Annual Report: Sierra Leone 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Sierra Leone 2011

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Head of state and government: Ernest Bai Koroma
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 5.8 million
Life expectancy: 48.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 160/136 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 39.8 per cent

The government continued to rebuild institutions and infrastructure in the wake of the civil war, promoting development and providing basic health and education. In an effort to reduce the high rate of maternal mortality, the government introduced a free health care policy for pregnant and lactating women and for children under five. Despite some progress however, the country continued to suffer from widespread poverty-related violations of socio-economic rights; a high incidence of sexual and gender-based violence; violations of children's rights; impunity for past crimes against humanity; justice system weaknesses; non-implementation of crucial Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations; prevalent corruption; and the looming threat of ethnic violence.

Background

Sierra Leone continued to move beyond the legacy of its 11-year civil war (1991-2002), which resulted in economic devastation, infrastructure collapse, mass displacement, and atrocities including sexual slavery, forced recruitment of child soldiers and amputations. There was progress on the legal front with some implementation of recent legislation such as the Chieftaincy Act, Child Rights Act, Domestic Violence Act and Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act.

In October, Sierra Leone ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Despite the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission, which obtained a number of successful prosecutions, corruption remained a persistent problem.

Justice system

The justice sector remained beset by major challenges. The law reform process, including a constitutional review, made little progress.

The criminal justice system continued to suffer from an acute shortage of magistrates, lengthy delays in proceedings, overloaded public lawyers, inadequate prosecutorial capacity, delays in the appointment of local court chairs, capacity constraints and corruption, all of which directly impeded Sierra Leoneans' access to justice.

Despite improvements in prison conditions, prisons were overcrowded and had inadequate medical supplies and food. Many detainees were held in prolonged pre-trial detention, and juveniles were detained together with adults. These and other problems combined to make detention in Sierra Leone dangerous and occasionally lethal; conditions were often so harsh that they constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Police and security forces

Police brutality, corruption, excessive use of force, poor conditions in police detention cells, and unlawfully prolonged detention without charge were commonplace. Police were also often ineffective in maintaining law and order. There were no effective police investigations into ritual murders and few investigations into sexual and gender-based violence.

  • In February, police were sent to quell disturbances by school pupils at the national stadium and injured many children, some as young as six years old.
  • No police were held accountable for the unresolved extrajudicial killings by police in Lungi in September 2009, where three people were shot dead and at least 13 others were injured.

Freedom of expression - journalists

Despite improvements in media freedom since the war, the government failed to abolish the provisions of the Public Order Act of 1965 on seditious libel, which placed undue restrictions on freedom of expression. A petition filed by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists challenging the constitutionality of the Act was quashed by the Supreme Court in November 2009. No reform initiative took place in 2010, although the President had promised in 2009 that the government would review the Act.

Concerns were raised by journalists that some of the provisions of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation Act passed in 2009 could undermine the independence of the broadcasting corporation.