Sierra Leone: Amnesty International expresses dismay at 10 death sentences for treason
Amnesty International is dismayed at the death sentences passed by Freetown’s High Court yesterday against 10 men
convicted of treason.
These death sentences come only weeks after Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the complete
abolition of the death penalty.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established by the government in 2000 to create an impartial
historical record of human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict and to provide a forum for victims and
perpetrators to recount their experiences. One of the key recommendations in its report, published in October, was
enshrining the right to human dignity and abolishing the death penalty.
"The TRC’s report explicitly calls for the immediate repeal of laws authorizing the death penalty, for a moratorium on
all executions pending abolition, and for President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to commute all pending death sentences," said
Tessa Kordeczka, Amnesty International's researcher on Sierra Leone. "President Kabbah should respond immediately to the
spirit and letter of the TRC’s report and commute all death sentences."
In addition to defying the public mood captured by the TRC, these death sentences go against a growing momentum within
West Africa to abolish the death penalty.
On 10 December the Senegalese Parliament adopted legislation abolishing the death penalty, becoming the fourth member
state of the Economic Community of West African States to outlaw recourse to capital punishment. In October, the
National Study Group on the Death Penalty in Nigeria also called on the Nigerian government to impose a moratorium on
executions and commute all pending death sentences where appeals had been exhausted.
"Sentencing these 10 people to death is an extremely retrogressive step which runs counter to the recent positive
developments in West Africa," Tessa Kordeczka said.
In addition, there should be an end to the discrepancy between national courts and the Special Court for Sierra Leone,
which is trying those accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international law
during Sierra Leone’s conflict. The maximum sentence which can be imposed by the Special Court is life imprisonment,
whereas the national courts may impose the death penalty.
"In practice, this means that a person convicted of the most serious crimes would face a prison sentence, whereas those
convicted before national courts of offences which may be less serious could face the death penalty," Tessa Kordeczka
said. "Many, including Sierra Leonean civil society groups and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have expressed
deep disquiet about this discrepancy."
"The government must follow the practice of the Special Court for Sierra Leone which reflects the international trend
towards abolition of the death penalty," Tessa Kordeczka concluded.
Background The charges against the 10 men sentenced to death - members of the former armed opposition groups, the Armed
Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and one civilian - related to an armed
attack in January 2003 on the armoury at Wellington barracks, on the outskirts of Freetown, in an apparent attempt to
overthrow the government of President Kabbah. Johnny Paul Koroma, former leader of the AFRC and an elected member of
parliament, was said to be implicated but evaded arrest. In March 2003, Johnny Paul Koroma was indicted by the Special
Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying those alleged to bear the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity,
war crimes and other serious violations of international law committed after November 1996. His whereabouts remain
unknown; rumours of his death have yet to be confirmed.
Those sentenced to death yesterday have the right to appeal against their conviction and sentence within 21 days. Of
five other defendants in the same trial, one was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and four were acquitted. Another
suspect had been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Special Court in September 2003.
Some 15 other people are reported to be under sentence of death in Sierra Leone. There have been no judicial executions
since October 1998 when 24 AFRC members convicted of treason were publicly executed after an unfair trial before a
Amnesty International believes that the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It
violates the right to life. It is irrevocable and can be inflicted on the innocent. It has never been shown to deter
crime more effectively than other punishments.
Find out more about AI's campaign against the death penalty: http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maacZQAabcI3Bbb0hPub/