Blog

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!

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

Concern at 8 Kono Residents Detained for Over 2 Months Without Charge – Urgent Press Release

Criminal Justice Organisations call on the President to revisit and revoke his Executive Detention Order of 24 October 2014 On 24 October 2014 His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma signed an Executive Detention Order against 34 people using his powers under the State of Emergency. To date 2 women and 6 men remain detained in the Freetown Female Correctional Centre and Pademba Road Male Prison respectively; they have no warrants or documentation supporting their detention in prison and therefore no date when they will be released. They will remain so detained until it pleases His Excellency to order their release. The police have stated they believe they have no obligation to investigate the matter or charge these individuals because it is an Executive order. Their arrests relate to an alleged riot that took place in Kono in October 2014 over a contested Ebola burial. Two persons were also allegedly shot dead by police officers during the same incident but to date no one has been arrested for those killings, even though police investigations are reportedly ongoing. All detainees have now spent over two months and three weeks in custody following their arrests in Kono on 27 October 2014. AdvocAid, Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), Amnesty International Sierra Leone and Prison Watch, four criminal justice organisations working to promote and protect the rights of detainees in prisons and police stations across Sierra Leone, are deeply concerned by the continued detention of these men and women. They are without recourse to any of the constitutional safeguards provided under section 17 of Sierra Leone’s Constitution, such as the right... read more

AdvocAid Featured on CCTV News

AdvocAid’s Ebola Prevention Programme for Prisons and Police Stations was featured on CCTV News. You can watch a clip below: You can support our Ebola Prevention and Access to Justice programme via GlobalGiving. We are grateful for all of your... read more

Announcing our New Executive Director

Message from Sabrina Mahtani, Outgoing Executive Director I’m pleased to announce that in June 2014, Simitie Lavaly took over as Executive Director of AdvocAid. I have continued to work with Simitie and our Senior Management over these past few months to support this transition and complete some projects I have been leading, such as the launch of our “Bail Is Free” Legal Education campaign. I am not leaving AdvocAid but just taking on a new role, and I’m excited to eventually be part of the Board of Directors and to continue to support AdvocAid’s strategic vision. It is a happy and proud moment for me to see AdvocAid continue to grow and there is no one I would trust more to continue our work than Simitie. Simitie started working with us in 2009 as a law student and her dedication and ability soon saw her rise to Legal Officer and then Deputy Director. Simitie is not just capable but fiercely passionate about the rights of girls and women in conflict with the law, who are often overlooked and neglected. She has defended many women on death row and through her hard work and commitment seen over 4 women on death row released. She has high standing in the women’s movement and in 2012 was appointed as President of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S (the female lawyers association). Under her leadership, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S expanded its impact and services to women who have experienced gender based violence. I am confident that Simitie will continue and develop AdvocAid’s vision as well as our role within the wider women’s movement in Sierra Leone and internationally. Photo: Simitie &... read more

Sierra Leone’s Women Behind Bars: A new documentary about our work

A film crew from IRIN followed the work of two of AdvocAid’s paralegals, Marvel and Victoria, in Freetown and Makeni. This short film showcases the challenges they face and the importance of their free legal aid services with a growing female prison population and shortage of lawyers.  ... read more

Law in a Time of Ebola – 2nd blog published in New Internationlist

We are currently writing a series of Law in a Time of Ebola blogs, sharing our work during the tragic Ebola epidemic. Our second blog was published in the New Internationalist this week.   When the Ebola epidemic escalated in Sierra Leone around June 2014 we wondered if we should close down our legal aid organization, AdvocAid. Many international NGOs were evacuating their international staff and many local NGOs started to restrict their activities. We decided to continue to operate and to see how, as lawyers and paralegals, we could best respond to this national emergency. We provide legal aid and support to girls and women affected by the criminal justice system, one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country, as well as working to strengthen and reform the justice system. In June 2014, the President issued a State of Public Emergency, leading to a ban on public gatherings and places of entertainment. Unfortunately, these measures have led to some people being arrested, so we have provided legal representation for them and encouraged family members to pay the fines levied against them. In September 2014 the government declared a three-day ‘lock-down’ wherein people were not allowed out of their homes for three days. At 6pm on the last day, some people went out celebrating that it was over and shouting ‘Jesus’, praising God. One such group was arrested by the police, so we sent our paralegals to the police station to monitor the situation. After a few days the group, which included three women, were released. Recently, a prominent community health officer was charged for allegedly permitting a... read more

Law in the Time of Ebola: Perspectives from Kono

By Chris Randall, law student at Berkley School of Law, who volunteered with AdvocAid in 2014 In a small, sunlit courtyard in Koidu Prison, prisoners Aminatta, Hawa, and Kadi* practice pronouncing and writing letters of the English language. These twice-weekly English lessons coordinated by AdvocAid (through their partner EducAid) help pass the time by taking their minds off their long period of remand in prison until their trials begin. It was in October 2013 that Aminatta was arrested and charged with her husband’s murder. She is accused of fatally stabbing him in a crowded marketplace as he pursued her while publicly provoking and harassing her. This was merely the final incident in a relationship with a long history of abuse and torment. Up until now in August 2014, Aminatta continues to await trial in the High Court of Kono District. Due to a shortage of Judges and resources, there is no permanent High Court in Kono. Rather, the court from Kenema (several hours away) moves to Kono on circuit four times a year. However, reportedly due to a shortage of funds, the High Court has not sat on circuit since December 2013. Now, Aminatta’s trial will be further delayed as fear of Ebola spreads outside the walls of Koidu Prison. Previously in Kono, it was not uncommon to hear outright denial that Ebola even existed. Yet, almost simultaneously with Ebola’s arrival, latex gloves and tanks of chlorine water became commonplace, in an effort to prevent an infection that had already arrived. Inside the walls of Koidu Prison, although their movement is restricted, Aminatta, Hawa, and Kadi are likely safe... read more

Help Prevent a School Girl from Spending Christmas in Police Detention

Fatmata is a young secondary school girl, around 18 years old, who is currently being held in police custody at Magburaka Police Station, Northern Sierra Leone. She has been held since 3 December 2013 without charge, way over the 10 day constitutional time limit.  Fatmata was first arrested in February 2013 and charged with the murder of a relative. She was later detained in Magburaka Prison and represented by AdvocAid’s Makeni Duty Counsel, Benedict Jalloh. The Prosecution was unable to obtain an autopsy report on the Deceased and therefore could not proceed with their case. As a result, on 3 December 2013, Fatmata was discharged by Honourable Magistrate Gooding at Magburaka Magistrate Court. He held that the Prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case during the preliminary investigation stage.  As soon as Fatmata left the court, thinking her ordeal had ended, she was re-arrested for the same offence and detained yet again in Magburaka Police Station. She is being detained whilst the Prosecution try and arrange for the necessary  autopsy report She has been detained for 20 days without charge, well over the 10 day constitutional time period, and it is not clear when or if she will be charged. It is challenging for AdvocAid to file a habeus corpus application as the High Court had gone on circuit to Port Loko and the Christmas period is approaching when the Courts do not sit.  AdvocAid have been engaging the Magburaka Police, Makeni State Counsel, Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Police  as well as the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone.  We urge the Magburaka... read more

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