''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 9 No 2

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

Contact us
World Cup with the BBC
UK Serious Fraud Office
World Association for Human Rights - USA
National Union of Journalists (UK)
BBC African Service
Daily Trust of Nigeria
UN Great Lakes
Writer Adichie
Southwark Council
S.L. Web
All Africa.com
Africa Week
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International
Trial Watch
International Criminal Court
One World
Royal African Society
University of
East London
Nigeria Anti Corruption Commission
Institute for Democracy in Africa
archive 6
archive 7
archive 8
archive 9
archive 10
archive 11
archive 12
archive 13
archive 14
archive 15
archive 16
archive 17




Primary Findings

 Lawyers and jurists in Sierra Leone failed to stand up to the systematic violation of the rights of the people.
Successive governments have used the death penalty to eliminate political opponents. The Commission believes that there is no place for the death penalty in a civilised society based on respect for human life.
Successive regimes used emergency powers to suppress political dissent.
The use of so-called safe custody detention is illegal and represents gross contempt for the rule of law.
Corruption is rife at all levels of the judiciary. There is little or no meaningful access to the courts for the majority of Sierra Leoneans.
The Office of the Attorney-General has not been and is not free of political interference from the executive arm of government.

Main Findings

The Role of Lawyers and Judges

The Commission finds that lawyers and judges in Sierra Leone failed to stand up to state tyranny. They failed to give any meaningful content to the Rule of Law. Lawyers should be the first line of defence whenever the human rights of the people are transgressed. This did not happen in Sierra Leone. Indeed lawyers – through their collective inaction – contributed substantially to the massive abuse of human rights before, during and after the war.

The conspicuous failure, on the part of lawyers and judges, to speak up on behalf of Sierra Leoneans held in illegal detention for close to four years in Pademba Road Prison is a terrible indictment.

The Death Penalty

The death penalty is provided for in the laws of Sierra Leone for various offences including treason and mutiny. Successive governments have used the death penalty to eliminate political opponents. The right of appeal against the decisions of court-martials was removed in 1971. Several soldiers were tried and executed under this provision between 1971 and November 1998.

Abuse of Emergency Powers

The Commission finds that state of emergency powers have proven to be a mighty weapon in the hands of successive governments and have been used to silence opposition, suppress activism and clamp down on political dissent.

President Siaka Stevens used emergency powers to silence widespread opposition in 1971 by banning the vocal and burgeoning National Democratic Party (NDP) of Dr. John Karefa-Smart. Stevens also abused emergency powers to suppress student protest and to stop
nation-wide strikes by the labour movement.

President Momoh took matters to the bizarre by declaring a so called “State of Economic Emergency” in 1987, which licensed his officials to abuse the property rights of the people.

While the declaration of a state of emergency in 1998 by President Kabbah may have been justified to deal with the lawlessness of the time, it also provided the pretext for the arbitrary rounding up and detention of hundreds of Sierra Leoneans accused of “collaboration” with the AFRC junta.

Safe Custody Detention

The Commission finds that “safe custody” detention has been used to detain political opponents of the government and to quell political dissent.

No law authorises the continued detention of persons in safe or protective custody detention. The Public Emergency Regulations of 1998 under which the President was authorised to order the detention of persons into protective custody was lifted in 2002. The continued detention of several persons in safe custody detention is unlawful and in contravention of the Sierra Leone Constitution. Their detention is in clear violation of the rule of law.

The Commission finds that the continued practice of safe custody detention brings the Government of Sierra Leone into disrepute. There is no place for “safe custody detention” in a just and democratic society. The Commission regrets that civil society and the many representatives of the international community in Sierra Leone have failed to protest the use of safe custody detention and have failed to utilise the writ of habeas corpus in respect of those held.

The Judiciary

The Commission finds that the judiciary is understaffed and underpaid. Poor remuneration causes many of the best legal minds to decline appointments to the bench.

Powerful members of society are able at times to select judges to hear cases. This has brought the judicial process into disrepute.

The judicial appointment process has been abused by successive governments. Several politically motivated appointments have been made by all post-independence governments. This has severely compromised the independence of the judiciary.

The lack of civil society representation on the Judicial and Legal Service Commission undermines the independence of that important body.

The lack of security of tenure of judges during the rule of the APC regime permitted the then government to interfere at will with the judiciary. The independence of the judiciary was systematically destroyed. The current practice of employing retired judges on a contract basis also compromises their independence.

The removal of all measures of financial autonomy from the judiciary by the APC regime in the 1970s served to impoverish the administration of justice. This remains the state of affairs in the judiciary. Without budgetary independence, the judiciary has been unable to
determine its priorities and to plan for an efficient justice delivery system.

The majority of people do not have meaningful access to the courts. This renders the rights enshrined by the Constitution largely empty.

The outbreak of war caused almost all judges, magistrates, law officers and private practitioners to flee the provinces. For several years during the war, there were only two places in the provinces, Bo and Port Loko, which had magistrates’ courts operating. Many people resorted to extra-judicial methods to solve their problems.

Access to affordable legal representation in Sierra Leone is a serious problem. Most Sierra Leoneans are unable to pay for the services of solicitors. As a result many people are forced to languish in prison cells and police lock-ups for inordinately long periods.

Corruption is a perennial problem in the judiciary. It pervades all levels of the judiciary.

Office of the Attorney -General

The Office of the Attorney-General lost its independence and the perception of impartiality when it was fused with the office of the Minister of Justice by virtue of the 1978 Constitution. The Commission finds it regrettable that this state of affairs was confirmed by the 1991 Constitution and indeed persists today. Under this legal regime, the discretion of the Attorney-General cannot be free from political influence.


Yearning for the mother country?

The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

©Sierra Herald 2002