News / Africa

    Sierra Leone Government Promises End to Death Penalty

    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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.