UN Report Cites Abuse in Sierra Leone Prisons as Threat to Peace: Women Particularly Marginalised by the Country’s Legal System

A report recently released by the UN cites the ongoing abuse within Sierra Leone’s prisons and the failure to protect the rights of inmates as a serious threat to peace in the country.  Sierra Leone suffered a brutal decade-long civil war that formally ended in 2002, although the country continues to experience widespread extreme poverty and is currently ranked second to last on the Human Development Index.   The UN report, entitled ‘Behind Walls: An Inventory and Assessment of Prisons in Sierra Leone’ highlights the excessively lengthy periods of remand experienced by most prisoners and their lack of access to legal representation, as well as the squalid conditions of the country’s over-crowded prisons.  The systematic violation of rights within the country’s prisons is cited by the report as a risk to security and stability in Sierra Leone.   The AdvocAid project, which has been working since August 2006 with female inmates in Pademba Road prison, the country’s maximum security prison, welcomes the release of the UN report.  Furthermore, AdvocAid calls for more action around urgently needed justice sector reform in Sierra Leone, with particular attention given to the precarious position of women in the penal system.  The vulnerability of the women sent to Pademba Road parallels their marginalised socio-economic status outside the prison walls.  Sierra Leonean prisons offer limited medical care, and frequently women are forced to give birth in their cells.   The vast majority of the women in Pademba Road are without any sort of legal representation and they are often not aware of their rights in the legal system.  The current state of the country’s courts...