Annual Report: Sierra Leone 2013

Report
May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Sierra Leone 2013

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Republic of Sierra Leone

Head of state and government Ernest Bai Koroma

The former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was convicted and sentenced for crimes committed in Sierra Leone during the 11-year armed conflict. The country held its third elections since the end of the conflict, which international observers declared were orderly and transparent. The police used unlawful force against unarmed citizens. The government moved closer to abolition of the death penalty. Agreements between the government and corporations were not transparent and communities affected by corporate activity were not properly consulted about the potential impacts.

Background

In April, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), sitting in The Hague, found former Liberian President Charles Taylor individually responsible for planning and aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's internal armed conflict. He was found guilty on all 11 counts of the indictment, including use of child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery, and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In July, both the defence and the prosecution entered appeals; a decision was expected in 2013.

Due to an amnesty provision in the Lomé peace accord and the limited mandate of the SCSL, thousands of perpetrators of grave human rights violations during the conflict were never investigated or brought to justice. Tens of thousands of victims and their families were waiting for extensive reparations programmes to be fully implemented.

Sporadic clashes between supporters of the two main political parties occurred in the lead-up to the November general elections, but the process was peaceful overall. President Ernest Bai Koroma from the ruling All People's Congress (APC) was elected for a second term.

The Constitutional Review process was years overdue. The government promised to reinvigorate discussions after the 2012 elections. Two key pieces of legislation – the Freedom of Information Bill and the Gender Equality Bill – were still pending in Parliament by the end of the year. No attempts were made to amend the Public Order Act of 1965, which allows for the imposition of restrictions on freedom of expression.

Death penalty

The government continued to move closer to total abolition of the death penalty, following the establishment of an official moratorium on executions in 2011. At the end of 2012, according to civil society organizations, no inmates remained on death row and no new death sentences were passed.

However, the death penalty was retained in law for treason and aggravated robbery, and was mandatory for murder.

Justice system

In May, the Legal Aid Act was passed but was not implemented by the end of the year. The justice system continued to suffer from lack of capacity and resources. Civil society organizations reported that many people could not make use of bail provisions as they were often asked to pay bribes, at the police station or court, before bail would be granted.

According to civil society organizations, imprisonment for debt, under fraudulent conversion and other charges, and loitering, were commonplace. Women attempting to make a living through trade or microfinance institutions were at risk of imprisonment for debt. A lack of legal expertise within the criminal justice system and corruption were found to be serious underlying problems. Without access to lawyers, many individuals remained in prison for extended periods.

Constant adjournments, indictment delays, missing case files and shortage of magistrates contributed to lengthy pre-trial detention and prison overcrowding.

Police and security forces

In January, it was leaked to the press that the Sierra Leone police had received a shipment, worth several million dollars, of arms which they had purchased, including small arms, ammunition and grenade launchers. The shipment, ahead of the November elections, alarmed national and international actors. Members of the UN Security Council visited the country in May and raised this issue with the government, who gave assurances that some of the weapons were transferred to the armed forces.