Cliques, Death Penalty, and Human Rights

September 23, 2016 By Alusine Sesay

The issues of clique gang activities, death penalty, and human rights have hotly been debated in several quarters in Sierra Leone. The debate came about after Justice Alusine Sesay and his twelve-man jury passed a death sentence on colourful herbalist, Baimba Moi-Foray, a.k.a. La Chocolate, and his sidekick Foday Amara Kamara alias G-FAK following their conviction for murdering popular disc jockey Sydney Buckle, known fondly as DJ Clef.

The debate was further intensified after some clique gang activities overwhelmed the city, killing innocent people with impunity and reckless abandon. The city of Freetown is gradually being transformed into a zoo of hoodlums who are ready to inflict mayhem on the innocent public.

The issue of clique gangs, though a new phenomenon, has its nurturing stage drawn back from the body politic of the country. Most of those youths are mostly used as pawns by politicians during electioneering process to inflict harm on their political opponents. They are exposed to and allowed to using dangerous drugs during elections campaign and they remain unchecked because they get political back from their godfathers.

Politicians like the sacked Lands Minister, Musa Tarawally, and the current Minister of Youth Affairs, Bai Mamoud Bangura, have had cozy relationship with most of the clique.

During his tenure as Minister of Internal Affairs, Tarawally had a meeting with all the clique gang groups, who faithfully promised to abandon their lawless ways. The meeting led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the minister and the clique gangs.  Bai Mamoud too had a meeting with all cliques after he was appointed minister. Unfortunately though, all those meetings have not yielded dividend, with violence increasing every day at a worrisome magnitude.

Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Cornelius Deveaux, said during the Guild of Newspaper Editors annual general meeting this year that youth violence across the country might undermine violence-free elections in 2018 and that government was doing everything to curb it.

However, all the above moves and statements can best be described as politically correct because the real issue, which is youth unemployment, still remains unsolved. Most of the youth that are involved in dangerous crimes are out of job and the government is doing little or nothing to arrest the issue of youth unemployment in the country. Political violence has been taking place in the country and there has been no punitive action against the perpetrators, especially when ruling party youth are involved. These are some of the root causes of youth violence that should be looked into, but nobody cares.

Speaking during International Day of Peace on 21 September, Head of Department, Peace and Conflict, at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, Madam Memunatu Pratt noted that the spate of youth violence across the country underpins that the country still has a fragile peace. She cited youth unemployment as one of the root causes of the war and that the authorities should take appropriate action to solve the problem of youth unemployment, so as to ensure concrete peace in the country.

Due to rampant killings by cliques, the Sierra Leone Police issued a press release calling on the public to help identify all gang leaders across the city. Interestingly, the answer to that big security call should come from within as the Sierra Leone Police should know where those boys reside. When he was head of Media of the Sierra Leone Police, Assistant Superintendent of Police Ibrahim Samura could be heard on radio calling the names of all the clique groups in Freetown. Also, the current Minister of Youth Affairs, Bai Mamoud should provide an answer to the call of the police because he had had a meeting with some of the clique groups and must be in a position to produce a database of their current locations across the city.

In response to the rampant stabbings and killings of innocent people by cliques, mainly in the capital Freetown, Minister of Internal Affairs, Retired Major Alfred Paolo Conteh called for the re-activation of the death penalty as a possible measure to curb youth violence in the country.

“I have given instructions to the prison officers to clean and ready the tools and machines used to kill people, as reckless killing is on the increase. We have lost a lot of people through reckless killing and ended wasting resources feeding such prisoners for several years. This is unacceptable,” the minister told Radio Democracy in the capital Freetown.

“It’s in the bible, an eye for an eye. Our local people say ‘kill a dog in front of another to know that death is real.”

Although it is a societal fact that cliques are undermining the country’s fragile peace, it should be noted that Sierra Leone has signed numerous human rights instruments, including the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that defend the right to life of all individuals. Although the country has not totally abolished the death penalty, there is a moratorium on its application. Sierra Leone, under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma, has been acclaimed by the Human Rights Council of upholding human rights due to the moratorium placed on death penalty.

According to Amnesty International, in 2010, there were 13 prisoners on death row in Sierra Leone and recent presidential pardons contributed to emptying the death row as no prisoners was on death row by the end of 2012.

In May 2014, erstwhile Minister of Justice, Franklyn Bai Kargbo, told the United Nations that Sierra Leone intended to abolish capital punishment in law and that death sentences imposed on the country’s last death row prisoners had been commuted to life imprisonment.

But recent development in the country with regards clique activities has diverted the country’s course in upholding the right to life, with clamours for a return to the obnoxious death penalty as a deterrent to mayhem caused by the hoodlums.

However, a counter argument is that the death penalty could not be a deterrent to crimes, especially heinous ones like murder and rape.

Amnesty International describes the death penalty as a cruel and inhuman punishment, brutalising to all who are involved in the process, and that it is a system which is irreversible and may be prone to error and the execution of the innocent.

United States Supreme Court Judge Stephen Breyer has argued that death sentences lack reliability because they are frequently and erroneously given to two types of people – those who are innocent and those whose convictions must be thrown out due to constitutional errors in their trials.

Comparative analysis on crime statistics within Africa would prove that Sierra Leone should not practise death penalty. According  to the Africa Check Factsheet on crime rate in South Africa, the  murder rate has increased for a third consecutive year after it more than halved for the first 18 years after democracy.

“Every day, 49 people are killed and 48 people are victims of attempted murder. Incidents of murder increased by 4.6% from 17,023 murders in 2013/14 to 17,805 in 2014/15. Two more people were murdered per day than in the previous year, and six more per day than in 2011/12.Using Statistics South Africa’s 2014 mid-year estimates, the murder rate in 2014/15 was 33 per 100,000, up from 32.1 in the last reporting period,” states the factsheet.

It continues that South Africa’s murder rate is more than five times higher than the 2013 global average of 6.2 murders per 100,000, and that attempted murder cases increased by 3.2% from 16,989 in 2013/14 to 17,537 in 2014/15.

Yet South Africa has abolished the death penalty since 6 June 1995 through a historic resolution taken by the Constitutional Court. The Court ruled that capital punishment, as provided for under the Criminal Procedure Act, was in conflict with the country’s 1994 constitution. The Court ordered, with immediate effect, that “the State and all its organs are forbidden to execute any person already sentenced to death under any provisions”, thus declared to be invalid.

Despite the above statistics, South Africa has not thought of reversing the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the death penalty.

In the United States, where crime rate is also high, 30 states plus the Federal Government and the military practise the death penalty, while 20 states have abolished it and four states have placed a moratorium on it.

Knowing fully well that innocent people may face the death sentence, states that practise the death penalty cannot rush into killing someone found guilty. Rather the convict would be imprisoned for a longer period and he or she is given the leeway to choose the way he wants to be killed.

The argument in this article is not in any way supportive of criminal activities by gang youths but there are issues behind such activities that should be dealt with. The death penalty, in the context of human rights, could not be appropriate and it would be an outrageous move to curb youth violence in Sierra Leone. There are several ways to punish people found wanting of the law. Instead of re-activating the death penalty, the government should undertake a thorough research into the root causes and find possible solutions to youth violence in the country.