Urgent Press Release: Unconstitutional Detention of Alleged Electoral Malpractice Suspects by Sierra Leone Police

We, the following civil society organisations, AdvocAid, Amnesty International, Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), L.A.W.Y.E.RS (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights & Social justice), and Prison Watch, strongly condemn the action of the Sierra Leone Police in detaining alleged election malpractice suspects beyond the 72 hours constitutional time limit prescribed in section 17(3) of the 1991 Constitution.   In particular, we would like to highlight the plight of 6 female suspects currently detained at the Criminal Investigation Department from about 1700 hours on Saturday 17th November 2012. Five of the female suspects were employed by NEC in various roles during the conduct of the elections. Of serious concern is the wellbeing of one of the detainees, who is a suckling mother of 17 month old twins. She has been denied access to her children since her arrest, which is a serious breach of the United Nations Minimum Standards on Detention of Female prisoners (known as the Bangkok Rules). The Constitution provides that all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that they must be brought speedily before a competent authority to adjudicate on their guilt or innocence should the Sierra Leone Police believe they have sufficient evidence to charge their matters to court.   We, therefore, call on the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice to immediately bring them before a competent court of law or release them on bail.   We are also calling on the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, to speedily announce the results of the elections as all Law Enforcement and Security personnel are declining...

AdvocAid’s work featured in IRIN news report

AdvocAid’s work, particularly our recent research report on Women, Debt and Detention, was featured in an IRIN news report (below). SIERRA LEONE: Women, debt and detention Photo: Otto Bakano/IRIN Juveniles in a police cell in a Sierra Leone, where women are being detained for owing debt FREETOWN, 11 October 2012 (IRIN) – Many Sierra Leonean women who are unable to repay small debts end up in prison for want of decent legal representation after their creditors report them to the police, meaning that civil disputes turn into criminal cases. An estimated 10 percent of all charges issued by the Sierra Leonean police involve the failure to repay small debts. The criminalization of debt upsets the livelihoods of the accused who are mostly petty traders. Their children at times are forced to live with them in detention and their incarceration often breaks up families and deepens poverty, said Advocaid, a Sierra Leonean civil society group helping women and children offenders. Ignorance of legal rights and an outdated law contribute to the trend in which debt disputes turn into criminal cases. The crime of “fraudulent conversion” is based on Sierra Leone’s 1916 Larceny Act. The charge relates to a person’s inability to repay debts. “Why are you serving a five-year prison sentence when you owe somebody just US$100,” Advocaid’s interim director Simitie Lavaly told IRIN. “By just providing a lawyer you can save someone’s life.” In 2006 when Advocaid began offering help to women imprisoned for debt defaulting and other offences, there were 50 women in the main prison in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown unable to raise bail or afford...

10 Reasons Sierra Leone Should End the Death Penalty

10 October 2012 marks World Day Against the Death Penalty The TRC recommended that Sierra Leone abolish the death penalty. “Respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life. Everyone has the right to life. A society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself.” The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which considered cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, did not have the power to impose the death penalty. The death penalty should be abolished as otherwise ordinary citizens are treated more harshly than convicted war criminals. Many countries across the world have abolished the death penalty: 141 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. Countries with similar histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi, have abolished the death penalty. The death penalty is a violation of various international human rights standards. The deterrent effect of the death penalty has never been conclusively proven. A 2009 survey of US criminologists revealed that over 88% believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder. The death penalty is irrevocable. No justice system is perfect. Innocent people could, therefore, be sentenced to death. For example, AdvocAid has conducted successful appeals for two women on death row whose convictions were overturned. But limited legal aid services mean that many more innocent people could be sentenced to death. The death penalty is unfair. It is often used disproportionally against the poor, mentally ill and those who are unaware of their legal rights. Constitutional Courts in Uganda and Kenya have held that the mandatory death sentence for...

Sierra Leonean Civil Society Organisations Denounce Executions in The Gambia

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations based in Sierra Leone, strongly denounce the execution of 9 inmates on death row in The Gambia last week. The executions represent a tragic setback to efforts at developing a human rights culture in the region, with the last execution in The Gambia taking place in 1985, according to The Gambian Government. This action also places The Gambia out of step with its fellow African Union states, the majority of which are abolitionist in law or practice. The recent executions, and threats by President Jammeh of further executions, diminish any hope that the leadership of The Gambian is committed to abolishing the death penalty. We welcome the Sierra Leonean Government’s official moratorium on executions which was issued last year, and call on the Government to take a stand against the use of the death penalty in the region by urging The Gambian Government to halt any further executions and commute prisoners on death row to terms of imprisonment. Such a call is in line with the African Union, United Nations and European Union’s stance. The tragic example set by The Gambia last week also highlights the weakness of death penalty moratoriums. We, therefore, strongly urge the Government to consider the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.   AdvocAid Amnesty International Sierra Leone Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law Prison Watch Sierra...

Welcoming Derek Achatoh – our new legal intern

We are very glad to have Derek volunteering with us. Derek is from Cameroon but came to complete his legal professional studies in Sierra Leone due to lack of a law school in Cameroon. He completed his LLB in Cameroon, has taught law part time and also has NGO experience. He is currently assisting Simitie Lavaly, Legal Officer, with research and preparation for a number of Court of Appeal and High Court...