JURIST >> WORLD LAW >> Sierra Leone 

Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights | Legal Profession
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature; President Tejan Kabbah was elected in 1996. Due to continuing civil conflict, the democratically elected Government did not control the whole country effectively at any time during the year; however, the Government's control of the country increased significantly because of the cessation of fighting and the ongoing disarmament of rebel groups. Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insurgents have fought successive governments since 1991. The President's party, the Sierra Leone People's Party, has held a plurality in the Parliament since the 1996 elections. In May 1997, a group of army officers, which called itself the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), overthrew the elected government in a coup, driving it into exile in Guinea. The AFRC then invited the RUF to join the junta. In February 1998, the RUF/AFRC junta then was driven out of Freetown by forces of the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS) Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), composed mainly of units from the armed forces of Nigeria. The Government was restored to power in March 1998, but fighting between government and rebel forces continued. Government-insurgent fighting, albeit on a significantly reduced scale, continued after the July 1999 Lome Accord, which included the RUF in a power-sharing arrangement in the Government. Following the signing of the Lome Accord, many RUF leaders and fighters moved into Freetown.

In 1999 the U.N. Security Council approved a peacekeeping operation, the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), and has approved strength increases several times since its establishment. ECOMOG completely withdrew its forces from the country in April 2000. In 2000 there were several armed clashes between government forces and rebel forces, including the RUF. In 2000 tensions rose between the Government and the RUF, and in a series of separate incidents in a 10-day period between late April and early May, more than 700 U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage by RUF rebels; however, no U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage during the year. RUF leader Foday Sankoh, arrested in 2000 after demonstrators were killed outside of his residence, remained in government custody at year's end. In 2000 the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program called for in the Lome Accord, which includes provisions to protect the human rights of ex-combatants, came to a de facto halt, and many combatants rearmed. In November 2000, the Government and the RUF signed the Abuja Agreement, which included provisions for a cease-fire, disarmament, and deployment of UNAMSIL peacekeepers in parts of the country under RUF control. In May a subsequent agreement reached in Abuja with ECOWAS mediation allowed for the resumption of the DDR program called for in the Lome Accord. Both agreements have been respected. Since the resumption of the DDR process in May, more than 40,000 former combatants had disarmed by year's end. Officially the entire country was under government or U.N. control at year's end; however, rebels and other ex-combatants exerted de facto control in some areas due to the absence of police and other government services.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Sierra Leone judiciary is comprised of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and a High Court with judges appointed by the President on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission with the approval of Parliament. There also are magistrate and local courts and from these appeals lie to the superior courts of judicature. The 1991 constitution created an ombudsman responsible for looking into complaints of abuses and capricious acts on the part of public officials.

In June 2000, the Sierra Leone Government asked the U.N. to help set up a Special Court to try those who "bear the greatest responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as crimes under relevant Sierra Leonean law within the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996."

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Sierra Leone Government's human rights record was poor in several areas in 2001; while there continued to be significant improvements in some areas, serious problems remained. There were reports that CDF forces, operating in support of the Government, committed extrajudicial killings reportedly summarily executing suspected rebels and their collaborators and carried out indiscriminate attacks on villages believed to house RUF members and supporters, resulting in several civilian deaths. There were credible reports that CDF forces operating on behalf of the Government beat and otherwise abused persons and the Government has not acted to curb these abuses or punish those responsible. Reports of abuses by the CDF, which had increased significantly in 2000, declined during the year. Prison and police lockup facilities conditions generally are harsh; at best they are Spartan, and at worst life threatening. There were numerous deaths in custody. The country remained under a State of Emergency imposed in 1998. Under the Constitution, many civil liberties are suspended under the state of emergency. Government forces on occasion continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily. Some prisoners were held incommunicado. Prolonged pretrial detention and long delays in trials, due to the State of Emergency and the inability of the judicial system to function in some parts of the country and during some parts of the year, remained problems. Freedom of the press improved during the year, and security forces did not arrest, beat, or use libel laws against journalists; however, government security forces on a few occasions harassed some journalists. At times the Government limited freedom of assembly in practice. Violence, discrimination against women, and prostitution remained problems. Abuse of children is a problem; however, numerous children who fought with the CDF and RUF were released during the year. CDF units continued to induct child soldiers; however, there were fewer cases than in previous years. Female genital mutilation (FGM) remained widespread. Residents of non-African descent face institutionalized political restrictions. Forced labor continued to be a problem in rural areas. Child labor persists.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Legal Profession
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