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Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March 2018 the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. In January 2018 parliamentary elections, the All People’s Congress won a plurality of the seats. After the December 12 election re-run and by-elections, the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the All People’s Congress each held 58 seats. Observers found these elections to be largely free and fair.

The Sierra Leone Police, which reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintains security within the country. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police upon request in extraordinary circumstances. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious acts of corruption; and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.

The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity persisted.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 2018 presidential election, in which Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) prevailed, and the January 2018 parliamentary election, were regarded by most observers as free and fair. Several parliamentary and local re-run and by-elections held on December 12 were regarded as free and fair. There were no national level elections held during the year.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties were free to register and operate in the country. A total of 17 political parties were registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission but only four were elected into parliament during the 2018 general elections. Fourteen traditional authorities (paramount chiefs) and three independent candidates were represented in the state legislature. The NGO Center for Accountability and Rule of Law reported clashes in Freetown between supporters of the APC and SLPP took place in January. In a January 27 incident, 27 persons were reportedly wounded. Police arrested 19 persons after the clash; all were later released on bail.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women have the right to vote and did cast votes at similar rates as men. A 2018 poll by the International Republican Institute found women most frequently cited fear of violence, cultural norms, and lack of support from political parties as reasons why they avoided a more active role in politics. Women were underrepresented in government. Of the 146 parliamentarians, 17 were women, one fewer than in 2019. As of September women led five of the 26 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms).

All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born in and continued to reside in the country. Persons of “non-Negro-African” groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

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, contract assignments were common. Little ethnic segregation was apparent in urban areas, where interethnic marriage was common.

Residents of non-African descent faced some institutionalized discrimination, particularly in the areas of citizenship and nationality (see sections 3, Participation of Women and Minorities, and 6, Birth Registration).

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future