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Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio Talks on Constitutional Review, Human Rights, Death Penalty and Efforts at Criminal Justice Reforms

State House, Freetown, Thursday 17 December 2020 – His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has discussed the constitutional review process, efforts at reforming the criminal justice system and human rights issues like the death penalty when he met the Human Rights Commission, HRCSL, today.

When the Commission at his office to present their 2018 and 2019 annual reports, the President praised their efforts at monitoring the state of human rights in the country, noting that dealing with human rights questions was a very delicate balancing act.

“As part of my Government’s holistic criminal justice reform agenda (which includes decluttering and upgrading detention facilities), we hold the view that mandatory custodial sentences especially for petty offences will only backload the criminal justice system again. Government is open to discussing imposing fines or structured community service regimes rather than mandatory custodial sentences for petty offences.

“That brings me to the question of the death penalty. My Government believes in the sanctity of life of every citizen. We have maintained the moratorium on the death penalty for that reason. Although the recommendation by the Justice Cowan-led Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) was rejected by the last Government, a committee set up by my administration to revisit the issue has recommended accepting the Justice Cowan recommendation. So my Government has moved the needle significantly on this question and we will continue making progress,” he said.

President Bio said his government had made a public commitment to look at the constitutional review process and had, therefore, approved the setting up of a Technical Committee to review the recommendations of the Justice Cowan-led CRC and advise cabinet on its full slate of recommendations.

“To conclude, Government looks forward to enriching the feedback loops and continuing the progressive engagements on human rights in Sierra Leone. We believe that a whole lot of good can come of working together on doing our very best for Sierra Leone,” he said.

Chairperson of HRCSL, Patricia Narsu Ndanema, said she was happy to present the 12th and 13th edition of the Commission’s reports, noting that they highlighted ways to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the Constitution of Sierra Leone and in the international and regional agreements.

“We have assessed the human rights situation in Sierra Leone, looking at the human rights framework, laws put in place to promote and protect human rights, structures put in place where people can access their rights, structures serving as redress mechanisms for people to access when they feel that their rights have been violated,” she said.

“Your Excellency, through our complaints handling functions, the HRCSL recorded an increase in complaints from 178 in 2018 to 326 in 2019, including mobile complaints. This to a large extent is mainly due to our robust human rights awareness drive and confidence we have built for rights holders to access our service in all regional offices,” the HRCSL chair noted.

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