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Sierra Leone: Authorities must ensure robust, impartial investigation into deadly protests

In response to protests that erupted due to the high cost of living on 10 August in Sierra Leone where dozens of people have lost their lives, the authorities have promised to investigate the circumstances leading to the loss of life.

The commitment from the authorities to investigate the deaths and other harm caused during the demonstrations which turned violent is an important step in the right direction. It is essential to ensure the full independence and impartiality of the investigation to determine the circumstances and responsibilities for the loss of lives, including if force was used in accordance with international standards, and to hold accountable all those responsible, including those in command.

Michèle Eken, researcher at Amnesty International's West and Central Africa office

“When policing assemblies, security forces have an obligation to minimize harm and injury, preserve human life and exercise restraint in the use of force. Law enforcement officials should only use force where there is no other means of achieving their legitimate objectives, and when the use of force is necessary and proportionate to the situation they face. This role should always be carried out in a way that ensures full respect for the right to life, liberty, and security of all persons, including those suspected of committing a crime.

“Amnesty International recalls that international human rights law equally protects spontaneous assemblies, which must not be dispersed solely for the fact that individuals did not submit a prior notification to the authorities. Therefore, the organization urges the government of Sierra Leone to amend the 1965 Public Order Act to expressly include an exemption from the prior notification requirement in the case of spontaneous assemblies.

“Amnesty International is also concerned that the authorities cut off the internet sporadically between 10 and 11 August. Access to the internet, social media, instant messaging apps and other digital technologies are important tools expanding the ability of people to protest both online and offline, enabling people to gain access to information, distribute details about an upcoming protest, organize, and enable virtual engagement in a wide variety of ways. Therefore, disruption of internet access is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information protected by international human rights law and can have a dire impact on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

“Amnesty International heard reports of more than a hundred of people arrested. The authorities must ensure that bystanders and those who were protesting peacefully are not arbitrarily arrested simply for having participated in the demonstrations. If the authorities have enough evidence pointing to the use of violence by some individuals during the protests, they must guarantee their rights to due process and fair trial throughout the proceeding, including the right to representation.”