a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
In contrast to 2018, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
During the year there were no investigations into the 2018 shooting and killing of two persons in Kailahun District on the orders of the outgoing minister of local government, Maya Moiwo Kaikai.
In October authorities arrested two senior opposition APC officials, including the former mayor of Freetown, and charged them with murder in the June 2018 death of a journalist two months after he was severely beaten.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening because of food shortages; gross overcrowding due to an inefficient justice system and lack of sufficient correctional facilities and personnel; physical abuse; lack of clean water; inadequate sanitary conditions; and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: The country’s 20 prisons, designed to hold 2,055 inmates, held 4,559 as of August. The most severe example of overcrowding was in the Freetown Male Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates, which held 2,089. Some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more inmates. The NGO Prison Watch (PW) and Sierra Leone Correctional Services (SLCS) reported that 13 prisons and detention centers were moderately overcrowded.
In most cases pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. The attorney general reported that as of August, of the 4,559 persons held in prisons and detention centers, 1,941 had been convicted. The SLCS reported that one inmate jailed in 2007 had yet to appear in court.
SLCS authorities and human rights observers reported detention conditions remained below minimum international standards because of unhygienic conditions and insufficient medical attention. Conditions in police station holding cells were poor, especially in small stations outside Freetown. 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 bare floors, using their own mattresses and clothes as bedding. The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) and PW reported poor toilet facilities in some correctional centers. Inmates were often forced to use buckets as toilets.
Cells often lacked proper lighting, bedding, ventilation, and protection from mosquitoes. For security reasons authorities refused to allow inmates to sleep under mosquito nets, using chemical repellants instead. Most prisons did not have piped water, and some inmates lacked sufficient access to potable drinking water. In September observers reported that in some facilities to avoid overcrowding in the common areas, authorities confined inmates to their cells for long periods without opportunity for movement. An international donor funded the installation of running water, toilets, and septic tanks in the Makeni, Bo, and Kenema correctional centers.
Prison authorities issued bedding, including blankets, to inmates at the Freetown Female and Male Correctional Centers. Some mattresses were on the floor at the Male Correctional Center. Conditions in detention centers, including lighting and ventilation, were generally better for female inmates than for male inmates.
As of August prison authorities reported 40 deaths in prisons and detention facilities due to malaria, respiratory infections, skin infections, hypertension, and typhoid fever. The PW confirmed the causes of death as reported by the SLCS and made a determination that most deaths were directly related to prison conditions, such as overcrowding and poor hygienic conditions. The SLCS reported the government provided adequate medications for inmates, despite the absence of vital medical equipment in most correctional centers. In cases of medical emergencies, prison authorities transferred inmates to the nearest government hospitals. Officials referred female inmates to local hospitals for special care, and government hospitals complied with the requests.
Prison authorities and the HRCSL reported there was no discrimination against inmates with disabilities. The PW reported it had no information regarding abuse of inmates with disabilities.
The PW reported a shortage of prison staff, which resulted in a lack of security that endangered inmates’ safety. The SLCS in Bo reported that in March inmate violence led to the death of one inmate. As of September all 13 inmates who allegedly participated in the killing were standing trial at the High Court in Bo.
As of September the PW reported that no prison or detention center facility held male and female inmates together.
The PW reported 15 juveniles in Kenema Correctional Center and one at the Freetown Maximum Correctional Center, all ages 14 to 17. Nonetheless, it was often difficult to confirm the ages of inmates due to the pervasive lack of official documentation, which resulted in some juveniles being treated as adults.
Authorities sent most offenders younger than 18 to “approved schools” or reformatory institutions. According to the SLCS, although authorities made some effort to avoid detaining juveniles with adults, they frequently detained minors with adults in police cells while waiting to transfer them to juvenile facilities in Freetown.
In juvenile facilities detainees did not have adequate access to food, water, and education and were sometimes unable to attend court hearings due to lack of transportation.
According to SLCS authorities, several prisons held infants, most of whom were born in prison and initially kept there with their mothers. As of September there were eight infants in correctional centers across the country. Once such children were weaned, authorities released them to family members or to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, which placed them in foster care. SLCS authorities in Freetown, Bo, and Kenema provided government-funded child-care centers for children of inmates.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsman, but senior prison officials were available to respond to complaints. Inmates reportedly refrained from filing complaints directly with prison authorities because they believed such actions would spur retaliation by judicial authorities.
Authorities permitted regular family visits and provided a telephone for inmates to communicate with their relatives. The SLCS has visibly painted on murals the hours of inmate visitation and communicated that visits are free of charge.
Prison rights advocacy groups reported that authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment of inmates.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. International monitors had unrestricted access to the detention centers and police holding cells. The HRCSL and PW monitored prisons on a monthly basis. The SLCS also freely allowed other NGOs such as Humanist Watch to monitor prison conditions on a regular basis.
Improvements: Over the past two years, the SLCS has improved its facilities, policies, and practices in an effort to align with international standards for the treatment of inmates. For example, eight of the country’s 20 correctional facilities have been renovated with new roofs, running water, toilets, modern sanitation including septic tanks, and improved lighting. In Mafanta two new cell blocks with the capacity to hold 300 inmates were opened in May. In Waterloo a newly refurbished facility was opened in September with the capacity to hold at least 150 inmates. New SLCS security policies, such as key control, were complemented by expanded inmate programs, including access to information, increased visitation hours, and expanded services such as educational and vocational training opportunities.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires warrants for searches and arrests of persons taken into custody on criminal grounds, but arrests without warrants were common. The CHRDI and Citizens’ Advocacy Network reported most arrests were made without warrants and that the SLP rarely followed proper arrest procedures.
The law requires 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. Detainees, however, were not always informed promptly of charges brought against them. According to NGOs and inmates, authorities routinely brought remanded inmates to court on a weekly basis to be remanded again to circumvent the legal restrictions.
Despite having been trained on how to apply bail regulations codified in 2018, the judiciary applied the system inconsistently and sometimes demanded excessive bond fees.
Detainees have the right to access family members and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Lawyers generally were allowed unrestricted access to detainees, but according to the director of public prosecution and the office of the Legal Aid Board, an estimated 60 percent of inmates received legal representation, although the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law reported 25 percent of accused persons receive legal representation. Only defendants in the military justice system had automatic access to attorneys, whose fees the Ministry of Defense paid. Although there were 15 state counsels (attorneys), the majority worked in the capital and were often overburdened, poorly paid, and available only for more serious criminal cases.
With the exception of the Regional Police Division in Kenema, police cells generally lack holding areas for juveniles, and as a result, authorities often handcuffed them to windows in police stations.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of individuals held for questioning for longer than permissible under law.
In August police arrested several prominent opposition APC members on allegations of rioting during an election campaign. They were held longer than the maximum 72 hours without charge but were eventually released on bail.
On August 24, the SLP arrested one voter and one credentialed party agent inside a polling center during an election, later releasing them without charge. In September the SLP reportedly arrested three APC members during a parliamentary by-election in Falaba.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. As of September, 46 percent of the 4,652 persons held in prisons and detention centers had been convicted, 26 percent were on remand, and 28 percent were on trial. The SLCS attributed the high percentage of pretrial detainees to a severe shortage of legal professionals. Pretrial and remand detainees spent an average of three to five years in pretrial detention before courts examined their cases or filed formal charges. In extreme cases the wait could be as long as 12 years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but independent observers alleged the judiciary was not always independent and often acted under the influence of the government and a network of traditional secret societies, particularly in corruption-related cases.
In addition to the formal court system, local chieftaincy courts administer customary law with lay judges, primarily in rural areas. Appeals from these lower courts are heard by the superior 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. Traditional trials were generally fair, but there was credible evidence that corruption influenced many cases. Paramount chiefs acting as judges routinely accepted bribes and favored wealthier defendants. In response the government sent 36 paralegals to rural areas to provide access to justice and training for chiefdom officials.
The limited number of judicial magistrates and lawyers, along with high court fees, restricted access to justice for most citizens.
The military justice system has a different appeals process. For summary hearings the defendant may appeal for the redress of a complaint, which proceeds to the next senior ranking officer, while the civilian Supreme Court hears appeals in a court-martial. According to civil society members and government interlocutors, corruption is prevalent in the redress system.
Authorities at all levels of government generally respected court orders.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial for all defendants, but this right was not always enforced.
Defendants enjoy the right to a timely trial, but the lack of judicial officers and facilities regularly resulted in long trial delays. Some cases reportedly were adjourned 40 to 60 times. Trials are public, but NGOs reported that due to corruption they were not always fair. Defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence. While defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, many were not afforded access to counsel. Although the law provides for attorneys at public expense if defendants are not able to afford their own attorneys, these attorneys 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 and in detail of the charges against them and did not always have access to free assistance from an interpreter as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare their defenses, although they generally did not have adequate facilities to do so. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Police officers, many of whom had little or no formal legal training, prosecuted a majority of cases on the magistrate level. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Although the law provides defendants with the right to appeal, delays in the appeals process were excessive, sometimes lasting more than two years. The law extends these rights to all defendants.
In October parliament passed into law the Anticorruption Amendment Act, which strengthened protection for witnesses and whistleblowers in cases of corruption.
Traditional justice systems continued to supplement the central government judiciary, especially in rural areas, in cases involving family law, inheritance, and land tenure. The customary law guiding these courts was not codified, however, and decisions in similar cases were inconsistent. Paramount chiefs have authority over civil matters, such as land disputes, and referred criminal cases to police for investigation and prosecution. Local chieftains at times exceeded their mandates and administered harsh punishments.
Laws on gender equality were inconsistently enforced, and many traditional courts continued to ignore the rights of women regarding family law and inheritance. Juveniles were afforded few rights in the traditional justice system.