AdvocAid Celebrates Independence and 10 Years of Access to Justice

26 April 2016: AdvocAid is celebrating Sierra Leone’s 55th Independence Day with girls, women and staff in the country’s Correctional Centres and Remand Homes, highlighting the continued need since Independence to improve detention conditions for women and girls. AdvocAid staff, alongside representatives from human rights organisations and government institutions, will be visiting Correctional Centres and Remand Homes in Freetown, Makeni, Kono, Kenema, Bo and Port Loko. AdvocAid provides legal aid, legal rights awareness and welfare support to women and girls in conflict with the law in all six towns. The visits will involve the distribution of Ebola prevention materials, celebratory food and recreational games; additionally, at Bo Correctional Centre, AdvocAid will be supporting the rehabilitation of a water well, due to a critical lack of access to water. Although Sierra Leone received the all clear from Ebola on 17 March, there continue to be cases in neighbouring countries, and the Correctional Service must continue to safeguard its inmates and staff from an outbreak. The Ebola prevention materials have been generously funded by a grant from GlobalGiving. As well as celebrating 55 years of independence, these events will commence AdvocAid’s 10 Year Anniversary celebrations. AdvocAid’s Executive Director, Simitie Lavaly, comments: AdvocAid started working with women in prison 10 years ago, so we see today as a day for joint celebration in Sierra Leone – 55 years of Independence, and a decade of working with the Correctional Service to support women and girls in conflict with the law. We are delighted to be sharing this day with the women and girls that we support, as well as our colleagues across the Correctional...

Patrick’s proudest moment with AdvocAid

  Patrick Steven is our Freetown Office Assistant, and he’s our second staff member to write a blog as part of our 10-year anniversary celebrations. He has been part of the AdvocAid fambul (family) since 2010, and is one of our longest serving members of the team. We asked him to tell us his proudest moment working with AdvocAid, and what it’s like to be surrounded by so many women in the office!     My years of working with AdvocAid have greatly inspired me to be of assistance to people in my community. Even though I am not a paralegal, and have never undergone paralegal training, I have attended numerous staff workshops, trainings and our weekly team meetings. Through these, I have been able to pick up a lot of basic skills and knowledge in ensuring people in conflict with the law have access to justice through legal assistance and education.   One example is that of a gentleman in my congregation at church – Michael (name changed to protect his identity). Michael was arrested a few months ago for the alleged offence of wounding with intent. He was detained at a Police Post in Freetown. Some members of the congregation asked for my support. I visited the Police Post, navigated the authorities, and learnt that Michael had been asked to pay 300,000 Leones (c.$75) to secure bail.   AdvocAid has done a lot of work to educate people that they shouldn’t pay a bribe for bail, and that bail is free. I knew this to be the case, so put on my ‘Pay No Bribe for Bail’...

Imprisoned for Debt? AdvocAid Says it is Time to Reform the Larceny Act 1916

30 March 2016: AdvocAid are today calling for reform to Sierra Leone’s Larceny Act – an act that leads to many Sierra Leonean women being illegally imprisoned for debt. Women owing as little as Le 250,000 (around $60) have been imprisoned for up to three years. This call comes one week after AdvocAid and the British Council Sierra Leone held a policy debate on the topic, titled Decongesting Correctional Centres: lifting the criminalising of owing a debt under the Larceny Act 1916, as part of their co-delivered EU funded Justice Matters Programme. Over the two-year programme, it has become increasingly evident that women in Sierra Leone still suffer disproportionately from the lack of actions taken to decriminalise debt. AdvocAid – a Civil Society Organisation providing free legal aid to women in Sierra Leone – highlight that ‘fraudulent conversion’ is an offence contained in section 20(1)(iv)(b) of the Larceny Act 1916. It is, intended to criminalise the use of property for purposes other than that for which it was given and/or intended. It is AdvocAid’s experience that interpretations of fraudulent conversion in Sierra Leone have now evolved far beyond this original definition, distinctly disadvantaging women. Charges are increasingly applied to situations where a debtor is unable to repay a sum of money they had initially agreed to pay the complainant. It is not the first time that AdvocAid have raised this issue, releasing the ‘Women, Debt and Detention’ report in 2012. One of AdvocAid’s clients is Saptieu (28), a trader. She owed her supplier Le 2,400,000 ($600) for goods taken on credit. As she was unable to pay the full amount on...

The Story Behind My Success

As part of our 10 year anniversary celebrations, we’re featuring blogs from our staff, volunteers, and board members over the next 10 months. Each one will tell the personal story of their involvement with AdvocAid. Victoria’s Story I am Victoria Koroma, a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone. I came to know AdvocAid in 2010 when I was employed as their Northern Region Paralegal. At that time, I was still a student of the University of Makeni trying to complete my Diploma in Paralegal Studies. When I was accepted to study Law at the University of Makeni (back then it was the Fatima Institute), it was not yet able to establish a Law Department so early in its establishment. My dream was to read Law at Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone, but my father encouraged me to take up Law at the institute. I considered it a risk, but I did it. As I embarked on the course in 2007, my father was out of work and my mother a primary school teacher. My elder brother was also reading his degree, making it difficult for my mother to handle the financial demands of two children at university. My mother was just about able to manage that year.   During my second year, we learnt that the four-year programme I had enrolled on, would now last for six years due to the Institute struggling to secure University status. This forced my fellow pupils and I to take an exam (NCTVA) to secure a diploma qualification. I was proud to get the best result in Paralegal...

AdvocAid Urges the President to Sign the Safe Abortion Act

12 February 2016: AdvocAid have today released a briefing paper urging the President of Sierra Leone to sign the Safe Abortion Act 2015 and thereby enhance the human rights of women and prevent needless deaths. The paper comes just one week after they released an open letter to President Ernest Bai Koroma – alongside Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and four other local NGOs – to sign into law the Safe Abortion Act 2015. The Act was passed by Parliament in December 2015, but is yet to be signed into law by the President, due to concerns raised by Sierra Leone’s religious leaders. Currently, it is a criminal offence for a woman in Sierra Leone to have an abortion, or for someone to provide her with such a service, unless the mother’s life is at risk. Such restrictions contravene numerous international and regional commitments the country has made, on the Rights of Women in Africa. In the decade in which they have operated in Sierra Leone, AdvocAid have represented a number of women that have been arrested due to illegal abortions, including the case of Joan (name changed to protect her identity), a nurse convicted in July 2009 of the manslaughter of a young schoolgirl, who allegedly came to her for abortion services, but later died. Joan was sentenced to 6-years imprisonment. She denies the allegation and the autopsy report was inconclusive to show that Joan’s actions led to the death of the schoolgirl. AdvocAid attempted to lodge an appeal for Joan, but her High Court file was missing, and by the time the matter was ready for hearing, she...