Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 May 2020:
After spending weeks in police custody without charge – contrary to the constitution of Sierra Leone and global human rights codes of conduct, there is growing concern for the health and wellbeing of Dr Sylvia Olayinka Blyden.
She was arrested last month by police in Sierra Leone, following allegations of inciting crimes against the State, which the police are still struggling to find evidence to bring charges.
Yesterday, a group of lawyers in Sierra Leone – working for the Christian Lawyers Centre, wrote a letter to the country’s Chairman and Members of the Police Council, through the Office of the Vice President. This is what the letter says:
Dear Honourable Chairman and Members,
Appeal for your positive intervention over the continued unconstitutional detention of Dr Sylvia Blyden, Mrs Palo Conteh, Hussain Muckson and others by the Sierra Leone Police.
As a legal advocacy organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups, promotes respect for the rule of law, due process and constitutionality in Sierra Leone, Christian Lawyers Centre (hereinafter referred to as LEGAL LINK) feels compelled to write you this letter and to further seek your direct intervention regarding the above subject matter.
No doubt, the Police Council, by virtue of Section 158 of the 1991 Constitution has been charged with the responsibility of ensuring the efficient and effective administration of the Sierra Leone police.
By section 157 (3) of the 1991 constitution also, the Police Council has the power to dismiss, reduce in rank and / or exercise disciplinary control over the top management of the Sierra Leone police.
In line with these above constitutional provisions, the mammoth of influence that your institution wields over the Sierra Leone police in terms of discipline and ensuring compliance to the rule of law and constitutionality cannot be underestimated.
It is vital to therefore bring to your urgent attention that several appeals which have been made by civil society organisations to the leadership and Management of the Sierra Leone police regarding the above subject have not yielded any fruits; hence the reason for our escalation to this August body.
The apparent acquiescence and or failure to act by the Inspector General of Police over the continued illegal detention of the above named suspects is not only worrying but further poses a clear and present danger to our democratic and human rights credentials at the International level since Sierra Leone will soon be reviewed for the third time by the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.
That the Inspector General of Police is himself a member of the Police Council, affords therefore a golden opportunity for an objective conversation to be held together with him regarding respect for the rule of law, fundamental human rights of suspects and compliance to the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone.
Hon Chairman and Members of the Police Council, you will agree that when it comes to arrests and detention of suspects by the police, the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone provides clear and precise timelines that must guide such arrests and detention.
Section 17 sub section (2) and (3) of the 1991 constitution provides thus:
2) “Any person who —
(a) is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing or in a language that he understands at the time of his arrest, and in any event not later than twenty-four hours, of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention;
(b) is arrested or detained shall be informed immediately at the time of his arrest of his right of access to a legal practitioner or any person of his choice, and shall be permitted at his own expense to instruct without delay a legal practitioner of his own choice and to communicate with him confidentially.
(3) Any person who is arrested or detained in such a case as is mentioned in paragraph (e) or (f) of subsection (1) and who is not released shall be brought before a court of law —
(a) within ten days from the date of arrest in cases of capital offences, offences carrying life imprisonment and economic and environmental offences; and
(b) within seventy-two hours of his arrest in case of other offences; and if any person arrested or detained in such a case as is mentioned in the said paragraph (f) is not tried within the periods specified in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section, as the case may be, then without prejudice to any further proceedings which may be brought against him he shall be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including in particular, such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial or proceedings preliminary to trial.”
The reason why the drafters of the 1991 constitution inserted such sacred provisions into the GRUNDNORM ( the highest law) is to jealously guard and protect the fundamental human rights of suspects from violation by law enforcement agencies as they carry out their constitutional duty.
But apart from our national constitution, it is vital to also pinpoint that several international human rights laws, treaties and covenants also contain guided provisions with respect to arrests and detention of suspects by law enforcement agencies.
Such International instruments include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Mandela Rules, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Luanda Guidelines.
Since Sierra Leone is a party to all of these International instruments, it therefore puts an obligation on the government to ensure that its law enforcement agencies acts in a professional way and resist the urge to engage in arbitrary arrests and unlawful detention of suspects within its jurisdiction.
But from a cursory look at the actions of the Sierra Leone police especially in the wake of the global pandemic, it is apparent that grave violations of fundamental human rights have been occasioned by them in the handling of the aforementioned suspects beginning from their arrests right on to their detention at the Criminal Investigations Department.
For example, Dr Sylvia Blyden and Mrs Palo Conteh have both been in detention for about two weeks now without being charged to court or granted police bail.
There are also reports of allegations of inhuman and degrading treatments, poor sanitary conditions, denial of food and water, unclear charges and limited access to legal representation meted out to suspects by the Sierra Leone police.
If these allegations are true, then they certainly will constitute a violation of the fundamental human rights of suspects as guaranteed not only under section 17 (2) and (3) of our 1991 constitution but also under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Mandela Rules, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Women in Africa and the Luanda Guidelines to which Sierra Leone is a party.
As a body that wields so much power and influence over the Sierra Leone police, it is our hope that you will exert your influence in a positive way regarding this matter and particularly ensure that the fundamental human rights of suspects currently detained at the Criminal Investigations Department are not only protected and respected by the Sierra Leone police but also the national and International frameworks that guarantees them.
Under International law, it is the state that has the obligation to protect, respect, fulfil and promote fundamental human rights.
We therefore call on your oversight institution to counsel and / or advise the top Management of the Sierra Leone police to ensure that all suspects currently in detention at the Criminal Investigations Department are put on bail pending further investigations or court charges as required by Section 17(3) of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone.
In conclusion, and without prejudice or any gainsaying to the Constitutional mandate of the Sierra Leone Police, it is our candid view that in such a volatile COVID 19 environment like Sierra Leone, the need for decongestion of detention and or correctional facilities cannot be over-emphasized.
Thanks for your understanding and cooperation. While anticipating your urgent response, please accept the assurances of our highest regards.
Rashid Dumbuya Esq, Executive Director, Christian Lawyers Centre (LEGAL LINK)
The Hon.Minister of International Affairs
The Hon.Speaker of Parliament
The Hon. Attorney General and Minister of Justice
The Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps
The National Security Coordinator, Office of National Security
The Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone
The Executive Director, Legal Aid Board
The Chair, Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone
The Chair, National Commission for Democracy
The President, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists
The President, Sierra Leone Bar Association
All Political Parties
All heads of Civil Society Organisations
The General Public