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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More