Human rights groups play critical role in recent vote by the Sierra Leone Parliament to abolish the death penalty

Sierra Leone’s Parliament unanimously voted in favour of a bill to abolish the death penalty in July 2021. The Death Penalty Project, a London-based NGO and SRT grantee, in collaboration with its Sierra Leonean partners, played a critical role in bringing about this human rights victory.

The bill now awaits official approval from the country’s president, Julius Maada Bio, who pledged to abolish capital punishment as part of his campaign platform. President Bio has been vocal about his commitment to abolition throughout his presidency, stating in December 2020 that “my Government believes in the sanctity of life of every citizen”. But it was not until this year that enough momentum was gained for the bill’s passing. No executions had been carried out in the country since 1998, when 24 soldiers were executed for treason in the wake of civil war. This action will allow some 100 death row inmates to be removed.

The Death Penalty Project believes that capital punishment is a cruel institution that discriminates against the poor and disadvantaged. They offer free legal assistance to individuals facing the death penalty, train stakeholders in the criminal justice system, engage governments in dialogue, and publish original research to expand knowledge on the death penalty’s usage worldwide. The organisation has worked with local partner AdvocAid, the only organisation in West Africa that has provided long-standing free legal support to women facing the death penalty since 2007. Together, they collaborated with Professor Carolyn Hoyle, director of the Death Penalty Research Unit at Oxford, to advise the Sierra Leonean government on how best to deliver humane sentencing. Thanks to this joint effort, Sierra Leone will move towards a system of judicial discretion, where judges are able to consider mitigating circumstances rather than replacing the death penalty with a mandatory life sentence. 

Sierra Leone is the 110th country worldwide to abolish the death penalty, and the second African nation to abolish it in 2021, after the Malawian Supreme Court’s decision in April. Sierra Leone’s decision highlights the exceptional progress the African continent has made in preserving human dignity in the criminal justice system.

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