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Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In 2018 the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. After the 2018 parliamentary 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 are responsible for external security but also have 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. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious government corruption; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the laws were not enforced; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses or engaged in corruption, 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 2018 presidential election, in which Julius Maada Bio of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party prevailed, and the 2018 parliamentary elections, including an election rerun and by-elections, were regarded by most observers as free and fair. The first round of the parliamentary elections resulted in the formerly ruling All People’s Congress holding a plurality of seats. Following a later election rerun and by-elections, the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the All People’s Congress each held 58 seats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties were able 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 to parliament during the 2018 general elections. In the state legislature, 14 traditional authorities (paramount chiefs) and three independent candidates were represented. Unlike the previous year, there were no reports of political violence among competing parties.

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 they cast votes at rates similar to 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 148 parliamentarians, 18 were women, one fewer than in 2020. As of September women led four of the 30 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 (see section 6, Children, Birth Registration). 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 and Societal Abuses

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were laws to protect racial or ethnic minorities from violence or discrimination. Authorities enforced 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. 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.

The government made some efforts to address discrimination, such as equal access to education, medical care, employment, and credit. The government made limited efforts to address discrimination and bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons and members of the Rastafarian religious sects.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future