10 October 2012 marks World Day Against the Death Penalty
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.”
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.
Many countries across the world have abolished the death penalty: 141 countries are abolitionist in law or practice.
Countries with similar histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi, have abolished the death penalty.
The death penalty is a violation of various international human rights standards.
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.
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.
The death penalty is unfair. It is often used disproportionally against the poor, mentally ill and those who are unaware of their legal rights.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
AdvocAid’s Executive Director and Legal Officer paid a visit to Makeni to monitor and support the work of our Makeni paralegal, Victoria Koroma, who is based with Access to Justice Makeni.
We paid visits to the Courts and met with police, State Counsel and the newly transferred High Court Judge. We also visited Makeni Prison, Female Section and distributed welfare items, took detailed statements from the inmates and conducted general prison monitoring. We were able to put up posters concerning the Bangkok Rules, UN Standards for the Treatment of Female Detainees.
Posters explaining the UN Standards for the Treatment of Female Detainees
Simitie Lavaly, Legal Officer, performed a bail application for a young female detainee (a former street girl) which was unfortunately refused due to her lack of family ties and fixed abode.
We were very pleased with Victoria’s work and her impact in Makeni.
Thanks to Open Society Foundations for their support of our work and GIZ who supported creation of the posters. Posters designed by Steph Maylon.
Simitie Lavaly and Victoria Koroma discussing a case
Sabrina and Victoria at Access to Justice Makeni's office
Today we are celebrating 10 years of peace in Sierra Leone and also remembering all those who suffered during the 11 year long civil war and those who still feel the effects today. Sierra Leone has come a long way since AdvocAid started in 2006 but there are still many challenges, especially for the girls and women we work with.
Great news to begin the new year! Another woman (formerly on death row) has been discharged.
MSK was sentenced to death in 2007. Her conviction was overturned following an appeal by AdvocAid in 2009 and she had to undergo a retrial. An AdvocAid contracted lawyer managed to have her released on bail and she was at least able to be reunited with her family during the long trial process. Just before Christmas, she was discharged by the High Court.
Congratulations to the entire AdvocAid Legal Team (especially Lawyer Kamara) and thanks to the Death Penalty Project.
AdvocAid donated welfare items (such as toiletries) to women and their children in Freetown Female Prison. We gave each woman her own “lappa” (cloth) which can be used for clothing, as a blanket etc
We played some music and shared food, including fruit which is hardly part of the prison diet.
However, our Christmas welfare donations were made more complicated as the female prison population in Freetown had almost doubled due to a police raid on a poor area of town. Thanks to your donations, we just managed to give most women a few welfare items each. We spent the rest of the day taking statements from the women with our Legal Officer, Legal Volunteer and law students.