US State Department publishes damning report  on human rights practices in  Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 April 2024:

According to the US State Departrment’s 2023 Report, “There were credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On June 25 (the day after the June 24 elections), at the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party headquarters in Freetown, police reportedly killed a party volunteer.

“On June 26, police killed four other APC supporters in the town of Masiaka. During protests on September 11, police reportedly killed two more individuals. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) called on the Independent Police Complaint Board, a civilian oversight mechanism, to investigate these security force killings and make recommendations on prosecutions to the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).

“On April 13, the government’s Special Investigation Committee (SIC) released its report on violent demonstrations in August 2022, during which the SLP shot and killed 30 protesters, primarily unarmed youth, and protesters killed six police officers. The SIC recommended further investigation to determine the precise number of civilian casualties during the demonstrations.

“The SIC further stated there was no evidence to support allegations security forces committed extrajudicial killings on the night of the violent demonstrations. Critics of the report noted strong ties to the government and security services among a large percentage of the members of the committee.”


The law prohibited such practices, and unlike in 2022, there were no credible reports government officials employed them.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, notably the Sierra Leone Police.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to gross overcrowding, lack of sufficient correctional facilities and personnel, inadequate sanitary conditions, and a lack of proper medical care in the Port Loko, Kambia, and Bo prison facilities.

Abusive Physical Conditions: As of August, the country’s 21 prisons, designed for 2,495 inmates, held 5,561 individuals. The most severe example of overcrowding was in the Freetown Male Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates, which held 1,820 individuals. Some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more inmates. The Sierra Leone Correctional Services (SLCS) reported 10 prisons and detention centers were moderately overcrowded, due to delays in trials and sentencing.

The HRCSL and Prison Watch Sierra Leone (PWSL) reported overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and insufficient medical services in SLCS detention centers. The SLP’s District Human Rights Monitoring Groups (DHRMGs) reported conditions in police station holding cells were poor, especially in small stations outside Freetown such as in Port Loko, Magburuka, Kambia, and Bo districts.

Lack of adequate physical facilities created life-threatening conditions for detainees. Holding cells in some facilities were often dark with little ventilation, and inmates slept on mattresses on bare floors. The HRCSL reported poor toilet facilities in most police holding centers.

The PWSL and DHRMGs reported cells often lacked proper lighting, space, bedding, ventilation, and protection from infectious diseases and mosquitoes. For security reasons, SLCS authorities refused to allow inmates to sleep under mosquito nets, requiring inmates to use chemical repellents instead. Most prisons had piped water, but some inmates lacked sufficient access to potable water.

The SLCS reported a shortage of prison staff generally across the country, which resulted in a lack of security that endangered inmates’ safety.

Administration: Senior prison officials responded to complaints. The HRCSL reported SLCS authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment of inmates.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The HRCSL and PWSL reported international monitors had unrestricted access to detention centers and police holding cells. The HRCSL, Amnesty International, and PWSL monitored prisons frequently.

Improvements: On August 28, the judiciary launched its third “Access to Justice through Judicial Week.” As assigned by the chief justice, a team of 23 judges undertook expedited processing of 802 cases in two weeks, addressing sexual offenses, larceny, burglary, and murder, to reduce sentences and decongest prison and detention centers.


The constitution and law prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention and provided for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. The government generally did not observe these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law required warrants for searches and arrests of persons taken into custody on criminal grounds, but arrests without warrants were common. The HRCSL reported the SLP made some arrests without warrants and held suspects under custody beyond the legally mandated period.

The law required authorities to inform detainees of the reason for their arrest within 24 hours and charge them in court within 72 hours for suspected misdemeanors or within 10 days for suspected felonies. According to Amnesty International and HRCSL, detainees were not always informed promptly of the charges brought against them.

Detainees had the right to access family members and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), lawyers typically were allowed unrestricted access to detainees, and the SLP or detention officers largely respected this policy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The EU Election Monitoring group reported authorities arrested and detained APC supporters for periods in excess of constitutional limits during the June elections and later protests.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. Several NGOs, including the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) and the PWSL, reported pretrial and remand detainees spent an average of two to three years in pretrial detention before courts examined their cases or filed formal charges, frequently exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.


The constitution and law provided for an independent judiciary. NGOs, including the CHRDI and the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, assessed the judiciary maintained relative independence. The limited number of judicial magistrates and lawyers, cumbersome judicial procedures, and high court fees restricted access to justice for most citizens.

In addition to the formal court system, the HRCSL and the DHRMGs reported local chieftaincy courts administered customary law with lay judges, primarily in rural areas. Appeals from these lower courts were heard by the magistrate courts. Paramount chiefs in villages maintained their own police and courts to enforce customary local law. Chieftaincy police and courts exercised authority to arrest, try, and incarcerate individuals.

According to the HRCSL and NGOs in Bo, Kenema, and Port Loko, traditional trials were generally fair, but there was credible evidence corruption influenced many cases, as paramount chiefs acting as judges routinely accepted bribes and favored wealthier defendants. The DHRMGs further reported traditional authorities charged offenses not within their jurisdictional powers and violated the rights of persons when prescribing punishment.

According to the CHRDI, corruption within the military justice system was less prevalent than within the civilian criminal justice system.

Trial Procedures

The law provided for the right to a fair trial for all defendants, but this right was not always enforced.

The limited number of state attorneys resulted in long trial delays. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, PWSL, and CHRDI, stated defendants at magistrate court were not always afforded access to counsel. Attorneys provided at public expense were overburdened with cases, and often defendants who could not afford to pay for an attorney had no access to legal aid prior to trial.

Defendants were not always informed promptly or in detail of the charges against them, and they did not always have access to free assistance from an interpreter. Defendants generally did not have adequate facilities to prepare their defense. Delays in the appeals process were excessive, sometimes lasting more than two years.

According to DHRMGs, laws on gender equality were inconsistently enforced, and many traditional courts ignored the rights of women regarding family law and inheritance. Juveniles were afforded few rights in the traditional justice system.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

In mid-June, authorities arrested 35 APC supporters participating in a protest against the Electoral Commission. Authorities released them on June 23, the eve of the June 24 elections, without charge.

As part of the Agreement on National Unity signed on October 18 by the government and the APC, the APC provided a list of persons arrested or detained for alleged elections-related or other protest offenses to be released by the government.


The constitution and law provided for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right, but there were exceptions.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 28, supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) assaulted Radio Fountain of Peace journalist Alie Melvin Towaka while he covered an event in Moyamba-Southern Province.

Reporters Without Borders stated APC supporters harassed and intimidated their staff during its coverage of a June 14 APC campaign event.

On August 16, a major independent national radio station, Radio Democracy, ceased transmitting shortly before the scheduled broadcast of a prerecorded interview with a resident diplomat concerning the June general election.

The interview leaked on social media and was broadcast in full the following day, with the minister of information and civic education present to provide a rebuttal and deny the government caused the station to cease broadcasting. Journalist Musa Kamara, who conducted the interview, received several anonymous death threats after the broadcast.


There were reports the government restricted the right to peaceful assembly. The constitution and law provided for the freedom of association.

The constitution and law provided for freedom of assembly. The law, however, required prior coordination of demonstrations with the SLP. Civil society groups believed the law only required groups to notify police of their intent to demonstrate, but police stated the inspector general of police had to approve protests.

Opposition leaders and civil society organizations complained police routinely denied permits for protests that would be critical of the president.

While the October report of the EU election observation mission stated the fundamental right of freedom of assembly was largely respected during campaigning, and observers found political rallies largely went well in major areas, alleged ruling SLPP supporters in rural areas in the Southern and Eastern Provinces attempted to disrupt APC party rallies in ruling party strongholds. Unknown assailants committed an arson attack on the APC party headquarters in Bo.


Abuses or Irregularities in Recent Elections: National elections in June were widely reported by domestic and international observers to have logistical problems and delays on election day and a lack transparency during the tabulation process.

There were reports of attempted intimidation by alleged supporters of the ruling party at some opposition APC rallies. There were also reports of threats against and intimidation of domestic observers by government and government supporters.

Corruption in Government

The law provided criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement or enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The government made some progress in fighting corruption in recent years. The Anti-Corruption Commission investigated and prosecuted corruption cases. Some observers accused the commission of targeting opposition politicians while failing to investigate credible allegations of corruption against the ruling SLPP, including those close to the president.

In May, a court granted Samura Kamara, opposition presidential candidate, an adjournment of his pending corruption trial, to enable him to campaign in the June elections. He faced allegations of misappropriation in 2021 of funds at the country’s UN mission chancery in New York. Kamara denied the allegations, claiming the case was politically motivated. The case resumed in July.

For additional information concerning corruption in the country, please see the Department of State’s Investment Climate Statement for the country and the Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which includes information on financial crimes.

Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Monitoring and Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions to monitor or investigate human rights conditions or cases and publish their findings. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to the views of these groups and generally acknowledged the problems presented.

The government, including security forces, generally responded to human rights concerns raised by civil society organizations but was at times slow to implement their recommendations.


There were laws to protect racial or ethnic minorities from violence or discrimination, while other laws institutionalized some forms of discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Authorities made some efforts to enforce these laws.

Strong ethnic loyalties, biases, and stereotypes existed among all ethnic groups. Ethnic loyalty was an important factor in the government, armed forces, and business. Complaints of ethnic discrimination in government appointments and contract assignments were common. Some non-Mende populations alleged discrimination in government employment, as the ruling SLPP was predominantly Mende.



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