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SIERRA LEONE latest African country to abolish death penalty

Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty

MPs vote unanimously for abolition, making it the 23rd African state to end capital punishment

 

By Saeed Kamali Dehghan

 

The Guardian (24.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3iL3gOg – Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

 

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

 

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

 

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

 

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

 

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

 

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

 

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

 

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

 

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

 

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

 

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

 

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

 

Photo credits : Anne-Sophie Faivre Le Cadre/AFP/Getty





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SIERRA LEONE: Discriminatory ban on pregnant girls attending school is lifted

Amnesty International (30.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bGXJmq – Following today’s ministerial statement to overturn with immediate effect the ban on pregnant girls attending schools, Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s Acting Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa said:

 

“Today we have cause to celebrate as thousands of pregnant girls across Sierra Leone will be allowed back into classes nationwide when schools reopen after COVID-19.

 

“This inherently discriminatory ban which was formalized for almost five years now has already deprived too many young women of their right to education, and the choice as to what future they want for themselves. It has now rightly been consigned to the history books.

 

“Indeed, pregnant girls are given back their dignity and we welcome the government announcement to overturn with immediate effect the ban on them attending school. It’s a victory for all those who campaigned tirelessly to make such a great change happen.

 

“We now hope that authorities in Sierra Leone will develop strategies to address the negative societal attitudes and stigmatization that pregnant girls have been facing for years.  This decision gives also hope to other pregnant girls in Africa who have been stigmatized, discriminated against and, in some countries, also banned from school.”

 

Background

 

Today, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education issued a statement announcing that the 2010 government decision preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams was overturned with immediate effect. It is to be replaced by two new policies focused on the ‘Radical Inclusion’ and ‘Comprehensive Safety’ of all children in the education system. President Julius Maada Bio made it clear that his ‘New Direction’ Government makes decisions based on both evidence and constitutional due process.

 

On 12 December 2019 the regional Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice ruled that the ban should be revoked. The case challenging the ban was brought by Sierra Leonean NGO (WAVES) in partnership with Equality Now and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA). Amnesty International intervened as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”).

 

The organization has previously documented how the ban put the rights of thousands of girls under threat. The ban was formally issued in April 2015 during the Ebola crisis. Due to Ebola, there was a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies and government should put measures in place to ensure this doesn’t happen in this time of COVID-19.





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ECOWAS court deems Sierra Leone pregnant girl ban discriminatory

Sierra Leone government policy banning pregnant girls from attending school breaches the right of girls to access education, according to a ruling handed down by the Economic Community of Economic State (ECOWAS) Court of Justice on Thursday, and said that this policy is discriminatory– a victory for young girls.

 

By Laura Angela Bagnetto

 

Radio France Internationale (12.12.2019) – https://bit.ly/36EiKvK – “We hope this decision has an impact across Africa,” said Judy Gitau, Africa Regional Coordinator at Equality Now, who has worked on the case from the beginning and was present in the Abuja courtroom when the verdict was read.

 

“It not only sets out how such a practice is discriminatory, but it allows people to actually see how they’re relegating the young girls to a cycle of poverty and indignity,” she told RFI after the verdict.

 

A number of human rights groups, including Child Welfare Society, Equality Now and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IRHDA) and WAVES, a Sierra Leonean non-governmental organization, filed the case with the ECOWAS court in May 2018.

 

In court, the judges outlined the issues and succinctly answered each issue, said Gitau.

 

Discriminatory policy

 

The ECOWAS court said that Sierra Leone had an actual policy in place that banned school-age girls who fell pregnant. The government had argued that it was only an unfortunate statement from a minister, and not a policy. RFI reported on the issue back in 2015, where the chairman of the Conference of Principals indicated that it was a policy that was carried out in Sierra Leonean schools.

 

The court said that the ban was discriminatory and ordered the government to lift the ban with immediate effect.

 

The court also ordered the government to carry out four distinct measures in order to reduce teenage pregnancies in school. Providing sexual reproductive education, sensitising the communities on issues of discrimination, and abolishing the parallel, inadequate schools for pregnant girls.

 

The schools had been created by non-state actors, who only taught four subjects, three times a week, not in line with the Sierra Leone educational standards.

 

Vulnerable girls pay the price

 

The previous government had put this policy banning pregnant girls in place, but the advent of Ebola worsened the situation, according to Gitau.

 

A spike in teen pregnancies arose during and after the Ebola crisis.

 

“The majority of these girls were victims of sexual violence on account that their caregivers and guardians died and were no longer available,” said Gitau.

 

A decision with impact

 

Human rights groups hope that this ban will push other African countries who discriminate to change their stance.

 

“This delivers a clear message to other African governments who have similar bans, such as Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea, or may be contemplating them, that they should follow this groundbreaking ruling and take steps to allow pregnant girls access to education in line with their own human rights obligations,” said Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s West Africa deputy campaign director.


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