News / Africa

Sierra Leone Government Promises End to Death Penalty

TEXT SIZE - +
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Solomon Sogbandi, the acting director for Amnesty International in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone says the group is working to make sure the government abolishes the death penalty in the country.  So far the government has put a moratorium on executions. And that is a step in the right direction, Sogbandi says.

"To us [the death penalty is] unconstitutional and violation to the right to life, as it says in Universal Declaration of Human Rights," said Sogbandi.

However, recent news reports that executions were held in neighboring Gambia last week have raised his concerns about what that may mean for Sierra Leone.  

Gambia outlawed capital punishment decades ago, but President Yahya Jammeh re-instated the death penalty in 1995.

"Today it is happening in Gambia, tomorrow it could be Sierra Leone," Sogbandi added.  "You can't tell because it was initially abolished, but reintroduced with Jammeh coming to power so we can't tell.  Now we have government saying it does support the issue, or is in favor, but if we have another that may not support it, it then becomes difficult for Sierra Leoneans."

Amnesty isn't the only organization concerned.  City of Rest is a Freetown-based mental health organization that focuses specifically on care for youth and adults.

Joshua Duncan, a project coordinator there, estimates at least half of the prisoners in the country may be suffering from a mental illness.

Duncan says providing better mental health services would be more effective at reducing crime than having capital punishment.  He also recommends more education for those in working in the mental health field.

"And also include in training courses of nurses certain aspects well enough to cater to those suffering from mental illness, so we'll be able to attend to them," said Duncan.

Duncan acknowledges with only one psychiatrist in the entire country, Gambia has a long way to go in that regard.  But the public can also play a role.  Duncan says there is still a stigmatization towards mental health and that also needs to change.

"You might be a victim one day, so let's not neglect those who have been challenged with mental health," Duncan added.  "Let's put our resources together so as to be able to help them and help our country."

The government says it is doing its part.  Frank Kargbo, the attorney general and the minister of justice.  says that after the country's elections on November 17, the government will abolish the death penalty.

"First of all you will notice no executions have taken place since Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma took up reins of government," Kargbo noted.  "Secondly, in 2009, 2010 he [commuted] all death sentences to life imprisonment.  It is now government policy that the death sentence now operates as life imprisonment... [We are taking these measures] until such time as we can amend the constitution and laws so [the] death penalty can be taken off our books."

But Amnesty's Sogbandi worries that if the All Peoples Congress Party is not voted back in, that could change.

And so during the first week of September he is going around to all the political party leaders asking them to sign an agreement with Amnesty stating that they will abolish the death penalty if elected.

"They are going to sign what we call ballot paper, a paper that will tell us they are committed to key human rights issues," Sogbandi said.  "After [the] elections, we are going back to say you were committed to A, B, C, and D, so the death penalty is one of those issues we want people to be committed to."

Sogbandi notes several African countries have recently taken measures to abolish the death penalty, including Benin and Togo.  He hopes Sierra Leone is another country that follows through.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid