Winter Newsletter 2017
Executive Director’s Message
The last three months have, as always, been busy and full of achievements at AdvocAid. We hosted a regional conference on petty offences, launched a documentary about sex workers and appealed a death sentence to the Supreme Court, while continuing to support women and girls in police detention and correctional centres across the country. I would like to send a huge thank you to all our paralegals, duty counsel, staff and supporters who made this all possible. You can find out about these achievements below, or on our website, Twitter account and Facebook page.
We are also thrilled to announce that our outgoing Director, Simitie Lavaly, was nominated for ‘Lawyer of the Year’ in the annual AWOL awards. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for the final results.
AdvocAid is only able to support women and girls in conflict with the law through the generous support of its donors. Please consider making a donation to AdvocAid through our GlobalGiving page. And if you are looking for last minute Christmas gift ideas, you can also support us by giving a GlobalGiving gift card.
On behalf of the staff of AdvocAid and the many women and girls who received our assistance in 2017, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
AdvocAid Hosts Regional Conference on Petty Offences
At the end of November, AdvocAid were proud to host a conference that brought together human rights activists from across Africa to discuss the decriminalisation of petty offences. Petty offences, such as ‘being a rogue and vagabond’, give overly broad powers to the police and are frequently used to penalise the poorest and most marginalised groups in society.
At the conference, AdvocAid and the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL), presented research on petty offences in Sierra Leone. We found that one in three women are arrested for petty offences, notably loitering, failing to repay small debts and using insulting language.
We were honoured to be joined by Justice Solomon, of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, who delivered the keynote address. After the conference, she directed Magistrates to ensure that the offence of ‘fraudulent conversion’ is used appropriately and not simply to criminalise defaulting on small debts. This is an issue that AdvocAid has researched and campaigned on for years (see our July 2012 report for more information), so we are delighted to see this positive impact.
It was inspiring to hear about the work being done by partners across the continent to decriminalise petty offences. Please visit pettyoffences.org to find out more about the campaign. We are grateful to the Open Society Initiative West Africa for funding both the conference and the joint research. We look forward to finalising and launching the research report in the new year.
Launch of Documentary about Sex Workers in Sierra Leone
During December’s “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,” AdvocAid launched “Kolonko,” a documentary which gives voice to sex workers in Sierra Leone. In the documentary, sex workers speak about the violence, rape and theft the face from clients and, all too often, the police. Because sex workers are treated as criminals, they are effectively denied the protection of the law. Instead of arresting sex workers for loitering, AdvocAid argues that the police need to investigate those responsible for the human trafficking and child abuse that lead women and girls into sex work. More information is available in our press release.
As part of the launch, we showed the documentary on TV, AdvocAid staff went on the radio to discuss the issues raised, and we screened the film with representatives from civil society organisations, government authorities, the media, lawyers, and sex workers.
We were pleased to hear that the documentary has already had an impact. The police intend to issue a memo to all officers to end the abuse and harassment of sex workers. This would be a significant step forward and we hope to continue engaging the police on this issue.
We are grateful to everyone involved in the production of the documentary, including the film maker, Hazel Chandler (who works with WAYout), our partners Amnesty International, AWOD, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, the International Rescue Committee and MOVE-SL, and former AdvocAid staff including Sonia Osho-Williams, Sia Fatmata Deen, Sabrina Mahtani, Simitie Lavaly and Signe Roelsgaard Nielsen. We would also like to thank our Clifford Chance, whose support for AdvocAid allowed us to fund the launch events.
Death Penalty Appeal
In October, AdvocAid appealed a death penalty conviction to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone not only maintains the death penalty but requires that it is imposed in cases of murder, ritual murder, treason and mutiny. This means that the judge cannot take into account the individual circumstances of the case or the convicted person when delivering the sentence. Our client was convicted of murdering her child. However, the law prevented the judge from taking into account a history of domestic violence, among other mitigating factors, into account when sentencing her. We are working closely with the Death Penalty Project to develop our arguments, in particular using jurisprudence from other countries. As several other jurisdictions have found that the mandatory imposition of the death penalty contravenes the right to life and the right to a fair trial, we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree with this reasoning as the case progresses in 2018.
Simitie Lavaly, Ex-Executive Director of AdvocAid, Nominated for AWOL Legal Practitioner of the Year
AdvocAid is delighted to announce that Ms. Simitie Lavaly has been nominated for Legal Practitioner of the Year in the annual National Achievement Awards (NAA), organised by All Works of Life (AWOL). Ms. Lavaly, who began working at AdvocAid in 2009, first as a paralegal, then as a Legal Officer, and finally as the Executive Director, has dedicated her working life to providing vulnerable women and girls who come into conflict with the law with access to justice. We are thrilled that she has been nominated and have all voted for her to win the award.