Human Rights group calls on government of Sierra Leone to treat female prisoners humanely

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 September 2017

The Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) is calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to curtail the continued unlawful, arbitrary and unjustifiable detention of over 20 innocent Sierra Leonean female citizens by the criminal justice system.

CHRDI has been informed that some of these citizens were arbitrarily arrested, have been detained unlawfully for over 48 months now without charge, and have only attended trial once since 2017.

CHRDI views this as flagrant violation of their human rights as guaranteed by section 23 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No 6 of 1991 which provides that:

(1) Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence he shall unless the charge is withdrawn, be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.

(2) Any court or other authority prescribed by law for the determination of the existence or extent of civil rights or obligations shall be independent and impartial; and where proceedings for such determination are instituted by or against any person or authority or the Government before such court or authority, the case shall be given fair hearing within a reasonable time.

CHRDI has also received reports that these female prisoners are being kept in very cramped and degrading conditions at the Freetown female correctional centre where they are awaiting trial.

Seventy-eight of those awaiting trial are being kept within a space that was meant for not more than ten people, forcing most of them to sleep on the floor.

CHRDI is aware that many prisons and jails in the country expose prisoners to dangerous environmental conditions like extreme heat or cold, contaminated food, and a lack of basic sanitation.

CHRDI is concerned that such overcrowding in prisons would only lead to increased violence, and the delivery of poor and inadequate medical care and other essential services.

Coupled with the lack of pipe borne water, poor toilet facilities, access to only one doctor, substandard meals, poorly trained guards and prison administrators, correctional Facilities in Sierra Leone are clearly supporting the popular notion that the justice system is built solely for punishment and not for rehabilitation.

This is not an enlightened approach to penology which is reform geared towards a subsequent productive life upon re-entry to the community. It is a throwback to the 18th century that treated prisoners as animals unfit to renew themselves and re-join society.

Herding individuals in cramped spaces is a cruel, inhuman, degrading, and unjust punishment. Overcrowding is dangerous to health and to human life. It breeds diseases, breaks down discipline and exacerbates tension.

It is against this backdrop that CHRDI is raising these concerns and making an urgent call to the Authorities to speedily look into this matter and do what is right.

CHRDI believes that the unlawful detention of these citizens is in violation of their constitutional and human rights and dignity. To detain citizens without trial for prolonged periods with no regard for due process, is in clear violation of the laws of Sierra Leone and other international Human Rights Instruments.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment. All defendants have the right to fair and speedy trial. It is the responsibility of government to respect the rights of its citizens.

In addition, CHRDI would like to bring to the notice of The Government of Sierra Leone that the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international treaty which was adopted by an overwhelming majority at the UN General Assembly in 2002.

The purpose of the Optional Protocol is to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. To this end, the Optional Protocol advocates the establishment of a system of regular visits to be undertaken by independent international and local bodies to institutions where persons are deprived of their liberty. The objective of these visits is to prevent torture and improve the conditions of prisons and detention centres.

As a public social-policy advocacy and human rights organization, one of CHRDI’s stated aims is to promote accountability and respect for human rights and the enhancement of safety, security and justice, by law enforcement institutions.

CHRDI views the failure of the Government of Sierra Leone to uphold the principles of fundamental human rights as a contributing factor to making the justice system a privilege for only the wealthy to access. The time has come for government to invest in the justice system and to demonstrate a commitment to work together toward a common good for this and for future generations.

Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, calls on the Government of Sierra Leone to immediately release all detainees who have not been charged with legitimate criminal offences. Further it calls on government to respect the constitutional rights of detainees and grant speedy trial to those who have been charged, in compliance with the Laws of Sierra Leone and other international laws.

CHRDI is also calling on the Sierra Leone Police Board, the Sierra Leone  Legal Aid Board, the Ombudsman office  and the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission to investigate cases of unlawful detention, and ill-treatment of prisoners by Sierra Leone police officers  and Prison officers, and ensure that those who are responsible for these abuses are brought to justice.

About Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI )

CHRDI is a Rights based social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.

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