YALI Alum and Human Rights Officer Uses Platform to Empower Sierra Leonean Youth

Speeches Shim

Monday, November 16, 2020

“I had this small mind before going into YALI, but YALI opened my mind up to say just because I'm a young person doesn't mean I shouldn't aspire to greater heights.” -Jotham Johnson

Jotham Johnson has dedicated his whole life to defending human rights and empowering young Sierra Leaneans to reach their full potential. Jotham, a YALI RLC West Africa alum, is a Human Rights Officer and Manager at the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone. He is a youth empowerment activist and the founder of his own outreach platform, Adeyemisoutpour, which uses social media channels and in-person events to motivate Sierra Leonean youth to “spread the message of hope and never give up.”
As a Manager at the Human Rights Commission, Jotham oversees the Complaints Section, which receives complaints of alleged human rights violations from all over the country. He oversees as many as 70 complaints per month by coordinating the receipt and investigation, supervising fellow Human Rights Officers to ensure cases are handled properly to resolution, and working with the Commissioners as they make their decisions on each case. 

In addition to this, Jotham also conducts human rights training for civil society organizations and advises the government on policies and legislation from a human rights perspective. Some of his big legislative achievements thus far have been contributing to the Sexual Offences Amendment Act as well as newer pieces of legislation still in progress, including the new Anti-Trafficking in Persons Bill (in draft), the Safe Motherhood Bill (consultation stage), and the Mental Health Bill (consultation stage). 

Jotham’s work is not just inside an office – he frequently travels to investigate complaints in person, conduct monitoring visits, and participate in Special Committee probes. The mandate of the Human Rights Commission requires Jotham to investigate and hold accountable public officials, police, military, and other government bodies. His work has brought him into the center of the national fight against sexual and gender-based violence, a serious problem in Sierra Leone, which gained increased attention after the President declared a state of emergency in 2019. Many complaints fielded by the Human Rights Commission are regarding police corruption on sexual abuse cases. He works to hold individual police officers and entire departments accountable and ensure that sexual violence and inhumane treatment is not covered up.

Holding powerful institutions accountable is not an easy job -- “sometimes it’s scary” he says. Although Jotham deals with severe and threatening matters almost daily, and often at personal risk, he feels proudest when he knows he is positively impacting the lives of women, children, and youths who have been the victims of human rights abuses. “Every day, coming to work and seeing that I can be able to create some amount of change…That gives me so much joy and purpose in the work I do to know that I am making a difference in the lives of people in Sierra Leone.”

When reflecting on his YALI RLC training, he says “YALI was a springboard for me to touch the lives of people in my community and in Africa as a whole. I am not just going to be this person that lives for myself, but I am going to be this person that lives for others, too -- to ensure that we all grow together in our communities, we all grow together as a nation.” It was this notion that inspired him to create Adeyemisoutpour, a motivational outreach initiative which has reached over 9,000 youths through social media and in-person events. He frequently speaks at events sharing his own personal stories of trials and tribulation in order to encourage young people to never give up.

Jotham often uses the skills he acquired in the YALI Public Management training in his work at the Human Rights Commission. He uses practical examples learned in the Public Policy Formulation module to help him advise on new laws and policies. YALI also gave him the confidence he needed to apply for a promotion which ultimately led to his current role as a Senior Human Rights Officer and Manager.  “I had this small mind before going into YALI, but YALI opened my mind up to say just because I'm a young person doesn't mean I shouldn't aspire to greater heights.”

Through his work at the Human Rights Commission, his outreach platform Adeyemisoutpour, and the Sierra Leone RLC Alumni Chapter, Jotham carries his YALI experience with him to this day, and is continuing to pay it forward.