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TITLE:  SIERRA LEONE HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                          SIERRA LEONE


Sierra Leone is a Republic governed by a military junta, the 
National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC).  The NPRC was 
formed in 1992 after a military coup by a small cadre of 
soldiers from the war front, and rules by decree.  Captain 
Valentine E.M. Strasser is Chairman of the NPRC, Head of State, 
Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Secretary of 
Defense.

Under the NPRC, the 1991 Constitution technically remains in 
force but it is severely restricted, and superseded in places 
by military decrees.  In late 1993, Captain Strasser announced 
a timetable for Sierra Leone's transition to democracy, to 
culminate with a general election in December 1995 and the 
inauguration of a president in January 1996.  The Government 
held public debates on the "Working Document on the 
Constitution," which was drafted by the National Advisory 
Council (NAC), and scheduled a referendum on a new constitution 
for May 1995.  In November the Government established the 
National Commission for Democracy to provide education to the 
Sierra Leonean people on their rights and obligations under the 
1991 Constitution.

The Sierra Leone military forces (RSLMF), supported by Western 
Area Security Patrols (WASPS) and the regular police force are 
responsible for both external and internal security.  The RSLMF 
continued active operations against rebel forces, known as the 
Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which were supported by the 
National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).  The Government 
acknowledged, however, that much of the fighting was being 
conducted not by the RUF but by renegade RSLMF soldiers and 
other Sierra Leoneans.  Thus, while significant progress was 
made in subduing the RUF, renegade RSLMF continued to stage 
numerous and bloody attacks on villages and on vehicles 
traveling the main roads in the Eastern and Southern Provinces, 
and a few parts of the Northern Province.  There were reported 
human rights abuses on all sides in the internal conflict, 
including summary executions and torture, and abuses by the 
police and military against criminal suspects outside the war 
zone.

More than 70 percent of the 4.3 million population are 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 are smuggled 
abroad.  The major diamond-producing area was wrested back from 
rebel control in late 1993, but at year's end, government 
revenues from the mineral sector were still far below 
preconflict levels.

Human rights abuses were extensive, chiefly, though not 
exclusively, in the areas of armed conflict where RSLMF and 
rebel units committed extrajudicial killings and torture.  In 
July, an armed group of men reportedly mutilated more than 100 
villagers in Southern province, and there were numerous reports 
throughout the year that the rebels massacred civilians, and 
looted and destroyed their villages.  Both the police and army 
summarily executed criminal suspects and beat and otherwise 
abused suspects during arrest and interrogation.

The NPRC continued to maintain control over both government and 
social affairs, overseeing restrictions upon freedoms of 
speech, press, assembly, and association.  Discrimination and 
violence against women remain widespread.  New press guidelines 
in 1994 impose heavy financial burdens on publishers.  
Political parties remain suspended.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Both Government forces and RUF rebels engaged in these abuses.  
Government forces often tortured and killed suspected rebels.  
In September, a group reported to be RUF rebels hunted down a 
local chief in the Bo District, mutilated him and then killed 
him.  Many reports suggest undisciplined military and other 
security personnel, while they were engaged in looting, 
robbery, and extortion (see Section l.g.) also killed civilians.

     b.  Disappearance

Reports continued of disappearances of captured persons who 
were suspected to be rebels.  The NPRC denied these reports, 
and in late 1993 implemented an amnesty program for civilians 
and rebels returning from disputed territories.  The amnesty 
offer permitted many civilians trapped in rebel areas to turn 
themselves in, but the offer attracted few combatants.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits torture, the police 
mistreated subjects during interrogation and arrest.  In one 
incident, soldiers at a military checkpoint mutilated the hand 
of a driver who failed to obey a command.  Military personnel 
engaged in combat operations sometimes physically abused 
civilians (see Section l.g.).  The Government occasionally 
punished them for such abuses.

The Government worked to improve the diet and medical care in 
prisons throughout the year, but conditions at times remained 
life-threatening.  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 pretrial detention.  In response both to overcrowding 
and prolonged detentions (many of which date back to the Momoh 
Regime which ended in April 1992), the Government undertook to 
review cases and released some prisoners outright, including 
219 in late December.  The courts released additional 
prisoners.  Men and women inmates are separated, but separate 
facilities for incarceration of juveniles do not exist.  
Homosexual rape is common.

The Government continued to grant the International Committee 
of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to prisoners, including alleged 
rebels.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In practice, the Government does not provide adequate 
safeguards against arbitrary or unjust detentions nor for their 
formal review.  By law, after an initial 24-hour detention, 
detainees must have access to legal counsel, families, and 
medical care, but authorities rarely obey the law unless 
detainees can afford legal counsel to demand compliance.

Police and security agencies have additional detention 
authority.  Under NPRC decrees, higher-ranking police and 
military officials may arrest without warrant and detain 
indefinitely any person suspected of posing a threat to public 
safety.  In practice, soldiers do 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.

On the second anniversary of the coup which brought the NPRC to 
power, it released 63 prisoners but did not disclose the 
charges on which they had been detained.  In May, 24 officials 
of the former Government who had been arrested in the wake of 
the 1992 coup and detained for up to 2 years pending the 
outcome of government-organized commissions of inquiry, were 
rearrested when they failed to meet a deadline for repayment of 
funds the Government said they had embezzled while in office.  
The Sierra Leone Bar Association and Amnesty International 
challenged the legality of the arrests.  Police  released 
several prisoners after a few days, but kept most in prison or 
under house arrest until mid-August, when the majority were 
either set free or released to house arrest.

The Government did not use exile.  However, some officials of 
the former regime chose to leave the country, or to remain 
abroad rather than return to face possible retribution.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The NPRC can effectively control the judiciary.  There is 
strong evidence that favoritism plays a role in court 
decisions.  The NPRC employs special commissions of inquiry to 
circumvent the judiciary.

There are three judicial systems: regular courts, local or 
traditional courts, and courts martial, which try only military 
cases.  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, in part because there are delays of up to 5 
years in bringing cases to trial.

Judges in the regular court system may serve until they reach 
the mandatory retirement age of 65, unless their appointment is 
revoked prior to that time.  There were no known instances in 
1994 of judges being fired or transferred for political 
reasons.  Indigenous elected ethnic leaders preside over the 
local courts and administer tribal law in civil cases, for 
example, 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.  Soldiers accused of more serious offenses are 
transferred from field units to Force Headquarters.  There are 
credible reports that enlisted personnel subjected to 
punishment by field commanders have in some cases appealed to 
friends in the NPRC and had sentences overturned.

Minimum due process rights are not always respected.  
Authorities sometimes beat detainees, and mutilate or otherwise 
punish them prior to incarceration or a court hearing.  The 
regular court system contains provisions which discriminate 
against women and minorities, by accepting and sanctioning 
discrimination embodied in tribal, traditional, and Islamic law.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

Although the Constitution prohibits arbitrary invasion of the 
home, the authorities still have broad authority under NPRC 
decrees to monitor actions or conversations 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.  Superior officers frequently punished offending 
soldiers when caught.  In November the government executed 12 
soldiers who had been found guilty by a court-martial for 
crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder (see Section l.e.).

     g.  Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian 
         Law in Internal Conflicts

There were serious violations of humanitarian law in the 
conflict centered in the eastern and southern provinces along 
the Liberian border.  In that region RSLMF forces fought 
Revolutionary United Front (RUF) forces, which are supported in
part by Charles Taylor's NPFL 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 indicate that 
more than 10,000 civilians have been killed since 1991.  More 
than 1.25 million Sierra Leoneans are displaced internally or 
are living as refugees in neighboring countries.

The rebels also committed numerous humanitarian abuses against 
civilians and RSLMF soldiers.  In one attack in July, the 
rebels reportedly killed and mutilated more than 100 villagers 
in the Southern District.  In August they beat to death, then 
beheaded, an RSLMF officer caught in an ambush of a convoy of 
civilian vehicles traveling under military escort in the 
Northern Province.  Rebels also abducted mothers traveling in 
the same convoy and threw their babies into the bush to die.  
Children as young as 12 reportedly participated in some rebel 
attacks.  Most of the rebels are of the Mende and Kissy ethnic 
groups.

Government troops committed many abuses against suspected 
rebels and their noncombatant supporters, including summary 
executions of prisoners.  The RSLMF engaged in public 
humiliation and torture of captives, including disfigurement, 
beating, and parading captives naked, and sometimes displayed 
human skulls as trophies.  The RUF does not appear to promote a 
political philosophy.

There appears to have been little ethnically motivated violence 
in the hostilities to date.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of speech, the 
Government routinely abridges freedom of expression if it deems 
national security to be endangered.  Criticizing government 
leaders or offending the dignity of the state are criminal 
offenses.  Although the military regime can severely restrict 
freedom of speech, there was nonetheless much criticism of the 
Government in the press and in other forums.  The Government 
has not always attempted to halt these challenges, nor to exact 
retribution from those who criticize it.

At the beginning of 1994 there were 10 active newspapers, two 
of which were controlled directly by the Government.  In 
February, the Government announced new, stricter registration 
and publication requirements for newspapers, which resulted in 
the closing of several newspapers.  The press criticized these 
new conditions as an attempt to limit freedom of expression.  
But several additional newspapers have been launched since, and 
at year's end there were 13 in publication.

Journalists continued to suffer threats and intimidation.  In 
April a reporter was stripped naked and beaten unconscious by 
soldiers for articles he had written criticizing the 
Government.  In August police arrested an editor and reporter 
after publication of an article alleging corruption in a court 
proceeding.  In September several journalists received 
anonymous death threats, in letters which accused them of 
undermining the Government and the military.  In April the 
Government imposed a requirement that all news reports 
concerning the country's internal conflict be submitted to the 
Department of Defense for approval prior to publication or 
broadcast.  Many journalists exercise self-censorship.

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.  Two more privately owned stations operate in the 
provinces.  The Government owns and operates the only 
television station.

There were no reports of detention of educators or threats to 
them 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 
as well as the right to form political, economic, social, and 
professional organizations, the regime has banned all political 
parties.  The NPRC permitted peaceful demonstrations.  Permits 
were required to hold them, and were routinely granted.  
However, in one case a prominent politician who held office in 
the pre-NPRC period was refused a permit to speak in public.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and there 
were no reports that the Government abridged this right.
Although most clergy are indigenous, foreign Christian 
missionaries are active as well as a number of Muslim clerics 
from other countries.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There were no legal restrictions on travel within the country, 
but unsafe conditions often prevented travel in the Southern 
and Eastern Provinces.  Soldiers at military and paramilitary 
checkpoints also delayed travel, frequently demanding bribes.  
NPRC decrees permit senior police and military officers to stop 
and question any person.  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 950,000 
persons during 1994, reducing food production and placing a 
severe strain on the local economy.  In addition to the 
internally displaced, an estimated 300,000 Sierra Leoneans 
sought refuge in Guinea and Liberia.

Sierra Leone continued to host thousands of Liberian refugees.  
The Government did not force refugees to repatriate to 
countries in which they fear persecution, although no legal 
process for seeking political asylum exists.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens did not have this right.  The NPRC controlled all 
government institutions and appoints all senior government 
officials.  The Deputy Chairman of the NPRC, Julius Maada Bio, 
is the Chief Secretary of State.  The NPRC is composed of the 
Supreme Council of State (SCS), and the Council of Secretaries 
of State.  The SCS formulates government policy, serving as a 
de facto legislature; day-to-day government operations are 
overseen by the department secretaries, who make up the Cabinet.

Women are underrepresented in the Government.  The NPRC 
appointed a woman to head the Department of Education, only the 
second female cabinet minister in the country's history.  The 
two largest cities have female mayors.  Some senior civil 
service and judicial positions are also held by women.  There 
are no female NPRC members.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

The Government permitted the sole local human rights group, the 
League for Human Rights and Democracy, to exist, but hampered 
its effectiveness by intimidation.

The Government allowed the International Committee of the Red 
Cross (ICRC) to visit prisoners in Pademba Road Prison and in 
various military barracks, where it sometimes detained 
suspected rebels.  The Government granted Amnesty International 
access to all prisoners it requested to visit.

Section 5  Discrimination based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

The Constitution provides equal rights for women, but in 
practice women face both legal and societal discrimination.  
Their rights and status 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.

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 
men.  Only 6 percent of women are literate.  At the university 
level, men predominate.  One recently formed group has as its 
purpose the improvement of economic opportunities and access to 
health services for women, but its effectiveness has yet to be 
demonstrated.

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 remains a societal problem.  It is punishable by up to 14 
years imprisonment; the law is enforced.

     Children

The Government recently began to address, 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.

Instances of ritual murders of boys and girls, as well as 
adults, associated with animist religious groups in the 
provinces, continued.  The press reported these murders widely 
and they were openly discussed in public.  The Government 
arrested several ritual murder suspects in 1994.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which international health 
experts have condemned as damaging to both physical and 
psychological health, is widely practiced on girls at a young 
age, especially in traditional tribal groups and among the less 
educated.  While one independent expert in the field estimates 
the percentage of females who have undergone this procedure may 
be as high as 80 percent, local groups believe that this figure 
is overstated.  Membership has been declining in female secret 
societies which practice FGM in their initiation rites.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government does not officially approve discrimination among 
people of different tribal groups, but tribal loyalty remains 
an important factor in government, military, and business.  
Complaints of corruption and ethnic discrimination in 
government appointments, contracts, military commissions, and 
promotions are common.

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.

     People with Disabilities

Questions of public facility access and discrimination against 
the disabled have not become public policy issues.  The 
Department of Education has, however, created a position to 
implement the mainstreaming of students with learning 
disabilities.

No laws mandate accessibility to buildings or provide for other 
assistance for the handicapped.  There does not appear to be 
outright discrimination against the handicapped in housing or 
education, but with the high rate of unemployment, few 
handicapped people work in offices or factories.  The 
difficulty handicapped people 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 
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 it.  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 for approval by the Registrar 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 strike without exception, but the 
Government may require 21 days notice.  NPRC decrees which 
prohibit disruption of public tranquility or disruption of 
supplies could be employed to prevent a prolonged strike.  
Although union members may be fired for participating even in a 
lawful strike, no such incidents were reported.  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.  It has not, however, used decrees to prevent 
strikes.

No law prohibits retribution against strikers.  Should an 
employee be 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 to try to ensure that employers 
take the necessary steps to correct abuses.

Two textile enterprises were granted status as export 
processing zones.  The labor laws apply to them equally.

     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 NPRC does not require compulsory labor.  A decree does 
require 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 publicly humiliating and 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 family businesses, especially those of vendors and 
petty traders.  In rural areas 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.  The Department of 
Foreign Affairs is responsible for reviewing overseas work 
applications to see that no one under 14 is employed for this 
purpose and to enforce certain wage standards.  On at least two 
occasions during the year Sierra Leonean ambassadors abroad 
intervened to assist the repatriation of Sierra Leonean 
nationals who had suffered abuse.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no 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.

Health and safety regulations are included in collective 
bargaining agreements, but there is no evidence of systematic 
enforcement of those health and safety standards.  Trade unions 
provide the only protection for workers who file complaints 
about working conditions.  Initially, a union makes a formal 
complaint about a hazardous work condition.  If this is 
rejected, the union may issue a 21-day strike notice.  If 
workers remove themselves from dangerous work situations 
without making a formal complaint, they risk being fired.

(###)

[end of document]

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