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(New York) - Human Rights Watch today urged Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to commute death sentences for thirty-four soldiers accused of treason.

On October 12, a court martial in Sierra Leone handed down the sentences on the soldiers accused of treason and collaboration with the former military regime known for its flagrant violations of human rights.

In a letter released today, Human Rights Watch called on President Kabbah to allow time for the United Nations Human Rights Committee to review the cases. The Sierra Leonean military court system currently makes no provision for appeal of sentences, including capital punishment. The thirty-four face execution by firing squad.

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as its Optional Protocol which provides for individual communications, the government of Sierra Leone is obliged to guarantee the right to review by a higher court. "The Sierra Leonean government has repeatedly said it is committed to international human rights standards," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "These cases will be an important test for them."

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all cases, particularly in light of Sierra Leone's fledgling judicial system and the irreversible nature of a death sentence. The New York-based rights group further called on the Sierra Leonean government to restructure the military court system to include an appeal process.

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