(Dakar) - Sierra Leone’s new president, Ernest Bai Koroma, should urgently address pressing human rights concerns in Sierra Leone, particularly striking deficiencies in the judicial system and ongoing corruption, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the president on the eve of his inauguration.
Since the end of its 11-year civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone has made limited progress in addressing the issues that gave rise to the conflict: endemic corruption, weak rule of law, crushing poverty, and the inequitable distribution of the country’s vast natural resources.
“The people of Sierra Leone have long suffered from a vicious cycle of corruption, economic decline, violence and impunity,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “President Koroma must articulate and implement a bold vision for improving Sierra Leone’s chronic human rights problems. There is no time to waste.”
Human Rights Watch urged Koroma to adopt a focused human rights agenda and implement concrete reforms to address persistent deficiencies within the national judicial system, deplorable prison conditions, rampant corruption, and abusive police conduct.
Human Rights Watch also called on Koroma to lead Sierra Leone to abolish the death penalty. The new president should also ensure that the country’s National Human Rights Commission is sufficiently funded and has the ability to act independently and impartially.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern about serious shortcomings within Sierra Leone’s judicial system, including extortion and bribe-taking by court officials, insufficient judicial personnel, detention of hundreds of accused for extended periods without trial, and sub-standard prison conditions. The government should begin a comprehensive review of all those currently held in pre-trial detention, provide legal counsel to indigent defendants, and ensure there is adequate prosecutorial and investigative staff (particularly in the provinces) for courts to function properly and expediently.
Also among the recommended reforms, Human Rights Watch appealed to Koroma to facilitate the work and independence of the Anti-Corruption Commission. This government institution is integral to holding corrupt government officials accountable, but it has been hampered from successfully carrying out its mandate by powerful political influences.
“Five years since the end of the armed conflict, the government has failed to stem rampant corruption, which has for decades robbed Sierra Leoneans of their basic human rights to health and education,” said Takirambudde. “The time of turning a blind eye has passed: President Koroma’s administration must face the problems of corruption head on, and take concrete steps to ensure better economic governance.”