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!

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

Press Release: No Place for the Death Penalty in Sierra Leone’s Future Constitution

On World Day Against the Death Penalty, 10 October 2013, AdvocAid renews its campaign to ensure that the death penalty is fully abolished in Sierra Leone. The current constitutional review process underway is an excellent opportunity to ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s imperative recommendation to abolish the death penalty is implemented. “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.” Truth and Reconciliation Commission Despite the strides the Government has made in issuing a moratorium on executions, the death penalty is still permitted in Sierra Leone’s laws as the ultimate punishment for crimes of murder, treason and armed robbery. In 2011, the Government commuted the death sentences of all prisoners to life imprisonment. Since then, nearly all former prisoners on death row have either been pardoned or released following appeals or advocacy undertaken by AdvocAid and its Legal Officer, Simitie Lavaly. However, one sole female former death row prisoner remains in Freetown Female Prison on a life sentence, Baby Allieu. Simitie Lavaly, AdvocAid’s Legal Officer, is currently conducting her appeal before the Court of Appeal. Baby Allieu is a young orphan lady who was arrested for wounding her boyfriend who later died. Although she states that she wounded him in self-defence as he was strangling her after initially beating her with a pipe, her defence of self-defence was rejected by the jury at Kenema High Court in 2010. Two other male prisoners (formerly on death row) remain incarcerated and sentenced... read more

Female Prisoners in Kenema Pass Stage 1 Literacy

A short video of a graduation ceremony in Kenema Female Prison for women who passed their Stage 1 Literacy. AdvocAid runs literacy classes for women in prison across Sierra Leone with our fantastic partner, EducAid, an educational charity. The women are singing “Learning Is Better Than Silver or Gold”, very true! [youtube=]... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

Sierra Leone Externship Blog now live!

AdvocAid is running a legal externship programme with the support of Open Society Justice Initiative. The externs are based with 3 legal aid organisations (Defence for Children, LAWYERS and AdvocAid) and gain practical experience working in legal aid and human rights work. You can now follow the experiences of the externs through a blog they have set up with the help of Volunteer Lawyer, Catherine Seldon. Click here to access the... read more

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