government: presidential republic
state of civil and political rights: Partly free
constitution: 1 October 1991, subsequently amended
legal system: mixed legal system of English common law and customary law
legislative system: unicameral Parliament
judicial system: Supreme Court, Appeals Court, High Court
religion: 60% Muslim; 30% Animist; 10% Catholic
death row: 29, as of end 2017, 39 by AI
year of last executions: 0-10-1998
death sentences: 11
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty)
Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution allows the use of the death penalty for aggravated robbery, murder, treason and mutiny.
Sierra Leone became a “de facto abolitionist” in 2008, after more than ten years without carrying out a hanging. In fact, the last capital executions in Sierra Leone took place in October 1998, when 24 of the 34 people condemned to death by court martial for treason were shot dead in public in Freetown.
In July 1999, with the signing of the peace accord, which formally ended a devastating decade-long civil war in the country, one of the continent’s bloodiest in which tens of thousands were killed and mutilated, people condemned to death for treason were amnestied, including rebel leader Foday Sankoh.
In 2002, with the definitive end of hostilities in the country and the first truly free and legitimate parliamentary and presidential elections that saw the re-election of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a former United Nations diplomat, the debate over the death penalty was re-opened.
A special court for war crimes, set up in 2002 as part of an agreement with the United Nations, excludes the death penalty.
On 10 January 2008, the Constitutional Review Commission has, among other issues, recommended that the death penalty be abolished in all cases of treason or other crimes of political nature that do not directly result in the death of another persons and be replaced by life imprisonment. The Commission’s Chairman, Peter Tucker, in presenting its report to President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House recalled that the Commission was mandated in 2007 to review the 1991 Constitution with a view of recommending amendments relevant to the current economic, social and political developments that have taken place both nationally and internationally. Responding, President Koroma reportedly lauded the Commission for a work well done.
The Constitutional Review Committee is scheduled to submit its final report by 2016 with a referendum to be held subsequently.
On 27 April 2011, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain, the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment and five death row prisoners, including one woman, were given a pardon.
No death sentence was issued in 2016 and 2015. A death sentence was imposed in 2013 and four more in the first months of 2014, but all were commuted to life imprisonment, following the presidential pardon of 27 April 2014.
On 13 September 2011, the delegation of Sierra Leone announced in an addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) accepting “in principle and subject to constitutional review” fifteen recommendations calling to abolish the death penalty. On 5 May 2011, in the framework of the UPR, Sierra Leone was recommended to abolish the death penalty, accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and establish a de jure moratorium on the application of the death penalty aimed at its definitive abolition. Attorney-General and Justice Minister Franklyn Bai Kargbo said the question of the abolition of the death penalty was on the legislative agenda of the Government. It had been extensively discussed during the Constitutional Review Process, which will continue after the 2012 elections.
On 23 November 2012, Ernest Bai Koroma was re-elected as President for his second and final term with 58.7% of the votes.
In October 2012, Sierra Leone was targeted by a mission of Hands Off Cain and the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty aimed at favouring the abolitionist process internally and obtaining a favourable vote on the UN Resolution for the universal moratorium on executions.
On 10 October, during a ceremony at the State House in Freetown celebrating the World Day against the Death Penalty, Hands Off Cain presented the Award “Abolitionist of the Year 2012” to President Ernest Bai Koroma, for having commuted all the death sentences of people on death row in 2011. In his acceptance speech,President Koroma thanked for the award received and said: “The lives of our people are safe in our hands… The last two executions carried out in the country were of 24 persons in 1998, and 29 persons in 1992. These were the largest number of executions carried out on a single day by any government. Sierra Leoneans are still reeling from those largest numbers of executions carried out on a single day by agents of the State. Sierra Leoneans don’t want a repeat of state sanctioned executions. Sierra Leoneans don’t want a return to those days. My Government’s commitments reflect these aspirations of our people.” President Koroma added: “We have already made a commitment on putting the question of the abolition of the death penalty on the legislative agenda of Government. The Constitutional Review process will be resumed after the elections [held in mid-November 2012], and its recommendation on the abolition of the death penalty will be very integral to our programme for defending, protecting and promoting human rights.”
On 27 January 2016, Sierra Leone was reviewed under the UPR of the UN Human Rights Council. In its National Report, the Government envisaged that by the third cycle of the UPR (January 2021) Sierra Leone would have completed the procedure for the abolition of the death penalty.
On 19 December 2016, Sierra Leone voted in favor of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly, but did not co-sponsored. In December 2014, for the first time, Sierra Leone co-sponsored the text. In December 2012, for the first time, Sierra Leone had voted for the resolution, while in 2007, 2008 and 2010 it abstained.