Read our blog to find out more about AdvocAid – we use this space to share what we’re working on, press releases, opinions and to talk about what’s important to us. We’d like to start featuring guest blogs and video blogs; please do get in touch if you’d like to be a guest blogger for AdvocAid!

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... read more

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’... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

Launch of Educational TV Drama Police Case II

AdvocAid to Launch Second Series of Educational TV Drama Police Case 2  26 October 2015: Today, AdvocAid have unveiled plans for the launch of Police Case II on both TV and Radio, the follow-up to their highly successful four part 2012 legal educational drama. Due on air in October 2015, Police Case II consists of eight episodes that each aim to not only entertain their audience, but also provide them with vital information about their legal rights within the criminal justice system, and ensure girls and women are linked with organisations that can offer legal support and assistance. The series, set in Freetown, deals with practical legal issues that mainly impact on the lives of vulnerable women and girls. Each of the eight episodes focusses on a specific legal issue ranging from Ebola regulations and sexual and gender-based violence, to loitering, traffic Laws, Infanticide, child trafficking larceny and debt. The story lines have been carefully scripted to be accessible to viewers and listeners, with the intention that through creating familiar scenarios, the audience will recognise how to act in the future with their new found legal understanding. AdvocAid has worked in partnership with the UNDP, EU and the British Council Sierra Leone to bring this project to fruition, using focus groups to establish the most common legal issues to educate on, and the best story lines to ensure the series remains gripping and entertaining, as well as educational. As Sonia Williams, Acting Director of AdvocAid points out: “We hope that our audience will recognise the situations as common occurrences, especially for women and girls. It is our hope that by dramatizing scenarios,... read more

AdvocAid Launch ‘Pay No Bribe For Bail’ campaign

“Pay No Bribe for Bail” is the message from AdvocAid as they launch new campaign in Sierra Leone 23 October: AdvocAid have today launched their “Pay No Bribe for Bail” campaign, aimed at educating people across Sierra Leone that they should not pay bribes to courts or police stations to secure bail. AdvocAid have partnered with the Anti-Corruption Commission to deliver this campaign, with the Commissioner providing the key-note speech at today’s launch event. This campaign will be communicated via: Radio and Television infomercials broadcast nationwide; posters displayed at police stations, courts and public venues; a social media campaign; distribution of wristbands; and a launch and stakeholder discussion. There is widespread belief that a sum of money must officially be paid to secure bail in Sierra Leone; inability to pay these bribes results in prolonged pre-trial detention, overcrowding in police and prison cells, and human rights abuses. One case that AdvocAid heard of was from Elizabeth (name changed to protect identity), who stated: “I’ve learnt today that bail is free. My Aunty had a case at Congo Cross Police Station and had to pay Le 200,000 to bail her child.” Surprisingly, even educated law students were unaware that bail should be free. During interviews for legal externships at AdvocAid in 2011, several law students at Fourah Bay College thought that there was a standard “fee” charged by the police to access police bail. Alongside the public campaign, AdvocAid have today released a briefing paper highlighting the severity of corruption not only within the bail system in Sierra Leone, but countrywide. The briefing paper positions corruption as an endemic and widespread problem in Sierra Leone. In 2013, it had the highest... read more

Launch of New Kono Office

AdvocAid Launches New Kono Office To Reach More Women in Need of Free Legal Aid Friday 19 June: Today, AdvocAid held the official opening for their new regional Kono Office from which they’ll provide targeted legal support to girls and women in conflict with the law. This is the second regional office they have opened since May 2015, thanks to the generous support of donors recognising a need to increase visibility and stability of free legal aid for women in Sierra Leone. The Kono office is being funded by the International Women’s Programme of the Open Society Initiative (OSI) whilst the European Union and British Council under the Justice Matters: Strengthening the Rights of Women and Girls project are co-funding by supporting personnel running costs. AdvocAid, founded in 2006, are a legal aid organisation providing free legal assistance, representation and education to girls and women in Sierra Leone. They have had an informal presence in Kono since 2012 through the retained services of Lawyer Festus B. Conteh of Lacawi and more recently in 2014 through the services of their Paralegal Sidi Sowa and Duty Counsel Lawyer A B Samura. The opening of the official office will greatly strengthen AdvocAid’s outreach and Legal Aid programme along with prioritising and building vital visibility for women in conflict with the law in the region. AdvocAid Executive Director, Simitie Lavaly, said at the official launch: “We are delighted to be able to officially launch our Kono office and have a firm presence here in the East of the country. The women of Kono have been crying out that they need more legal services to... read more

Launch of New Regional Office, Kenema

AdvocAid Launches Kenema Office as Part of Justice Matters Programme in Sierra Leone Friday 29 May: Today, AdvocAid held the official opening for their new regional Kenema Office from which they’ll provide targeted legal support to girls and women in conflict with the law. The opening of this new office has been made possible thanks to a partnership with the British Council in Sierra Leone, to deliver the EU funded programme: Justice Matters: Strengthening the Rights of Women and Girls. AdvocAid, founded in 2006, are a legal aid organisation providing free legal assistance, representation and education to girls and women in Sierra Leone. Whilst they have had a presence in Kenema since 2010, they have done so via partnerships with local organisations, to share resources, such as renting office space at Timap for Justice, one of our strong partnership organisations. With the support of the Justice Matters grant, the Kenema Office will become an up-country regional hub for AdvocAid from which to strengthen their programmes, build visibility and prioritise support for women in conflict with the law in the region. The office will be run by Ms Jalahan Jakema Amara, Kenema Programme Officer. At the opening, she stated: “It is a pleasure and privilege to lead AdvocAid’s expansion within the East of Sierra Leone. With this vital investment, we will have far more visibility within the region, ensuring more girls and women know about our free legal support, and will have greater access to our educational campaigns and outreach work.” The opening was attended by AdvocAid staff and former detainees, civil society partners, government representatives, members of the legal community and... read more

Kono Arrests: Women released after nearly six months

Press Release from AdvocAid and CARL Freetown, 20th April, 2015 AdvocAid and Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) acknowledge the decision of President Ernest Bai Koroma on Sunday 12 April 2015 to order the release of the two remaining women who were arrested in Kono in relation to a reported riot that took place in Kono in October 2014 over a suspected Ebola patient. The women were part of a group of people detained after an Executive Order was issued by President Koroma using his powers under the State of Emergency on 24 October 2014. Some of those arrested on the ‘executive orders’ were later released, with the two women and six men remaining in custody.  We note that the number of men from Kono currently in detention has now increased to 11. The detainees were detained without charge in Pademba Road and Female Freetown Correctional Centre respectively, some eight hours drive away from their homes. They have no files or documentation to support  their detention and the police declined to investigate the matter as they have been detained under an Executive Order. We raised this issue in January 2014, alongside other local and international organizations. AdvocAid, a legal aid organization representing the detainees, wrote to the President requesting their release or confirmation of refusal to release. We also wrote to the Acting Chief Justice requesting that an independent tribunal be constituted to review the continued detention which is the safeguard provided in Sierra Leone’s Constitution. However, despite these interventions, the procedural safeguards were not implemented. “We are of course delighted that these 2 women have been... read more

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