The Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI ) is calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to curtail the continued unlawful, arbitrary and unjustifiable detention of over 20 innocent Sierra Leonean female citizens by the criminal justice system.
CHRDI has been informed that some of these citizens were arbitrarily arrested, have been detained unlawfully for over 48 months now without charges and have only attended trial once since 2017. CHRDI views this as flagrant violation of their human rights as guaranteed by section 23 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act no 6 of 1991 which provides the following:
(1) Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence he shall unless the charge is withdrawn, be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.
(2) Any court or other authority prescribed by law for the determination of the existence or extent of civil rights or obligations shall be independent and impartial; and where proceedings for such determination are instituted by or against any person or authority or the Government before such court or authority, the case shall be given fair hearing within a reasonable time.
We have also received reports that these female prisoners are being kept in very cramped and degrading conditions at the Freetown female correctional centre where they are awaiting trial. 78 of them are being kept within a space that was meant for not more than 10 people, forcing most of them to sleep on the floor. We are aware that many prisons and jails in the country expose prisoners to dangerous environmental conditions like extreme heat or cold, contaminated food, and a lack of basic sanitation. We are concerned that such overcrowding in prisons would only lead to increased violence, and the delivery of poor and inadequate medical care and other essential services.
Coupled with lack of pipe borne water, poor toilets facilities and only one Doctor to check for health problems, substandard meals, poorly trained guards and prison administrators, Correctional Facilities in Sierra Leone are clearly supporting the popular notion that the justice system is built solely for punishment and not for rehabilitation. This is not the enlightened approach to penology which is reform geared towards a subsequent productive life upon reentry to the community. It is a throwback to the 18th century that treated prisoners as animals unfit to renew themselves and rejoin society. Herding individuals in cramped spaces is a cruel, inhuman, degrading, and unjust punishment. Overcrowding is dangerous to health and to human life. It breeds diseases, breaks down discipline and exacerbates tensions.
It is against this backdrop that we are raising these concerns and making an urgent call to the Authorities concerned to speedily look into this matter and do what is right.
CHRDI believes that the unlawful detention of these citizens is in violation of their constitutional and human rights and dignity. To detain citizens without trial for prolonged periods with no regard for due process is in clear violation of the laws of Sierra Leonean and other international Human Rights Instruments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment. All defendants have the right to fair and speedy trial. It is the responsibility of government to respect the rights of its citizens.
In addition we would like to bring to the notice of The Government of Sierra Leone that the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international treaty which was adopted by an overwhelming majority at the UN General Assembly in 2002. The purpose of the Optional Protocol is to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. To this end, the Optional Protocol advocates the establishment of a system of regular visits to be undertaken by independent international and local bodies to institutions where persons are deprived of their liberty. The objective of these visits is to prevent torture and improve the conditions of prisons and detention centers.
As a public social-policy advocacy and human rights organization, one of our stated aims is to promote accountability and respect for human rights and the enhancement of safety, security and justice, by law enforcement institutions. We view the failure of the Government of Sierra Leone to uphold the principles of fundamental human rights as a contributing factor to making the justice system a privilege for only the wealthy to access. The time has come for government to invest in the justice system and to demonstrate a commitment to work together toward a common good for this and for future generations.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, calls on the Government of Sierra Leone to immediately release all detainees who have not been charged with legitimate criminal offences. Further we call on government to respect the constitutional rights of detainees and grant speedy trial to those who have been charged, in compliance with the Laws of Sierra Leone and other international laws.
We are also calling on the Sierra Leone Police Board, the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board, the Ombudsman office and the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission to investigate cases of unlawful detention, and ill-treatment of prisoners by Sierra Leone police officers and Prison officers and ensure that those who are responsible for these abuses are brought to justice.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI ) is a Rights based social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.