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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 Under the NPRC, the 1991 Constitution technically remains in force but it is severely restricted, and superseded in places by military decrees.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. (###)
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