government: constitutional democracy
state of civil and political rights: Partly free
constitution: 1 October 1991, subsequently amended
legal system: based on common law and local traditions
legislative system: unicameral Parliament
judicial system: Supreme Court, Appeals Court, High Court
religion: 60% Muslim; 30% Animist; 10% Catholic
death row: 0
year of last executions: 0-10-1998
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty)
Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution allows the use of the death penalty for aggravated robbery,
murder, treason and mutiny.
Sierra Leone became a “de facto abolitionist”
in 2008, after more than ten years without carrying out a hanging. In fact, the
last capital executions in Sierra Leone took place in October 1998, when 24 of
the 34 people condemned to death by court martial for treason were shot dead in
public in Freetown.
In July 1999, with the signing of the peace accord, which formally ended a
devastating decade-long civil war in the country, one of the continent’s
bloodiest in which tens of thousands were killed and mutilated, people
condemned to death for treason were amnestied, including rebel leader Foday
In 2002, with the definitive end of hostilities in the country and the first
truly free and legitimate parliamentary and presidential elections that saw the
re-election of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a former United Nations diplomat, the debate
over the death penalty was re-opened.
A special court for war crimes, set up in 2002 as part of an agreement with the
United Nations, excludes the death penalty.
On 10 January 2008, the Constitutional Review Commission has, among other
issues, recommended that the death penalty be abolished in all cases of treason
or other crimes of political nature that do not directly result in the death of
another persons and be replaced by life imprisonment. The Commission’s
Chairman, Peter Tucker, in presenting its report to President Ernest Bai Koroma
at State House recalled that the Commission was mandated in 2007 to review the
1991 Constitution with a view of recommending amendments relevant to the
current economic, social and political developments that have taken place both
nationally and internationally. Responding, President Koroma reportedly lauded
the Commission for a work well done.
The Constitutional Review Committee is scheduled to submit its final report by 2016 with a referendum to be held subsequently.
On 27 April 2011, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence
from Great Britain, the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, commuted
all death sentences to life imprisonment and five death row prisoners,
including one woman, were given a pardon.
No death sentence was issued in 2012. A death sentence was imposed in 2013 and four more in
the first months of 2014, but all were commuted to life imprisonment, following
the presidential pardon of 27 April 2014.
On 13 September 2011, the delegation of Sierra Leone announced in an addendum
to the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
accepting “in principle and subject to constitutional review” fifteen recommendations
calling to abolish the death penalty. On 5 May 2011, in the framework of the
UPR, Sierra Leone was recommended to abolish the death penalty, accede to the
Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, and establish a de jure moratorium on the application of the death
penalty aimed at its definitive abolition. Attorney-General and Justice
Minister Franklyn Bai Kargbo said the question of the abolition of the death
penalty was on the legislative agenda of the Government. It had been
extensively discussed during the Constitutional Review Process, which will
continue after the 2012 elections.
On 23 November 2012, Ernest Bai Koroma was re-elected as President for his
second and final term with 58.7% of the votes.
In October 2012, Sierra Leone was targeted by a mission of Hands Off Cain and the Nonviolent
Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty aimed at favouring the
abolitionist process internally and obtaining a favourable vote on the UN
Resolution for the universal moratorium on executions.
On 10 October, during a ceremony at the State House in Freetown celebrating the
World Day against the Death Penalty, Hands Off Cain presented the Award “Abolitionist of the Year 2012” to President
Ernest Bai Koroma, for having commuted all the death sentences of people on
death row in 2011. In his acceptance speech,President Koroma thanked for the award received
and said: “The lives of our people are safe in our hands… The last two
executions carried out in the country were of 24 persons in 1998, and 29
persons in 1992. These were the largest number of executions carried out on a
single day by any government. Sierra Leoneans are still reeling from those
largest numbers of executions carried out on a single day by agents of the
State. Sierra Leoneans don’t want a repeat of state sanctioned executions.
Sierra Leoneans don’t want a return to those days. My Government’s commitments
reflect these aspirations of our people.” President Koroma added: “We have
already made a commitment on putting the question of the abolition of the death
penalty on the legislative agenda of Government. The Constitutional Review
process will be resumed after the elections [held in mid-November 2012], and
its recommendation on the abolition of the death penalty will be very integral
to our programme for defending, protecting and promoting human rights.”
On 27 January 2016, Sierra Leone was reviewed under the UPR of the UN Human Rights Council. In its National Report, the Government envisaged that by the third cycle of the UPR (January 2021) Sierra Leone would have completed the procedure for the abolition of the death penalty.
On 19 December 2016, Sierra Leone voted in favor of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly, but did not co-sponsored. In December 2014, for the first time, Sierra Leone co-sponsored the text. In December 2012, for the first time, Sierra Leone had voted for the resolution, while in 2007, 2008 and 2010 it abstained.