Help Prevent a School Girl from Spending Christmas in Police Detention

December 23rd, 2013 — 2:22pm

Fatmata is a young secondary school girl, around 18 years old, who is currently being held in police custody at Magburaka Police Station, Northern Sierra Leone. She has been held since 3 December 2013 without charge, way over the 10 day constitutional time limit.

 Fatmata was first arrested in February 2013 and charged with the murder of a relative. She was later detained in Magburaka Prison and represented by AdvocAid’s Makeni Duty Counsel, Benedict Jalloh. The Prosecution was unable to obtain an autopsy report on the Deceased and therefore could not proceed with their case. As a result, on 3 December 2013, Fatmata was discharged by Honourable Magistrate Gooding at Magburaka Magistrate Court. He held that the Prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case during the preliminary investigation stage.

 As soon as Fatmata left the court, thinking her ordeal had ended, she was re-arrested for the same offence and detained yet again in Magburaka Police Station. She is being detained whilst the Prosecution try and arrange for the necessary  autopsy report She has been detained for 20 days without charge, well over the 10 day constitutional time period, and it is not clear when or if she will be charged. It is challenging for AdvocAid to file a habeus corpus application as the High Court had gone on circuit to Port Loko and the Christmas period is approaching when the Courts do not sit.

 AdvocAid have been engaging the Magburaka Police, Makeni State Counsel, Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Police  as well as the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone.

 We urge the Magburaka Police to discharge Fatmata or put her on bail given that they have exceeded the lawful detention time period and considering that the Magistrate discharged the case for lack of evidence. The Prosecution has had ample time to gather evidence in this matter and a young school girl should not suffer and have her rights violated because the Prosecution has failed to gather the necessary evidence.

 Fatmata’s life was suddenly stopped over 10 months ago when a close relative died. She has been in detention for over 10 months. We respectfully ask the Inspector General of Police and Director of Public Prosecutions to assist in ensuring that this young girl be freed and be reunited with her family for Christmas.  We encourage our fellow civil society activists to monitor the situation and intervene as appropriate.

AdvocAid is a civil society organization that provides access to justice and strengthened rights for girls and women in conflict with the law in Sierra Leone.

Head Office: 39 Upper Brook Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone,

www.advocaidsl.com

+232 33 572526

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Press Release: No Place for the Death Penalty in Sierra Leone’s Future Constitution

October 10th, 2013 — 1:19pm

On World Day Against the Death Penalty, 10 October 2013, AdvocAid renews its campaign to ensure that the death penalty is fully abolished in Sierra Leone. The current constitutional review process underway is an excellent opportunity to ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s imperative recommendation to abolish the death penalty is implemented.

“Respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life. Everyone has the right to life. A society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself.” Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Despite the strides the Government has made in issuing a moratorium on executions, the death penalty is still permitted in Sierra Leone’s laws as the ultimate punishment for crimes of murder, treason and armed robbery. In 2011, the Government commuted the death sentences of all prisoners to life imprisonment. Since then, nearly all former prisoners on death row have either been pardoned or released following appeals or advocacy undertaken by AdvocAid and its Legal Officer, Simitie Lavaly. However, one sole female former death row prisoner remains in Freetown Female Prison on a life sentence, Baby Allieu. Simitie Lavaly, AdvocAid’s Legal Officer, is currently conducting her appeal before the Court of Appeal. Baby Allieu is a young orphan lady who was arrested for wounding her boyfriend who later died. Although she states that she wounded him in self-defence as he was strangling her after initially beating her with a pipe, her defence of self-defence was rejected by the jury at Kenema High Court in 2010. Two other male prisoners (formerly on death row) remain incarcerated and sentenced to life imprisonment in Pademba Road Prison. All three have not been pardoned as they have appeals before the Court of Appeal which have still not been heard.

AdvocAid has secured the release of 4 women on death row, through appeals or through applications to the Presidential Pardon Committee. We strongly feel that the death penalty has no place in Sierra Leone’s future constitution and future society and urge the Constitutional Review Committee to ensure that the death penalty is prohibited. We also urge the Government to sign the 2nd Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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Female Prisoners in Kenema Pass Stage 1 Literacy

July 19th, 2013 — 9:41am

A short video of a graduation ceremony in Kenema Female Prison for women who passed their Stage 1 Literacy.

AdvocAid runs literacy classes for women in prison across Sierra Leone with our fantastic partner, EducAid, an educational charity. The women are singing “Learning Is Better Than Silver or Gold”, very true!

 

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Urgent Press Release: Unconstitutional Detention of Alleged Electoral Malpractice Suspects by Sierra Leone Police

November 22nd, 2012 — 8:26pm

We, the following civil society organisations, AdvocAid, Amnesty International, Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), L.A.W.Y.E.RS (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights & Social justice), and Prison Watch, strongly condemn the action of the Sierra Leone Police in detaining alleged election malpractice suspects beyond the 72 hours constitutional time limit prescribed in section 17(3) of the 1991 Constitution.

 

In particular, we would like to highlight the plight of 6 female suspects currently detained at the Criminal Investigation Department from about 1700 hours on Saturday 17th November 2012. Five of the female suspects were employed by NEC in various roles during the conduct of the elections. Of serious concern is the wellbeing of one of the detainees, who is a suckling mother of 17 month old twins. She has been denied access to her children since her arrest, which is a serious breach of the United Nations Minimum Standards on Detention of Female prisoners (known as the Bangkok Rules).
The Constitution provides that all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that they must be brought speedily before a competent authority to adjudicate on their guilt or innocence should the Sierra Leone Police believe they have sufficient evidence to charge their matters to court.
 
We, therefore, call on the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice to immediately bring them before a competent court of law or release them on bail.
 
We are also calling on the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, to speedily announce the results of the elections as all Law Enforcement and Security personnel are declining to comply with the rule of law and constitutional provisions due to the uncertainty being created by the delay in results being announced.
 
Finally, we are also calling on the international community to take note of these breaches of fundamental human rights during and after the electioneering period.
 
Signed
 
AdvocAid, Head Office: 39 Liverpool Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone, advocaid@gmail.com/+232 33 572 526www.advocaidsl.com
 
Amnesty International, Freetown
 
Centre for Accountability & Rule of Law (CARL), 7 Percival Street,(3rd Floor), Freetown
 
L.A.W.Y.E.RS (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights & Social justice), Head Office: 11 Percival Street, Freetown. Tel: 076 820291
 
Prison Watch, Mends Street, Freetown

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AdvocAid’s work featured in IRIN news report

November 21st, 2012 — 5:16am

AdvocAid’s work, particularly our recent research report on Women, Debt and Detention, was featured in an IRIN news report (below).

SIERRA LEONE: Women, debt and detention

Juveniles in a police cell in a Sierra Leone, where women are being detained for owing debt

FREETOWN, 11 October 2012 (IRIN) – Many Sierra Leonean women who are unable to repay small debts end up in prison for want of decent legal representation after their creditors report them to the police, meaning that civil disputes turn into criminal cases.

An estimated 10 percent of all charges issued by the Sierra Leonean police involve the failure to repay small debts.

The criminalization of debt upsets the livelihoods of the accused who are mostly petty traders. Their children at times are forced to live with them in detention and their incarceration often breaks up families and deepens poverty, said Advocaid, a Sierra Leonean civil society group helping women and children offenders.

Ignorance of legal rights and an outdated law contribute to the trend in which debt disputes turn into criminal cases. The crime of “fraudulent conversion” is based on Sierra Leone’s 1916 Larceny Act. The charge relates to a person’s inability to repay debts.

“Why are you serving a five-year prison sentence when you owe somebody just US$100,” Advocaid’s interim director Simitie Lavaly told IRIN. “By just providing a lawyer you can save someone’s life.”

In 2006 when Advocaid began offering help to women imprisoned for debt defaulting and other offences, there were 50 women in the main prison in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown unable to raise bail or afford legal representation, Lavaly said.

“The only reason these people were in prison is because they were poor and could not afford representation. There was no educated person in prison. All of these women are illiterate. Even now the majority of the women in the criminal justice system are illiterate. You are not there because you are a bad person, but because you cannot get legal representation.”

Poverty is widespread in Sierra Leone, which is recovering from a civil war that devastated its people and institutions. The judiciary is inadequately staffed, and has a big backlog of cases, Advocaid said.

Magistrates are overworked and under-trained, there are constant adjournments, missing case files, lack of transport for prisoners to and from court and a shortage of magistrates has created lengthy delays, Amnesty International said in its 2012 state of the world’s human rights report.

Many women have been arrested, detained or convicted because of debt issues, noted Advocaid. However, other common offences by Sierra Leonean women include murder, causing serious injury to someone – in many cases their husbands – and public disorder.

Poor understanding of the law

Poor understanding of court procedures and language barriers have resulted in many suspects inadvertently admitting guilt and getting convicted. A 19-year-old woman who spoke to IRIN said she was charged with murder after she accidentally stabbed her husband with a sharp object she was carrying when he fell on top of her while playing. She spent 18 months in a remand prison before her trial started, but was later acquitted.

“I am unhappy about the murder charge because I didn’t have any intention of killing my husband,” she said on condition of anonymity. “The police have to help. They didn’t investigate the case properly. One of the policemen told me that I killed my husband on purpose… I would have been put in jail and I would have been so frustrated and perhaps killed myself.”

Another ex-detainee, who requested not to be identified, told IRIN she was condemned to life in prison for murder after being accused of poisoning her co-wife’s son, but said she was falsely accused. With legal representation, her life sentence was reduced to eight years and she was later released on account of time served.

“The biggest challenge confronting the formal justice system is the public perception that it has been compromised by the executive and lacks independence,” said Ibrahim Tommy, director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, a Sierra Leonean activist group.

In addition, he explained that there are few state counsels, access to justice both physical – there are few courts and magistrates in a given region – and many cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Most of the country’s lawyers, estimated to be around 500, are in private practice or working for corporations and mainly based in Freetown.

The granting of bail, which is at the discretion of magistrates and judges, has been seen as unfair. In addition, some plaintiffs have been known to fail to turn up to court for hearings once the accused has been detained, thus dragging out cases and crowding prisons.

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10 Reasons Sierra Leone Should End the Death Penalty

October 10th, 2012 — 5:36am

10 October 2012 marks World Day Against the Death Penalty

  1. The TRC recommended that Sierra Leone abolish the death penalty.
    “Respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life. Everyone has the right to life. A society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself.”
  2. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which considered cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, did not have the power to impose the death penalty. The death penalty should be abolished as otherwise ordinary citizens are treated more harshly than convicted war criminals.
  3. Many countries across the world have abolished the death penalty: 141 countries are abolitionist in law or practice.
  4. Countries with similar histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi, have abolished the death penalty.
  5. The death penalty is a violation of various international human rights standards.
  6. The deterrent effect of the death penalty has never been conclusively proven. A 2009 survey of US criminologists revealed that over 88% believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder.
  7. The death penalty is irrevocable. No justice system is perfect. Innocent people could, therefore, be sentenced to death. For example, AdvocAid has conducted successful appeals for two women on death row whose convictions were overturned. But limited legal aid services mean that many more innocent people could be sentenced to death.
  8. The death penalty is unfair. It is often used disproportionally against the poor, mentally ill and those who are unaware of their legal rights.
  9. Constitutional Courts in Uganda and Kenya have held that the mandatory death sentence for certain crimes is unconstitutional as it does not allow judges to take into account the individual mitigating circumstances of individuals. In Sierra Leone, the death penalty is mandatory for murder. A judge, therefore, has no choice and cannot impose any other sentence in such cases.
  10. In 2011 the Government issued an official moratorium on all executions. This hugely significant step was applauded by civil society and the international community. The next step must be to abolish the death penalty completely in law and practice.

AdvocAid is a civil society organisation which provides access to justice and strengthened rights for girls and women in conflict with the law. We have provided legal representation for several girls and women on death row as well as welfare, rehabilitation and after care services. For more information, please visit www.advocaidsl.com or our Head Office, 1st Floor, 39 Liverpool Street, Freetown, 033 572526.

 

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Sierra Leonean Civil Society Organisations Denounce Executions in The Gambia

August 28th, 2012 — 5:45pm

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations based in Sierra Leone, strongly denounce the execution of 9 inmates on death row in The Gambia last week.

The executions represent a tragic setback to efforts at developing a human rights culture in the region, with the last execution in The Gambia taking place in 1985, according to The Gambian Government. This action also places The Gambia out of step with its fellow African Union states, the majority of which are abolitionist in law or practice.

The recent executions, and threats by President Jammeh of further executions, diminish any hope that the leadership of The Gambian is committed to abolishing the death penalty.

We welcome the Sierra Leonean Government’s official moratorium on executions which was issued last year, and call on the Government to take a stand against the use of the death penalty in the region by urging The Gambian Government to halt any further executions and commute prisoners on death row to terms of imprisonment. Such a call is in line with the African Union, United Nations and European Union’s stance.

The tragic example set by The Gambia last week also highlights the weakness of death penalty moratoriums. We, therefore, strongly urge the Government to consider the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

 

AdvocAid

Amnesty International Sierra Leone

Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law

Prison Watch Sierra Leone

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Welcoming Derek Achatoh – our new legal intern

February 8th, 2012 — 8:39pm

We are very glad to have Derek volunteering with us. Derek is from Cameroon but came to complete his legal professional studies in Sierra Leone due to lack of a law school in Cameroon.

He completed his LLB in Cameroon, has taught law part time and also has NGO experience. He is currently assisting Simitie Lavaly, Legal Officer, with research and preparation for a number of Court of Appeal and High Court matters.

Derek hard at work in the AdvocAid Office

3 comments » | Capacity Building, News

Sierra Leone Externship Blog now live!

January 29th, 2012 — 3:19am

AdvocAid is running a legal externship programme with the support of Open Society Justice Initiative. The externs are based with 3 legal aid organisations (Defence for Children, LAWYERS and AdvocAid) and gain practical experience working in legal aid and human rights work.

You can now follow the experiences of the externs through a blog they have set up with the help of Volunteer Lawyer, Catherine Seldon. Click here to access the blog.

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AdvocAid presents at the International Human Rights Funders Group Conference

January 29th, 2012 — 3:08am

AdvocAid was part of a panel at the International Human Rights Funders Group Conference this week in San Francisco. The panel was entitled “Flourish or Wilt? Taking Stock of Women’s Human Rights in an Era of Revolutionary Political Change” and we presented alongside courageous women activists from Egypt, Tunisia and Kazakhstan.

We are very grateful to Mama Cash for this opportunity.

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Head Office: 1st Floor, 39 Liverpool Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone | advocaid@gmail.com | Tel: +232 (0)33 572 526