United States Government Releases Sierra Leone 2021 Human Rights Reports

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 published by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has indicted the Government of Sierra Leone or its agents of arbitrary or unlawful killings.

This was mentioned in Section one of the report which looks at respect for the integrity of the person. The report reported acts of arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings.

“There were several credible reports that the government or its gents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In April the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) shot and killed an unarmed youth in the capital city of Freetown during a student protest. Authorities arrested and dismissed the four police officers allegedly involved in the killing, and as of September they were standing trial,” the report states.

It further reported that in April 2020 a riot broke out at the Freetown Male Correctional Center, resulting in numerous injuries and 31 fatalities, including one corrections officer and 30 inmates. An independent investigation discovered that the riot was sparked by several problems, including overcrowding, suspension of court hearings, and COVID-19 health restrictions.

In response, the government established grievance mechanisms for inmates to report complaints to correction facility management boards.

The report outlined, “Significant human rights issues including credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious government corruption; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the laws were not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labour.”

It however noted that the government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses or engaged in corruption, but impunity persisted. There were also no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

In the area of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) called for an investigation of The Sierra Leone Police’s (SLP) use of excessive force during a student protest at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) in April.

“Officers stripped a female student and arrested her, fired teargas and smoke bombs into the crowd of students, arrested several protesters, and held them without bail. Authorities began an investigation, but no results were available as of September,” the report states.

It further noted that impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces, notably in the SLP. Amnesty International noted improvements in police leadership’s enforcement of disciplinary measures, but other observers reported continuing lack of crowd control and human rights training.

The report noted that Prison and detention centre conditions were harsh and sometimes life-threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, an inefficient justice system, lack of sufficient correctional facilities and personnel, physical abuse, lack of clean water, inadequate sanitary conditions, and a lack of proper medical care in prison facilities.

“As of August the country’s 21 prisons, designed to hold 2,375 inmates, held 4,430, including 1,289 convicted prisoners. The most severe example of overcrowding was in the Freetown Male Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates, which instead held 1,573 individuals. Some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more inmates. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Watch and the SLCS reported that 13 prisons and detention centres were moderately overcrowded, and one inmate jailed in 2007 had yet to appear in court.”

Although there were reports of arbitrary arrest, that is reports of individuals held for questioning without being promptly informed of the reason for the arrest there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

In the area of elections and political participation, the report said that the 2018 presidential election, in which Julius Maada Bio of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party prevailed, and the 2018 parliamentary elections, including an election rerun and by-elections, were regarded by most observers as free and fair.

When it comes to the participation of women and members of minority groups no laws limit their participation in the political process. However, women were underrepresented in government.

“Of the 148 parliamentarians, 18 were women, one fewer than in 2020. As of September women-led four of the 30 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms),” the report stated.

On the most topical issue of corruption and lack of transparency in government, the Anti-Corruption mounted several investigations including one into the offices of the First Lady, the Sierra Leone Maritime Authority, the National Mineral Agency, the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre, the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority among others with varying degrees of success.

“While the Anti-Corruption Commission increased the number of corruption investigations, the commission often failed to indict the most senior officials involved in corruption, charging lower-level officials instead. Media and opposition party members questioned the objectivity and independence of the Anti-Corruption Commission,” the report noted.

For nearly five decades, the United States has issued the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which strive to provide a factual and objective record on the status of human rights worldwide, covering 198 countries and territories.

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The information contained in these reports could not be more vital or urgent given ongoing human rights abuses and violations in many countries, continued democratic backsliding on several continents, and creeping authoritarianism that threatens both human rights and democracy.

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