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TITLE: SIERRA LEONE HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE SIERRA LEONE The National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), which was formed in 1992 after a military coup led by Captain Valentine E.M. Strasser and a small cadre of soldiers from the Sierra Leone-Liberia war front, continued to rule Sierra Leone. The coup ended the government of President Joseph Momoh and his All Peoples' Congress (APC) party, which had held power since 1978. Captain Strasser is Chairman of the NPRC and Head of State. The Deputy Chairman of the NPRC, Julius Maada Bio, is Chairman of the Supreme Council of State (SCS), which includes NPRC members and other military officers, plus one civilian. The NPRC and the SCS formulate government policy; day-to-day government operations are overseen by the department secretaries, who comprise the Cabinet. Following the coup, the NPRC dissolved Parliament and political parties and, ruling by decree, controlled all aspects of government. The 1991 Constitution technically remains in force under the NPRC, but its status has been diminished by a series of decrees and public notices. On November 26, Captain Strasser announced several important policy moves: a unilateral cease-fire in the fighting with the rebel forces, known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF); an amnesty for surrendering rebels and RUF sympathizers; and a timetable for a transition to democracy, culminating in general elections in late 1995. In December the NPRC released a "Working Document on the Constitution" to serve as the basis for public debate leading to a referendum on a new constitution in May 1995. The Sierra Leone military forces (RSLMF), supported by Special Army and Police Units (SAPPS) and the regular police force, are responsible for both external and internal security. The RSLMF continued active operations against the RUF forces, which are supported by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). The 1992 coup was in part motivated by dissatisfaction among frontline troops (including Strasser), and the NPRC set as its primary objective bringing the war to an end. Significant progress was made toward achieving that goal in 1993, with the recapture of large areas that had been subject to rebel control. There continued to be reports of human rights abuses on all sides in the internal conflict, including summary executions and torture, as well as abuses by the police and military against criminal suspects outside the war zone. More than 70 percent of the 4.3 million population is involved in some aspect of agriculture, mainly subsistence farming. Although the country is rich in minerals, including titanium-bearing rutile, gold, and diamonds, official receipts from legal exports of gold and diamonds have decreased over recent years; significant portions of these resources leave the country outside legal, authorized channels. The major diamond-producing area was under rebel control from late 1992 until late 1993, which further disrupted diamond earnings. Despite the difficult security situation, the Government adhered to an International Monetary Fund structural adjustment program which has produced major improvements in the stability of exchange rates and reduced inflation. There were many human rights abuses, notably, but not only, in the areas of fighting along the Liberian border, where the RSLMF and rebel units committed extrajudicial killings and torture. In August RUF rebels ambushed an aid convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), killing two of the relief workers and wounding a third before burning the vehicles. Additionally, both the police and army summarily executed criminal suspects and beat and otherwise abused suspects during arrest and interrogation. The NPRC continued to maintain firm control over government and society with tight restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association. Discrimination and violence against women remained widespread. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were numerous reports of extrajudicial killings and summary executions by military and the SAPPS, often in connection with criminal arrests. Many reports suggest that undisciplined military personnel inflicted civilian deaths while engaging in looting, robbery, and extortion (see Section 1.g.). b. Disappearance There were continuing reports of the disappearance of suspected NPFL rebels, captured in the conflict. The NPRC denied these reports and took the offensive by announcing an amnesty program for civilians and rebels returning from disputed territories. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Although the 1991 Constitution prohibits torture, there were reports of police and military mistreatment of detainees during interrogation and arrest. The practice of mutilating prisoners continued. In one well-publicized case, security forces cut off the ears of two criminal suspects. Military personnel sometimes physically abused civilians (see Section 1.g.). In December the press reported an incident in which soldiers beat and kicked a child in order to ascertain where the child had obtained the military boots he was wearing. Officials responsible for such abuses were sometimes punished. Prison conditions remained life threatening; deaths in prison due to malnutrition and inadequate medical attention are common. Detainee cells often lack beds or toilet facilities. Overcrowding is the norm at Freetown's Pademba Road prison. These prison conditions are of particular concern because shortcomings in the legal system often result in prolonged detention. Men and women are segregated in the prisons, but separate facilities for incarceration of juveniles do not exist. Homosexual rape is not uncommon. Throughout the year, the Government granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to prisoners, including some alleged rebel prisoners. Amnesty International (AI) requested access to prisoners one time, and access was granted. In May AI reported that some prisoners were being held in secret and that boys as young as 7 years of age were being incarcerated. The Government denied these charges. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile There are inadequate safeguards against arbitrary or unjust detentions and no provisions for their formal review in either criminal or political security cases. The laws provide that, after an initial 24-hour detention, detainees must have access to legal counsel, families, and medical care, but authorities rarely respect these provisions unless detainees can afford legal counsel to demand compliance. In political and security cases, police and security agencies have additional detention authority. Under NPRC decrees, any police officer or member of the armed forces, with approval of the SCS or NPRC, may arrest without warrant and detain indefinitely any person suspected of posing a threat to public safety. In practice, soldiers commonly arrest or detain civilians without charge. Relatives are not formally notified, but the authorities generally respond to inquiries. Arrested foreigners are often released but may not depart the country. The Government provides legal representation for the indigent only in cases of capital offenses. Lack of counsel in other cases frequently leads to abuse. Many indigent detainees are ignorant of their rights and assume, sometimes correctly, that law enforcement or judicial authorities will be paid by the accuser to rule against them. The Society for the Protection of Human Rights provides free legal counsel to some indigent detainees. During the year, the NPRC reviewed the cases of individual prisoners, resulting in the release of over 300 prisoners. The first anniversary of the April 1992 coup saw the release to house arrest of the more than 20 members of the former government who had been detained at the time of the coup. In December the Government announced that all suspected rebels had been released from detention, and one political detainee was released under the year-end amnesty. No one was exiled by the Government, but some persons chose to leave or, as in the case of some officials of the previous regime, remain outside the country rather than face possible retribution. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The NPRC has not fundamentally altered the previously existing judiciary, but it has circumvented some of the authority of judicial institutions by the use of special commissions of inquiry. There are three judicial systems: regular courts, local or traditional courts, and courts-martial which try only military cases. The judiciary is subject to political manipulation. There is strong evidence that favoritism plays a role in court decisions. The regular court system is based on the British model and consists of a Supreme Court, an intermediate Court of Appeals, a High Court of Magistrates, and magistrates' courts. There are criminal and civil courts. Decisions by lower courts may be appealed. The courts frequently grant attorneys' requests for adjournment or postponement; there are delays of up to 5 years in bringing cases to trial. Indigenous elected ethnic leaders preside over local courts and administer tribal law in civil cases, e.g., dealing with family and property matters. These local courts are often the only legal institutions in rural areas. The court-martial system, based on British military codes and the common law, provides for commander adjudication of minor offenses. More serious offenses are deferred from field units to force headquarters. There are allegations that enlisted personnel subjected to punishment by field commanders have in some cases appealed to friends in the NPRC and had sentences overturned. During 1992, in an effort to curb military excesses, a standing court-martial was established to try military personnel for serious crimes (e.g., murder, manslaughter or aggravated robbery). Death sentences pronounced by this court must be reviewed and approved by the Head of State. None of the death sentences given by the standing court-martial in 1993 had been carried out by year's end. Under a December 1992 decree, the Government has the authority to create a Special Military Tribunal to try "any person, whether or not a member of the Armed Forces" who, in connection with or in furtherance of any act of rebellion against the NPRC, commits treason, murder, manslaughter, aggravated robbery or any other serious offense under Sierra Leonean law. In 1993 the decree was amended to permit appeal of the Tribunal's decisions to the courts. In a separate set of quasi-judicial proceedings, NPRC-appointed commissions of inquiry, investigating corruption under the previous Momoh regime, held public hearings during 1993. At year's end, the commissions continued to submit findings to the NPRC. After reviewing the findings, the NPRC issues a "white paper" containing decisions on sanctions against officials of the previous regime found to have engaged in malfeasance. The NPRC has taken such actions as confiscating or ordering restitution of property and banning some persons from future public office. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence While the 1991 Constitution prohibits arbitrary invasion of the home, NPRC Decree 25 had given broad authority to military and police personnel to enter and search any premise without warrant. During April the NPRC published amendments to the Decree, curtailing that authority. However, officials still have wide authority under other NPRC decrees to monitor actions or conversation within homes, to prevent a person from acting in a manner prejudicial to public safety, to impose restrictions on employment or business, to control association or communication with other persons, and to interfere with correspondence. In practice, there were numerous occasions of abusive treatment of ordinary citizens by ill-disciplined soldiers and police, both within and outside of the war zone. These abuses included forced entry into homes, robberies, and assaults, some of them fatal. Offending soldiers have frequently been punished when caught; several remained under death sentences for the most serious crimes (see Section 1.e.). g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts There were serious violations of human rights in the conflict centered in the eastern and southern provinces along the Liberian border. There, RSLMF forces fought the Revolutionary United Front forces, which are supported in part by Charles Taylor's NPFL forces from Liberia. The RSLMF was also involved in fighting bandits and groups of military deserters. This conflict involves different ethnic groups and has resulted in an unknown number of deaths. Some estimates indicated that more than 8,000 civilians have been killed since 1991 and that hundreds of thousands of people within Sierra Leone and adjacent countries have been displaced. Government forces took severe action against suspected rebels and their supporters. There were credible reports of summary executions of prisoners by RSLMF troops. Troops also engaged in public humiliation and torture of captives, including by disfigurement, beatings, and parading captives naked. Some RSLMF troops displayed human skulls on military vehicles. Many reports indicated that RUF rebels took similarly severe action against civilians and RSLMF soldiers. In August the RUF attacked an ICRC aid convoy, killing two ICRC workers and wounding a third. Also, there were reports that the RUF leaders in Kailahun District executed 16 of their own troops and 5 noncombatants for allegedly plotting to overthrow RUF leader Foday Sankoh. In December RUF forces reportedly killed about 20 civilians in two villages near Pujehun. They also pressed youths aged 12 to 15 into combat service. At times, the RUF controlled parts of the eastern areas along the Liberian border, but by the end of the year government forces had regained the initiative, and RUF did not control any specific areas. In early December, the NPRC declared a 4-week cease-fire, but, due to numerous new RUF attacks on government forces during the month, the cease-fire was not extended when it expired. The RUF does not appear to promote a coherent political philosophy. Most of its members are of the Mende and Kissy ethnic groups, but other members of those groups have not been immune from RUF aggression. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Although the Constitution provides unequivocally for freedom of speech, NPRC decrees permit the Government to abridge freedom of expression if it deems national security to be endangered. Criticizing government leaders or offending the dignity of the State are criminal offenses. In practice, freedoms of speech and press were severely circumscribed. In May the NPRC repealed the section of its 1992 decree that had empowered the Government to prohibit attempts to influence public opinion in a manner likely to be prejudicial to public safety, public tranquility, or public order. However, a restrictive set of conditions for registration of newspapers instituted in February reduced the number of newspapers by more than 50 percent and silenced some of those most openly critical of the Government. At the end of 1993, there were 10 active newspapers, 2 of which were controlled directly by the Government. The Government warned and castigated editors who published articles displeasing to the NPRC. It detained several editors for 1 to 3 days and suspended one newspaper for several weeks. The then-deputy Chairman of the NPRC kicked one journalist because of an offending article. In these circumstances, editors continued to exercise self-censorship. In October the authorities arrested five employees of a Freetown newspaper and six others, who have played roles in Sierra Leone politics in the past, after the newspaper published an article from a Swedish newspaper alleging corruption in the NPRC Government. The newspaper's office was ransacked. The Government released seven of the detainees a short time later, but four journalists remained in jail for more than 2 weeks. They were then released on bail equivalent to $200,000 each, an extremely high sum by Sierra Leone standards. The newspaper has not published since the incident. One of the capital's two radio stations is government controlled and reflects only the views of the Government. The other is operated by Christian missionaries and broadcasts religious programming and Voice of America news. A third radio station operates in one of the provincial cities. The Government owns and operates the only television station, which resumed broadcasting after a hiatus of several years. Academic freedom does not appear to have been impaired by the NPRC. There were no reports of educators being detained or threatened for their teaching activities, and university students who staged protests over campus issues were not subjected to government retribution. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Although the 1991 Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and the right of citizens to form economic, social, and professional organizations, freedoms of assembly and association were not respected. All political parties remained banned. Under antidisturbance decrees, the NPRC may grant broad powers of arrest to public, military, or other authorized persons in any area or situation in which, in its opinion, there is likely to be difficulty in preserving "public safety" and "order." In practice, the NPRC permitted peaceful demonstrations. c. Freedom of Religion Freedom of religion is provided for by the 1991 Constitution, and historically the ruling government has displayed religious tolerance. Muslims, the largest religious group (comprising about 60 percent of the population), Christians, animists, and adherents of other faiths practice their beliefs freely; they may publish and distribute religious materials and conduct religious education without government interference. Although most clergy are indigenous, foreign Christian missionaries are active and there is a small number of Muslim clerics from other countries. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation There are currently no legal restrictions on travel within the country; however, for a substantial portion of 1993 three of the eastern districts were closed to civilian travel due to the rebel incursion. Military and paramilitary checkpoints also delayed travel, with soldiers frequently demanding money, transport, or goods. NPRC decrees permit senior police and military officers to stop and question any person. The Government requires all citizens to carry a national identification card which must be presented on demand to security personnel at checkpoints. However, as the Government was unable to provide cards for everyone, the requirement was only selectively enforced. Exit visas are required for anyone, except diplomats, seeking to travel outside the country. There are no restrictions on emigration or repatriation. Continuing conflict in the primarily agricultural eastern and southern provinces at times internally displaced as many as 400,000 Sierra Leoneans during 1993, reducing food production and placing a severe strain on the local economy. In addition to the internally displaced, an estimated 300,000 Sierra Leonean refugees sought refuge in Guinea and Liberia. There was considerable movement among the internally displaced Sierra Leone populations and the Liberian refugees in response to the ebb and flow of the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Sierra Leone continued to be host to thousands of Liberian refugees, although the number declined from 14,000 at the end of 1992 to an estimated 10,000 at the end of 1993. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided relief aid to 6,000 refugees at the Waterloo refugee camp near Freetown. The Government did not force refugees to repatriate to countries in which they fear persecution. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens do not have this right. Captain Strasser and a small group of military officers control all institutions of government, and the NPRC appoints all senior government officials. The NPRC appointed an advisory Commission for the Return to Democracy, and the Commission submitted the draft of a new constitution to the NPRC for review. In December a "Working Document on the Constitution" was released to serve as the basis for public debate leading to a referendum on a new constitution in May 1995. The NPRC timetable announced in December also calls for nonpartisan district council elections in November 1994; the formation of political parties in June 1995; and general elections late in 1995. Meanwhile, the ban on political parties remained in effect, and the Government qualified implementation of these steps by stating that the border fighting must end before elections could be held. Women are poorly represented in government. In December the NPRC appointed a woman as undersecretary in the Department of Education, the highest position held by a woman in the Government. A few senior civil service and judicial positions are held by women. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Local human rights groups are allowed to operate. The League for Human Rights and Democracy, a local organization, studies all human rights issues but concentrates on issues related to freedom of the press and conditions of prisoners. Its effectiveness is hampered by government intimidation and a lack of resources. In at least one instance in 1993, the League's director was summoned by police for questioning regarding his activities. The Government allows visits by international human rights organizations. The ICRC visited prisoners in Pademba Road prison and in various military barracks where suspected rebels are sometimes detained. Amnesty International had access to prisoners in 1993 (see Section 1.c.). Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Women Although women have equal rights under the Constitution, in practice they face both legal and societal discrimination. The rights and status of women under traditional law vary significantly, depending upon the ethnic group. The Temne and Limba tribes, for example, accord more rights to a woman to inherit her husband's property than do the Mende, who give preference to male heirs and unmarried daughters (in that order). In the broader society, women do not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities, or social freedoms. In rural areas they perform much of the subsistence farming and all of the child-rearing and have little opportunity for education. The average schooling level for women is markedly below that of males. A 1991 U.N. study showed that females receive one-fourth the schooling of males; only 6 percent of women are literate. At the university level, men predominate. There is at least one recently formed rights group which has as its purpose improving economic opportunities and access to health services for women. Violence against women, especially wife beating, is common. The police are unlikely to intervene in domestic disputes except in cases of severe injury or death. Few cases of such violence go to court. The issue is not recognized as a societal problem and receives no high-level attention by the Government. Rape is a problem in Sierra Leone. Children The Government recently signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and in 1993 began addressing, with the help of nongovernmental organizations, the integration of "boy soldiers" back into society. Many underage boys had been allowed to join military operations early in the war. There are reported instances of ritual murders of boys and girls, as well as of adults, associated with animist religious groups in the provinces. These murders have been widely reported in the press and openly discussed in public. The Government arrests and prosecutes suspects in ritual murder cases. Female genital mutilation (circumcision), which has been condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is not addressed in Sierra Leonean law and is widely practiced on girls at a young age, especially in traditional tribal groups and among the less educated. According to an independent expert in the field, the percentage of females who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 80 percent. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Discrimination between people of different tribal groups is not officially sanctioned, but tribal loyalties remain important factors in government, military, and business transactions. The Momoh government was accused of discriminating in favor of persons of Limba descent (Momoh's ethnic group). The NPRC is heavily Mende in composition, and many high-level appointees are from that ethnic group. Complaints are common of corruption and ethnic discrimination in government appointments, contracts, military commissions, and promotions. Residents of non-African descent face institutionalized political restrictions. Current law restricts citizenship to people of Negro-African descent following a patrilineal pattern, effectively denying citizenship to many persons, notably in the Lebanese community, the largest affected minority. Residents of non-African descent are often victims of harassment. People with Disabilities Questions of public facility access or discrimination against the disabled have not become public policy issues. There are no laws that mandate accessibility to buildings or provide for other assistance for the handicapped. There does not appear to be discrimination against the handicapped in housing or education, but, with the high rate of unemployment, few handicapped people are found working in offices or factories. The difficulty the handicapped face in finding employment places many facilities and services beyond their financial means. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Unions have continued their activities under the NPRC. The 1991 Constitution provides for the right of association, and all workers, including civil servants, have the right to join trade unions of their choice. Unions are independent of the Government. Individual labor unions have by custom joined the Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC), and all unions are members of the SLLC. Membership is, however, voluntary. There is no legal prohibition against the SLLC leadership holding political office, and leaders have held both elected and appointed government positions. Under the Trade Union Act, any five persons may form a trade union by applying to the Registrar of Trade Unions, who has statutory powers under the Act to approve the creation of trade unions. Applications may be rejected for several reasons, including an insufficient number of members, proposed representation in an industry already served by an existing union, or incomplete documentation. If the Registrar rejects an application, his decision may be appealed in the ordinary courts, but such action is seldom taken. Approximately 60 percent of workers in urban areas, including government employees, are unionized, but unions have had little success in organizing workers in the large agricultural and mining sectors. Unions have the right to call a strike without exception, but the Government may require 21 days' notice. In September teachers staged a strike demanding salary increases. The NPRC did not interfere, but NPRC decrees, which prohibit disruption of public tranquility or of supplies, could be employed to prevent a prolonged strike. The Sierra Leone Labor Congress is reviewing the labor law and hopes to have legislation approved in 1994 that would prohibit firing of a union member for participation in a legal strike. Unions are free to form federations and confederations and affiliate internationally. The SLLC is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and there are no restrictions on the international travel or contacts of trade unionists. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The legal framework for collective bargaining is the Regulation of Wages and Industrial Relations Act. Collective bargaining must take place in trade group negotiating councils, each of which has an equal number of employer and worker representatives. Most enterprises are covered by collective bargaining agreements on wages and working conditions. The SLLC provides assistance to unions in preparing for negotiations. In case of a deadlock, the Government may intervene. There is no law that prohibits retribution against strikers; however, if an employee is fired for union activities, he may file a complaint with a labor tribunal and seek reinstatement. Complaints of discrimination against unions are made to the Industrial Court for arbitration. Individual trade unions investigate alleged violations of work conditions and ensure that employers take the necessary steps to correct abuses. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Under the Chiefdom's Council Act, compulsory labor may be imposed by individual chiefs, requiring members of their villages to contribute to the improvement of common areas. This practice exists only in rural areas. There is no penalty for noncompliance. The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts repeated its earlier request to the Government that it amend provisions of this act that violate ILO Convention 29 on forced labor. Although the NPRC does not require compulsory labor, a decree requires that homeowners, businessmen, and vendors clean and maintain their premises. Failure to comply is punishable by fine or imprisonment. Determinations of such cleaning and maintenance may be made by any health officer, police officer, or member of the armed forces. The last Saturday of every month is declared a national cleaning day, and there were instances of security forces beating citizens to ensure compliance. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The minimum age for employment is officially 18 years, but in practice there is no enforcement because there is no Government entity specifically charged with this task. Children routinely assist in small family businesses, especially those of vendors and petty traders. In rural areas young children work seasonally on family subsistence farms. Because the adult unemployment rate is high (60 percent in some areas), few children are involved in the industrial sector. There have been reports that young children have been hired by foreign employers to work as domestics overseas at extremely low wages and in appalling conditions. Following an investigation, the Government announced that the Department of Foreign Affairs would review overseas work applications to ensure that no one under 14 was being employed for this purpose and to enforce certain wage standards. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work There is no legislated minimum wage. Purchasing power continued to decline, and most workers have to pool incomes with their extended families and engage in subsistence food production in order to maintain a minimum standard of living. The Government's suggested standard workweek is 38 hours, but this is not mandated and most workweeks exceed 38 hours. The Government sets health and safety standards, but the standards are outmoded and often not enforced. The Health and Safety Division of the Department of Labor has inspection and enforcement responsibility, but inadequate funding and transportation limit its effectiveness. The SLLC is currently negotiating with the Government to update these standards. Health and safety regulations are included in collective bargaining agreements, but there is no evidence of systematic enforcement of those safety standards. Trade unions provide the only protection for workers who file complaints about working conditions. Initially, the unions make a formal complaint about a hazardous work condition. If this is rejected, the unions may issue a 21-day strike notice. If workers remove themselves from dangerous work situations without making a formal complaint, they risk being fired.
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