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HRC-SL validates National Action Plan on decriminalization of petty offences

July 23, 2021

By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) in collaboration with the Network African National Human Rights Institutions, yesterday Thursday, July 22nd, held a day’s validation on the National Action Plan for the decriminalization of petty offences in Sierra Leone.

The validation workshop, which was held at the Sierra Palms Hotel in Freetown, was attended by stakeholders in the justice sector, including the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, UNDP, Irish-Aid and others.

Speaking on behalf of the Judiciary, Justice Tonia Bernet said the Judiciary of Sierra Leone is an integral arm of government charged with the constitutional mandate of dispensing justice to all manner of persons without fair or favour, stating that the judiciary continues to strive to ensuring that the rights of citizens enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 and it obligations under international conventions, are guaranteed.

She said the Chief Justice and the entire membership of the judiciary are more than determined and willing to participate in such workshops in a bid to find a way to decongest the correctional facilities.

She said under the leadership of the current Chief Justice, substantial progress has been made and that more magistrates and judges have been appointed and deployed in almost all the headquarter towns across the country.

She said the move has further enhanced the justice system to be effective and less expensive.

Kadi Jumu Peters, Team Leader, UNDP, said the workshop demonstrates the Human Rights Commission’s commitment to the partnership they have with the Commission on the Decriminalization of Petty Offences.

She stated that the Decriminalization of Petty Offences was a growing trend in the African continent and the process was influenced by the realization that the detention of the poor, especially the young population, which are mostly affected by minor offenses, was seriously affecting the continent.

She said the national effort towards decriminalization of petty offences in Sierra Leone is a laudable venture, which could not have come at a better time when there is a commitment by the government of Sierra Leone to support the review of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965.

She said one of the reasons behind the review of the Criminal Procedure Act was to ensure the right legal framework aiming to decrease over crowded correctional facilities across the country.

Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, Patricia Narsu Ndanema, said the workshop recorded their second meeting in large number, to discuss a national action plan for the decriminalization of petty offences in the country.

She stated that she was pleased to see the participant turnout on the validation workshop, which she said gave hope to the criminal sector in the country.

She said in 2018, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights stressed the importance of developing principles on the decriminalization and declassification of petty offences in African countries, noting that to that call Sierra Leone through the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone,was  closely heading to achieving that dream.

She said as the institution task with the mandate to protect human rights, they do several monitoring in police cells, correctional centres and court monitoring.

 She stated that their observations in subsequent engagements have clearly shown how convictions have negative impact on the lives of other family members connected to persons in detention.

Also speaking, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Antony Brewa, thanked the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) for organizing the Validation of the National Action Plan on the Decriminalization of Petty of Offences in Sierra Leone.

He said on November 18th,2020,when the Human Rights Commission held a two-day consultative conference on the development of a National Action Plan for the Decriminalization of Petty Offences in Sierra Leone, he also delivered the keynote address.

He stated that he was also pleased that the organizers were validating the National Action Plan for the Decriminalization of Petty offences in Sierra Leone at a time when his office was reviewing the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965.

He said the review of the Criminal Procedure Act speaks volumes of government’s commitment aimed at progressively transforming the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone.

He said the move constitutes a significant efforts made to transform the criminal justice system in Sierra Leone, stating that the poor and marginalized  persons remain vulnerable to violations of their fundamental human rights.

He said laws that criminalize petty offences in Sierra Leone have the effect of punishing, segregating, controlling and undermining the dignity of persons on the basis of their socio-economic status.

He said in that regard, the criminalization of petty offences reinforces discriminatory attitudes against marginalized persons and that those petty offences are not in conformity with Articles 2,3 and 18 of the African  Charter on the Right to Equality and Non-discrimination.

He said the government recognizes that the decriminalization of petty offences would help immensely in the decongestion of detention of vulnerable persons and the campaign to decriminalize petty offences.

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