Sierra Leone 2022
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly continued to be restricted and the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers was under investigation. The right to freedom of expression for government critics and opponents was repressed. Several laws were adopted to advance women’s rights. While efforts were made to decongest prisons, there were allegations of torture in one detention centre. Levels of food insecurity worsened. Legal regulation of the mining sector was strengthened.
The constitutional review and voter registration processes in preparation for the 2023 presidential elections were ongoing. OHCHR, the UN human rights office, reassessed the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) and gave it a Grade A status.
Freedom of assembly
The right to peaceful assembly continued to be restricted. The Public Order Act 1965 (under Part III, section 17) criminalized spontaneous assemblies. In July, police arrested over 50 protesters during a peaceful protest against the high costs of living and fuel, which the authorities had not authorized. The protesters were cautioned and released a few days later.
Excessive use of force
The HRCSL launched a public inquiry into the conduct of law enforcement officers in connection with human rights violations carried out between 2015 and 2021, including the excessive use of force and sexual misconduct. It held public hearings into the allegations but had not published its findings by the end of the year.
On 10 August, protests against high living costs turned violent in Freetown, the capital, and in the north, during which 27 protesters and six police officers died according to media reports. The president appointed a 15-person committee to investigate the incident but its report was not available by the end of the year.
The review of the Independent Police Complaints Board regulations of 2013 was still pending at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General at the end of the year. The review was considering recommendations as the basis of a proposed act which would strengthen the board with a view to regulating police violence.
Freedom of expression
In February, the deputy spokesperson for the opposition All Peoples’ Congress party was arrested for incitement and detained for two days, after he said on the radio that Sierra Leoneans should ensure the ruling party was voted out of power in 2023.
In May, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists accused the government of using the offence of incitement to suppress freedom of expression.
In July, two political opponents were arrested for inciting an unlawful protest, after participating in a demonstration against the high cost of living. They were released without charge after four nights in detention.
Women’s and girls’ rights
According to the latest available statistics from UNICEF, 83% of girls and women (aged 15-49 years) had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) and 30% of women (aged 20-24 years) had been married before the age of 18. In June, the minister of gender and children’s affairs stated that the government would amend the Child Rights Act to outlaw early forced marriage and FGM against minors. In July, an FGM practitioner was charged with manslaughter in Moriba town after a 21-year-old woman died a day after the practitioner performed FGM on her.
In August, the Customary Land Rights Act, which gives women an equal right to own and use family land, was enacted. In the same month, the National Land Commission Act was introduced, which established a commission that will take a gender-sensitive approach to land administration.
In September, the president signed the Public Election Bill 2022 into law, which stipulated that one in three parliamentary candidates be women.
In November, the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment bill was passed by parliament. It included a provision stipulating that 30% of all positions in government, and in companies with at least 25 employees, be reserved for women.
During the year, 800 children were reintegrated into schools nationwide, including pregnant girls, girls who had dropped out of school because of pregnancy, children with special needs, children living in remote areas and those from poor families.
In an effort to decongest prisons, the judiciary held a national Judicial Week, following which, by 4 February, 374 detainees were granted bail and 234 were discharged across the country.
In June, the HRCSL requested a visit to “Benghazi” detention centre in Freetown where detainees who had criticized the president were allegedly subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, but by the end of the year the request had not been approved.
Right to food
In August, a food security analysis conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture with the World Food Programme revealed that food insecurity had worsened and over 1 million people faced severe hunger.
In March, the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources wrote to the Meya Mining company, seeking a response to Amnesty International’s conclusions regarding the human rights impact of its operations in the Kono district.1
In August, the government enacted the Mines and Minerals Development Act 2022, which sought to improve the socio-economic benefits of mining projects for the country and increase transparency in the management of the sector.