Sierra Leone retains the death penalty for treason, murder and aggravated robbery.
Sierra Leone has been a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1996 and has ratified the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR allowing for the right of individual petition to the UN Human Rights Committee. It has neither signed nor ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. Sierra Leone ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1983 and signed the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1998. Sierra Leone is also a member state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which one of the institutions is the Community Court of Justice. The Court has jurisdiction to determine cases where violation of human rights occur in any member state.
In 2009, we assisted local NGO, AdvocAid in the case of MSK, a woman convicted of murder and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2007. In September 2009, MSK’s conviction was overturned and she was released on bail. A retrial was ordered and on 15th December 2011, MSK was fully discharged and acquitted.
We also assisted AdvocAid in the case of MK drafting grounds of appeal in relation to the mandatory death penalty as well as grounds of appeal against conviction. In addition, we assisted in seeking a full presidential pardon for MK. In March 2011, in a landmark decision by the Court of Appeal, MK’s conviction was overturned and she was released immediately. MK was on death row for 6 years, the longest serving woman on death row in Sierra Leone. The Court found that the procedural irregularities — lack of legal advice and assistance, lack of resources to file an appeal against her conviction — were fundamental, and therefore rendered MK’s trial a nullity. The State has declined to re-prosecute, in light of the length of time MK has already spent in prison. We are awaiting the Court’s considered judgment, which may provide important guidelines affecting other death row prisoners in Sierra Leone. Click here to read AdvocAid’s press release.
We have also provided assistance in the case of Sheku Lissah, and working with counsel in the UK, we have provided legal advice to AdvocAid in relation to the grounds of appeal. It is anticipated that the appeal hearing will take place in late 2012/2013.
As of 1 December 2012, Sheku Lissah is the only remaining prisoner on death row in Sierra Leone. All other 14 death row prisoners have either received presidential pardons or have had their sentences commuted to terms of life imprisonment.