Special Court for Sierra Leone
The prosecution case in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in The Hague ended on 27 February, and included 91 witnesses. He faced 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone. The defence case began on 13 July; Charles Taylor was the sole witness during the rest of 2009.
On 26 October, the Appeals Chamber of the SCSL upheld the convictions of the Revolutionary United Front leaders Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao on nearly all counts. The convictions were the first for attacks on UN peacekeepers as a violation of international humanitarian law and for forced marriage as an inhumane act constituting a crime against humanity. In October, all eight of the convicted men were transferred to Rwanda, honouring a March agreement with the SCSL, to serve their prison sentences. The sentences ranged from 15 to 52 years, with credit given for time served in detention at the SCSL. No prison facility within Sierra Leone meets the required international standards. In November, the SCSL handed over its detention facilities to the Sierra Leone prison service to be used to house female prisoners.
The reparations programme, set up under the TRC, devoted most of 2009 to identifying 28,000 war victims, implementing symbolic reparations in 18 chiefdoms, and making available fistula surgery for victims of sexual violence. The only funds for the reparation programme, drawn from the peacebuilding fund, ran out in late 2009 and the government took no steps to ensure funding for the future.
In July, the National Human Rights Commission released its second annual report, which highlighted among other things the high rate of maternal mortality. In September, Amnesty International released a report and delegates, including the Secretary General, toured Sierra Leone to raise awareness about the issue. On 23 September at the UN General Assembly, President Koroma announced plans for providing free care for pregnant and lactating women, and for children under five. Implementation of the plans was expected to start in April 2010.
Violence and discrimination against women
Using the Child Rights Act (2007), NGOs made some gains in their campaign to stop the practice of FGM among girls below the age of 18. Some traditional leaders imposed by-laws in their communities outlawing the practice of FGM for children.
- In February, four women journalists were abducted, stripped and forced to parade naked through the streets of Kenema by women initiators of FGM who said that the journalists were disrupting their tradition. After the journalists were released, the police took no action against the alleged attackers.
There were allegations that women were raped and otherwise sexually assaulted during the March political violence. The Commission of Inquiry set up in July concluded that sexual violence did take place but that rape did not. No action was taken against those alleged to have perpetrated sexual violence. Civil society and women's rights groups contested the findings of the inquiry.
- A woman in the northern district of Kono was barred from chieftaincy elections in November because of her gender.
Freedom of expression
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists filed a suit in the Supreme Court in February seeking to repeal archaic seditious libel provisions. The case remained pending at the end of the year.
Concern was raised by the UN in July that some of the provisions of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation Act passed in 2009 could undermine the independence of the broadcasting corporation. President Koroma gave assurances that this would not be the case.
In July, the Independent Media Commission announced that licences of political party radio stations would be withdrawn because of the March political violence, a move opposed by civil society groups. The SLPP filed an action challenging the decision.