Human rights activists welcomed the “historic” decision of the Sierra Leone parliament to vote unanimously to abolish the death penalty, more than 20 years after the last execution in a West African country.
After Friday’s vote, President Julius Madbio is expected to sign the bill into law soon, which will make Sierra Leone the 23rd African country to abolish the death penalty.
“The road ahead is still long and difficult. However, as a country, we can now be proud to know that the death penalty no longer appears in our books,” Basita, founder of the Institute of Judicial Research and Advocacy (ILRAJ) and former chairman of the Sierra Leone Bar Association Michael said.
“We applaud this historic legislative achievement by the President, Attorney General, Parliament and civil society, and we look forward to working together to carry out further reforms to affirm our country’s desire for peace, unity, justice and prosperity.”
#Sierra Leone Abolish #Sentenced to death! Thanks to all civil society partners, lawyers, government officials, donors, international partners, especially the women who work with us, for making this historic moment possible! Sadly, we cannot mark everyone, we can only mark una tenki! pic.twitter.com/0cJXixBxnk
-AdvocAid (@advocaid) July 23, 2021
The death penalty will be replaced by life imprisonment or imprisonment of at least 30 years. The bill also gives judges additional discretion in sentencing, and those who oppose the death penalty believe this is particularly important when the convicted person is a victim of sexual violence.
“This will give judges judicial discretion to consider all circumstances of the case, such as the history of gender-based violence or mental illness, and hopefully prevent injustices that have occurred in the past,” said Sabrina Mahtani, AdvocAid The co-founder of the organization has released six women and three death row prisoners.
Mahtani pointed out that “civil society groups have been fighting for the abolition of this cruel punishment for many years.” He said that voting means Sierra Leone will become the first English-speaking West Africa country to abolish the death penalty.
On Friday, in a heated debate in the 146-seat legislature, the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party parliamentary leader Matthew Newmar urged members of Congress to vote for the abolition of the death penalty.
“Please understand that this is a sacrifice we made to meet international best practices,” he said.
As far as he is concerned, Biot issued a statement on social media after voting to thank citizens, members of Congress and rights groups, saying they “stand firmly with us and make history.”
Today, I fulfilled my governance commitment to permanently abolish the death penalty in Sierra Leone. I am grateful to citizens, parliamentarians, development partners and rights groups who stood firmly with us to make history. pic.twitter.com/vN1ZrjKQmn
-President Julius Mada Bio (resPresidentBio) July 23, 2021
Sol Lefrende, co-executive director of the Death Penalty Project, said: “We are very pleased that Sierra Leone has taken this historic step to reject the death penalty, and hope that other governments around the world will quickly follow suit.”
Sierra Leone has suspended execution of the death penalty since 1998, but prisoners sentenced to death still live separately from other prisoners, which activists say is inhumane.
The country’s last execution was in 1998, when 23 soldiers were executed by firing squads at the height of the 11-year civil war. But the death sentence is still going on.
As of June 2021, although the previous three governments promised to abolish the death penalty, 99 people have been sentenced to death for crimes ranging from aggravated robbery to murder.
Advocaid’s Rhiannon Davis said: “One thing we have to clarify in the bylaws is how this will explain the people currently on death row
Sierra Leone is one of several African countries that are working to end the death penalty. The Malawi Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional in April, and Chad terminated the execution of those accused of “terrorism” last year.
According to statistics from Amnesty International, as of the end of 2020, 108 countries have completely abolished the death penalty, and 144 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
The rights group said executions and death sentences in sub-Saharan Africa also declined last year.
The recorded death sentence has fallen by 6%, from 325 in 2019 to 305 last year, while the number of executions has fallen by 36%, from 25 in 2019 to 16 in 2020.