights.”

Barrie started his human rights journey and established the Youth for Human Rights Freetown Chapter, which is now registered with the National Youth Commission in Sierra Leone. With his team of volunteers, they have been holding human rights seminars in schools and community awareness events to teach youth and adults about the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how people can get along with each other and live in peace.

Beyond his own development, Barrie is keen to help empower others to become responsible and respected citizens. In total, he has educated over 5,000 people of all ages about human rights, who have now become aware of their responsibility for upholding these rights.

“I remember that when I visited a school in one of our poor and fragile communities, a young boy by the name of Foday asked why his friends were always fighting and flogging him for no reason, and if it was a human rights violation,” says Barrie. “I told him, yes, it was a violation of Article 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘No Torture.’ He decided that, from now on, he would defend his human rights by filing a complaint against anyone who would do such things against him.

“Another young girl asked me why her mother was not encouraging her to go to school, but instead was pushing her to sell water on the street while her friends were going to school. I told her it was a violation of Article 26, ‘The Right to Education,’ and that she was entitled to get an education and that primary school should be free. She decided she would talk to her mother and inform her that she had this right and she would become a lawyer in the future.”

There are still challenges ahead for Barrie, particularly getting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights embraced and prioritized as a topic of education in all schools and colleges nationally. However, he is determined to end human rights violations and continue educating people across his country.