Why Sierra Leone Should NOT Have Abolished Death Penalty – Palo Conteh Gives Reasons

Former Internal Affairs Minister under the former APC government, Rtd. Major Palo Conteh has said that in his personal opinion “we should retain the death penalty for certain offences.”

Giving his reaction to the abolishing of the death penalty by parliament last Friday, Palo Conteh said “Firstly I am not against the abolition of the death penalty, however, I think it should have been taken to the people, because in England they have done it about 2 or 3 times, when the issue came, with those supporting and those against, they took it to the people and let them vote on it, so let the people have their say, this is not something which 132 MPs and Paramount Chiefs sit together and take a decision.”

According to Awoko, He went on “Secondly, personally I think we should retain the death penalty for certain offences. For example in law where the ‘mensria’ is clear, your mental capacity like some people who say I will stab you and go to jail, that somebody is a killer. I don’t think that person should get life imprisonment. So I thought they should have graduated it, say for certain offences.”

Reflecting on his recent brush with the law he said “Of course my experience with treason, I would say no. Because it can be used as a political tool, but the blatant ones, like people who kill young defenceless children, I think offences like those should carry the death penalty. So in short I do not think it should be blanket.”

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As Minister of Internal Affairs then Palo Conteh had dealt with rising numbers of murders by going to the prisons and watching the cleaning and testing of the execution machine. It is against this back drop that he said “Me personally, I think it (death penalty) should be there as a deterrent. Because like you rightly mentioned, it did work while I was Minister of Internal Affairs, the government pathologist then said he was getting 42 corpses per month, when I cleaned the gallows he said on record that it reduced to 16 per month, so it does work as a deterrent if even not used, let people know that it is there, it may be used, they might use it on me.”

He furthered “And for me the state of lawlessness in the country, again I don’t think the timing is right. It sends the wrong message, people are killing people deliberately, intentionally, and then you lift it so quickly as if it is some educational act that you are passing … I think they should have done more work on it and get the people involved and do a lot of consultation before we get to this stage.”

Questioned whether the replacement of minimum 30 years for life sentence would produce the required reform in a convicted murderer the former Minister who had served time in prison under allegations of treason which carried the death penalty then said “Again as you said I have been in the system, apart from being the political head, I have gone through it personally, there is no reformation taking place.”

“It was during my tenure in government, not as Internal Affairs Minister that the nomenclature was changed from Prisons to Correctional Center, but I say that was just a change of nomenclature, there is nothing transformational in terms of the lives of prisoners, so that you could make them better people when they come out of prison. Nothing is happening, it’s not like they have been sent to do some academic work, technical jobs so that you make them better; like psychologists and psychiatrists to transform their minds before you let them out back into society again. It is not. We just changed the name and it is the same thing that was happening in 1970 and 1980, that is happening today in 2021.”

“So again unless we look at proper proper reform of the prison system, then we can begin to talk about transforming people and think of giving them a maximum or minimum sentence and hoping that they would transform and then you let them back into society.”

Pressed further whether he thinks 30 years is not enough to change the mind of a convicted murderer he said “Again we have a parole system, if it works properly, you look at a prisoner who has shown remorse, who has reformed, and is ready to go back to society yes 25-30 years I think it’s a price to pay for killing somebody.”

Civil Society activist and Director for the Center for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL) Ibrahim Tommy said after parliament had removed the death penalty that it “ .. is historic it is a huge moment for the govt and people of Sierra Leone and it is a major progress in our human rights history. For a very long time for decades perhaps you can go way back to 1861 we have had the death penalty in our law books today we have made a decision as a people and as a govt and as a country, to make a departure from our brutal past.”

Pressed whether the replacement of life sentence would be sufficient to satisfy those whose loved ones have been killed, Tommy said “I get your point whether this responds to the fears of the people whether capital punishment or the death penalty is a deterrent, and to serious crimes such as murder … what I would say is unless you talk to an inmate or somebody who has … nobody understands what it means to be stripped off your liberty for even a day, if you are in one place for 30 odd years it is such a stiff punishment and I think, yes I think a minimum of 30 years is strict enough to send a clear message that (a) the state will no longer carry out death penalty but the state is prepared, is willing to punish those who commit serious offences such as murder or robbery with violence or robbery with aggravation.”

Long time campaigner and Director of the Local Chapter of Amnesty International Solomon Sogbandi said “it’s a fulfilled dream, and we are happy that today parliament has ensured that they have removed it from our law books especially from the secondary laws that have the death penalty as punishment, so it’s a happy moment for us, it’s a success story and we continue to appeal to the public that when we campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty does not mean that we support criminality or we support people who feel they can take peoples lives and go to jail for a short time and come out again, we believe that with the abolition of the death penalty, people should know how to relate to people, and should know that life is sacred and the right to life is a right which no one should take from any person even government”

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Anthony Brewah was obviously a happy man. He said “I feel very happy, not so much for myself but for the people of this country, because I know so many mistakes have been made in the past people have been killed for offences which they did not commit but at the same time they cannot bring them back even if they discover new evidence to show that these people are blameless that is why I am very happy especially for the politicians, they have used it over the years against their opponents, so that is why I am so happy.”

Asked what would happen to those who are presently on death row he said “Their sentences will be committed from death to a number of years because the death penalty is no longer a punishment in our jurisdiction for offences committed” adding that “its just an administrative process to commit the death penalty to a number of years they don’t need to go to court again.”

Earlier in Parliament the leader of government business Hon Matthew Nyuma had argued “We know the emotions followed by this, but as a progressive nation we need to be at par or in conformity with other states. Over hundred nations they have removed the death penalty, 20 countries in Africa or more, they have removed the death penalty. Sierra Leone today we want to join the line as a progressive nation so we have to remove this law, we have to be in conformity with international best practices”

The last executions were done 23 years ago on 20th October 1998 when 24 soldiers were executed by firing squad after being convicted by a military tribunal.

Presently there are 93 people on death row with 6 being women. The death penalty enacted in 1861 was removed exactly one year after the Criminal Libel laws were repealed. Sierra Leone now joins 119 countries and becomes the 22nd African country to remove the death penalty.

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