Inside a remand home for juveniles in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone’s justice system, children and youth are rarely treated any differently than adults. They often spend excessive time behind bars without charge – considered guilty until proved innocent. To raise awareness about conditions in detention facilities for juveniles, journalist Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (alias De Monk) has written an excellent article about his recent visit to the remand home for juveniles in Kingtom, Freetown. One of the things he noted was the severe impact of funding constraints on the rehabilitation of detainees. The government-funded remand home is supposed to be a reformation centre for juveniles, who come in contact with the law, but there’s not much, if any, reform activity going on there at the moment. There is no formal education program in place and this means these school age children, after spending long periods on remand, go back to their communities worse off than they were. In the article, De Monk also tells the story of Mohamed Sesay*, who has spent three years at the remand home without trial. No indictment papers (the documents required for an accused person to stand trial in the High Court) have been filed, and the complainant has never appeared to pursue the case against the boy. Read the full story: SIERRA LEONE – Juvenile detention centres lack means to reform inmates. *Names of inmates in the article are fictional to protect their identities. Sierra Leones has two remand homes for juvenile suspects and one detention facility for convicted juveniles. All are massively under-funded, and lack of resources for detention facilities have grave consequences for the children waiting for their sentences. De Monk approached AdvocAid after the Day of the African...

Day of the African Child: AdvocAid calls for better child protection in the justice sector

In partnership with:    CHILDREN AND JUVENILES BEHIND BARS – In Sierra Leone’s justice system, children and youth are usually not treated any differently than adults. They often spend excessive time behind bars without charge – considered guilty until proved innocent. Detention is often the first resort for offences committed by children. In late May 2016, AdvocAid’s Executive Director, Simitie Lavaly, visited the remand home for juveniles in Bo on an unannounced monitoring visit. Here she met 21 children under the age of 18 – including one 10-year old boy charged with murder – held in a dark, unmaintained detention facility with poor sanitation facilities and too few mattresses. Two young girls were also detained at the remand home, but there is no gate separating the girls’ and boy’s dormitories and no female member of staff. The remand home is massively under-funded, and staff members stated that they lack the resources to refurbish the facility. The conditions in the Bo Remand Home clearly violate the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules), the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules), the United Nation Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules) as well as procedures for child protection outlined in Sierra Leone’s 2007 Child Rights Act and the Children and Young Persons Act 1945. HELP US IMPROVE CHILD JUSTICE – On the Day of the African Child 2016, AdvocAid joins forces with Save the Children to upgrade detention facilities in the Bo Remand Home. We are mobilising our resources and connections to repaint the walls...

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...

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...

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...

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...