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US Embassy Cites S/Leone in New Report

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The US Embassy Human Rights Report 2019 featured Sierra Leone, for Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees, Denial of Fair Trial and Trial Procedures.

The report states: The (Sierra Leone) constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the HRCSL indicated that Police occasionally arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, including members of an opposition party. The Government allows both the SLP and Chiefdom Police to hold suspects in Police detention cells without charge or explanation for up to three days for suspected misdemeanors and up to 10 days for suspected felonies. The NGO Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) reported cases of illegal detentions at several Police Stations and a correctional center. Chiefs sometimes subjected both adults and children to arbitrary detention and imprisoned them unlawfully in their homes or “chiefdom jails.”

The law requires warrants for searches and arrests of persons taken into custody on criminal grounds, but arrests without warrants were common. The CHRDI and Citizens’ Advocacy Network reported most arrests were made without warrants and that the SLP rarely followed proper arrest procedures.

The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the reason for their arrest within 24 hours and charge them in court within 72 hours for suspected misdemeanors or within 10 days for suspected felonies. Detainees, however, were not always informed promptly of charges brought against them. According to NGOs and inmates, authorities routinely brought remanded inmates to court on a weekly basis to be remanded again to circumvent the legal restrictions.

Despite having been trained on how to apply bail regulations codified in 2018, the Judiciary applied the system inconsistently and sometimes demanded excessive bond fees.

Detainees have the right to access family members and to consult with an Attorney in a timely manner. Lawyers generally were allowed unrestricted access to detainees, but according to the Director of Public Prosecution and the Office of the Legal Aid Board, an estimated 60 percent of inmates received legal representation, although the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law reported 25 percent of accused persons receive legal representation. Only defendants in the military justice system had automatic access to Attorneys, whose fees the Ministry of Defence paid. Although there were 15 State Counsels (Attorneys), the majority worked in the capital and were often overburdened, poorly paid, and available only for more serious criminal cases.

With the exception of the Regional Police Division in Kenema, Police cells generally lack holding areas for juveniles, and as a result, authorities often handcuffed them to windows in police stations.

Laws on gender equality were inconsistently enforced, and many traditional courts continued to ignore the rights of women regarding family law and inheritance. Juveniles were afforded few rights in the traditional justice system.”

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