Tuesday, October 6, 2009

CORRUPTION-SIERRA LEONE:Anti Graft Now in the Hands of Civil Society

The fight against corruption in Sierra Leone has taken on a new face. Government and civil society are now working together to stamp out rampant fraud.

The national anti-corruption agency, previously a toothless body with no power only recently bolstered by amendments in the law, has now invited civil society to play a significant role in ridding corruption in the country.

According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index Sierra Leone is still among the 70 countries in the world that are considered to have rampant corruption.

Civil society members, recently trained by the national Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), have been asked to monitor government institutions to make sure they are trying to be corrupt-free.

The ACC has been tackling fraud through a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS). The strategy means that the ACC works hand in hand with government institutions to identify corruption hotspots in their organisations and to also find various solutions to this. The documentation drawn up as a result of this process has been given to civil society so they can monitor government institutions.

Ngolo Kata the head of a leading coalition of civil society groups said they have always wanted to play a role in the fight against corruption.

Ngolo explained the ACC has already trained various civil society members in the process of monitoring. "Members were nominated by their different organisations all over the country to form a core of monitors."

This team of monitors recently completed the first and second quarter of the monitoring process and is now compiling their reports.

"To regulate our work we have signed a code of ethics that controls the conduct of our members during the monitoring and among these rules maintaining a tight lip with the media is underlined," Ngolo said

Coordinator of the ACC project, Sholay Williams, explained that the monitoring reports will be put together at regional level and then presented to a steering committee that oversees the implementation of the NACS. "This core will make recommendations to government on what action to take against defaulting institutions," Sholay told IPS

According to the new ACC Act defaulters will be fined up to five million Leones, (about 1,300 dollars) fired from their jobs irrespective of the provisions in their letters of appointment.

In the past, the ACC was been described as a "toothless bull dog". But under the new regime of President Ernest Koroma – who came to power on a ticket of zero tolerance - it has been recovering its teeth. Whent Koroma’s regime took power in 2007, it was quick to review the Anti Corruption Act of 1991 and strengthen it with a new one last year.

The new act gave the ACC the power to send cases directly to court, for the first time. Previously the ACC was required to send all their cases to the Attorney General for approval first. As a result many cases against top government officials perished on the table of the Attorney General who never prosecuted these matters.

The ACC had also lacked the capacity to thoroughly investigate cases. There was a lack of cooperation from civil society and the public in providing relevant information or tip-offs about corruption. This was because many mistrusted the commission’s ability to pursue corruption cases.

However, an invigorated ACC with new management and bolstered powers is anxious to effectively fight against corruption and redeem its battered image. The commission is gaining the confidence of the people.

"The introduction of the NACS is a national orchestration, the broadest plan a country can have in the fight against corruption" Sholay said.

And no one will be safe from the new anti corruption commission. Government ministers will also be placed under the spotlight. The Information Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said: "The President will also be looking at the reports closely and will be assessing the performance of Ministers based upon these reports."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Custom Slow To Yield To New Law on Inheritance

They told her after the 40-day ceremony to mark the death of her husband. M'ballu Kamara's in-laws said she would be taken care of by her husband's younger brother. It took her a moment to realise the "care" she was to receive would require that she become his third wife.

"My husband had about five hectares of land which I had helped him cultivate over the years. We also had a small shop where we sold provisions. And my husband built the house we had been living in," said the 32-year-old from Makeni, in Sierra Leone's Northern Province.

"All of these properties have been taken over by various family members of my deceased husband. They said that my children and I will only benefit from the shelter of the house and the proceeds from the shop if I remained in the 'care' of my brother in law," Kamara explained.

"I cannot marry my brother-in-law. I refused. But it was glaring that if I go, I will forfeit everything - even personal effects of sentimental value which I bought with my own sweat," she said.

"They did not fight with me for the kids so I packed my personal belongings under the watchful eyes of my brother-in-law who had already moved into the house. And I left with my kids."

The cultural practice of "inheriting" wives is not limited to the Temne ethnic group to which Kamara belongs. It is entrenched across Sierra Leone.

But it is also a violation of the law. The Devolution of Estates Act of 2007 makes provision for surviving spouses, children, parents and other dependents of persons who died, whether or not they left a will.

The Act gives wives and children under customary law legal right to inherit property, reversing the previous situation where if there was no will, property simply reverted to the parents and brothers of the deceased. It also abolishes the practice of "wife inheritance".

But old custom dies hard: forty-five-year-old Kumba Nyandebo is from Gbane-Kandor Chiefdom in Kono, in the east of the country. Her husband died last year, leaving her with four children.

A month after the burial, his family met and decided to distribute his properties and personal effects among his brothers and sisters; the house of the deceased, and Nyandebo herself were given to his brother, Sahr Missa.

Nyandebo told IPS that she is okay with the arrangement. "I did it for the children. Who would take me now, with all these children and nothing to my name?"

She said she had never heard of the Estates Act and never even considered questioning the dictates of the elders of her family: "That is our custom."

There are scores of other women in Nyandebo's village of Gbakodu who have been inherited by their late husbands' brothers or nephews; she could not think of a single woman who had stood against the practice.

Sierra Leonean customary law, largely unwritten but which forms part of the common law, regulates upon matters including marriage, inheritance, divorce, and property - matters which impact heavily on women. Under Sierra Leonean customary law, women's status is considered equal to that of a minor.

But in constitutional terms, the passing of three Acts in 2007 - Devolution of Estates, Domestic Violence and the Registration of Customary Marriages Act, often referred to as Sierra Leone's three gender laws - has uplifted the status of women.

On paper at least. Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Jeneti, is the head of the Family Support Unit (FSU), a branch of the Sierra Leone Police Force charged with handling family issues and gender matters, at Kissy Police Station in the capital, Freetown.

Two years after the passing of the Act, she concedes she has never charged any Devolution of Estate matter to court.

"This is almost the same scenario in other police Stations around the country. The problem is that people are not reporting these matters and the few that come in lose interest as soon as we want to charge the matters to court."

However she also admitted that there are gaps in police handling of inheritance issues.

Charles Vandy, the coordinator of the National Committee on Gender Violence in the ministry of responsible for gender, children's affairs and social welfare says police have received some training. His ministry, in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee, had trained female FSU personnel to respond to women and children whose rights to inheritance had been affected.

Vandy says the government is well aware of the conflict between custom and the constitution.

"The only way we can fight as a government is to give the people the information. We believe that when many people especially women and children are aware of their rights under the Devolution of Estate they will stand up and then the grip of this customary laws will gradually loosen."

The ministry is now conducting a massive sensitisation drive, especially in the provinces, to inform the people who are worst affected about the Act.

Progress may be measured in modest increments.

Kamara, for example, says she knew that her husband’s people could not force her to marry his brother, but she believed they could seize her possessions. She was surprised to learn that she could actually apply to the courts to reclaim what she and her husband worked together to accumulate.

In Gbakodu, Nyandebo is wary. "I am sure our people had a reason to make those decisions... but if the government says it is a bad thing, then they must try to get our people to do the right thing which will benefit us all."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Commission Launches First Human Rights Report

FREETOWN, Aug 27 - A barefoot girl watches expressionless as men clad in expensive suits and women in designer clothes make their way on foot to the Community Centre in Kroo Bay, Freetown. They are here to launch the first ever State of Human Rights Report for Sierra Leone; Zainab, 12, is in the midst of another day on the narrow, muddy streets of the area, selling groundnuts to help support her family.

Home for her is the warren of patchwork wood and tin dwellings that sits at the bottom of the west end of the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown. The paths in Kroo Bay are of hardened dirt that turns to mud during the rainy season. There are no sewage pipes or water mains beneath them and they are too narrow for a car to travel.

Children bare to the waist play in the mud. Most of them, like Zainab, will never see the inside of a school. Babies strapped to their mothers' backs cry as if they knew how many among them will not survive to see their fifth birthday. The community's 10,000 residents are served by a single clinic.

"This community is a microcosm of the entire Sierra Leone, where 75 percent of the population is poor according to the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. A fitting place to launch the State Of Human Rights Report in Sierra Leone 2007," said The Minister of Presidential Affairs Alpha Kanu at the August 21 launch in Kroo Bay.

Two years after it was established as an act of parliament, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) has released its first report. It is not encouraging reading.

It finds that Sierra Leoneans face pulverising poverty as economic justice eludes them.

The commissioners found that cases of rape and domestic violence are not adequately prosecuted; that female genital mutilation remains prevalent in the country; and that women are discriminated against and need better access to justice.

They report that the overall administration of justice remains severely compromised by inadequate training, resources, and infrastructure. The death sentence is still mandatory for treason and murder, and discretionary for aggravated robbery. Conditions in prisons and other detention centers throughout the country are appalling.

And Sierra Leone is still recording maternal mortality rates at 1800 per 100,000 live births and infant mortality rates of 170 per 1,000.

The Human Rights Commission maintains "this national public health emergency is not being treated with the seriousness it deserves" and states that "the government is under a positive obligation according to national and international human rights law to take the necessary steps to reduce these high levels."

The Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Abdul Tejan Cole, pointed out that the country has a lot left to do to meet its economic, cultural and social rights obligations.

While critical of libel laws held over from the Public Order Act of 1965 under which journalists can readily be criminalised and imprisoned, the report observes there has been "much progress in the observance of the freedom of expression".

Licenses were granted to several radio stations and newspapers throughout the country and the Independent Media Commission (IMC) held a series of training seminars and workshops for journalists to raise standards of investigation and reporting.

The report also notes "government was tolerant and accommodating to musicians who produced songs, many of which are critical of members of the government, and the prevailing socio-economic and political situation."

Taking the shine off this commendation was the temporary closure of a radio station in Yele for criticizing government, and a member of parliament reportedly shutting down the community radio station in Pujehun for broadcasting opposing views.

The Presidential Affairs Minister praised the report and promised that his government will work assiduously to change this status quo in the country.

Edward Sam, the Vice Chairperson of the HRCSL, pointed out that to produce the report had posed a serious challenge for the Commission. He explained that they faced logistical constraints, like the availability of vehicles to facilitate field work especially for timely investigation.

He said that the availability of financial support for the Commission's operations largely depends on external donor support mostly from the U.N. Peace Building Fund.

"This is a crucial issue which needs to be urgently addressed by the government in order to ensure the sustainability of the Commission when donor funding folds up," said Commissioner Sam.

Will it matter?

The flurry of activity around the State of Human Rights Report launch has likely already faded in the minds of Zainab and the thousands of other residents at Kroo Bay who are unlikely to ever see the contents of the report or understand its potential importance.

When the ministers returned to their cars and drivers, Kroo Bay resumed its hardscrabble existence. Yet these are the people who most urgently need the government to deliver on its promises to work towards an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions for all Sierra Leoneans.

The report strongly recommends the implementation of recommendations of Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including an unequivocal apology to women on behalf of past and present governments for their suffering during the conflict in the country, and the enactment of legislation for political parties to ensure that at least 30 percent of their candidates for public elections are women. However the TRC's recommendations are yet to be fully implemented.

The Chairperson of The HRCSL, Mrs Jamesina King said the report will be a catalyst.

"The vulnerable groups would definitely get access to the report through community radio and they would also know that their deplorable living conditions and the violations experienced are being recognized and discussed. They will debate in market places, their homes and then they will begin to make leaders accountable."


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The links between poverty and HIV/AIDS

The poor often do not have access to information. Most AIDS activists agree that preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS requires education and information for behavioural change. Yet many of the health and HIV/AIDS education and information campaign appear in media and forms that are not accessible to the poor and the communities in which they live.
The poorest of the poor often live in remote areas and have no access to even the mass media, including radio. There also tends to be a correlation between high illiteracy and poverty, creating more of a challenge for the crafting of messages and information on basic health and HIV/AIDS for the poor. When poor women are further burdened by the demands of care-giving, they have no time to access information they need about prevention, treatment and care.
Even where prevention messages physically reach people, they may not be accepted or acted upon especially where these messages are not related to
people's experiences.
Poverty leads to behaviours that expose people to the risk of HIV infection:
Many HIV/AIDS information and communication campaigns emphasize “safer sex” as a means of protection. When women and young girls are engaged in sex work to earn money for basic needs, “safer sex” becomes an option that is hard for them to negotiate due to their impoverished status.
Marriage for poor women in patriarchal societies also is seen as the most reliable way for women to survive.
In most provincial towns in Sierra Leone, about half of the women are married by the age of 18, and of these, the largest percentage is in a polygamous marriage.
Women within these marriages are economically dependent on their husbands, and because of this dependency, they often silently risk unfaithfulness and do not dare to discuss the issue of safer sex for fear of violence and likely being thrown out of the “economic security” provided by the marriage. The fact that women cannot practice safer sex within marriage has become a central but often hidden feature of the spread of HIV/AIDS. If a woman is forced to leave the home, because she has married young, often without basic education and skills, she may resort to sex work to survive, thus continuing the vicious cycle of inequality, social disempowerment and poverty.
Labour migration, which becomes the route through which women and youth seek to escape poverty, puts young women particularly at risk of sexual exploitation. It also creates unequal ratios of men and women, increasing the possibility of HIV transmission through shared partners or sex work.
Often prevention messages that advocate the use of condoms and safer sex, do not consider the situation of the poor. Also condoms, if not distributed for free by public health and other structures, may be unaffordable for the poor (even when the cheapest is Le200), and, distribution may not reach remote areas.
Living conditions of the poor weaken their resistance to illness: Poor people often live in unhealthy situations.
A larger percentage of provincial people and an alarming number of people living in Freetown, (Sierra Leone's capital) do not have access to clean water in their homes, and one in four does not have electricity. Very poor people are not able to get enough food, or enough good food. Many people live in informal settlements in provincial towns and villages and inner city slums, where sanitation and refuse removal are poor.
Diseases like cholera, pneumonia and diarrhea to mention a few spread rapidly when people live under these kinds of conditions. Poor people living with HIV/AIDS are more likely to become ill sooner from these opportunistic infections.
Because the poor often go without food, and when food is available it tends not be nutritious, they are constantly in a state of malnutrition which weakens resistance.
Coupled with the lack of clean and safe drinking water, and the lack of decent housing, all of these factors compromise the health of the poor.
Once infected with HIV/AIDS, the body of the poor in such a weakened state is unable to fight the opportunistic diseases that take their toll faster.
Treatment and medical care are often beyond the reach of the poor, even though the government of Sierra Leone says the treatment is free, but every thing boils down again to the access to the information and the sad fact that there are hundreds of towns and villages that are over 10 miles away from a health care facility.
The cost, as well as access to treatment and care, determines who survives with HIV/AIDS.
Little wonder that Kabala one of the poorest district in the country has the highest cases of HIV/AIDS.

Monday, February 9, 2009

RIGHTS-SIERRA LEONE:Reparations Stretched Thin

"Eight years ago my husband threw his haversack on his back and bade us goodbye. My two kids and I came out of the house and watched him leave. Water was dripping from our eyes uncontrollably; it was as if we were already mourning his death. He was bound for the war front."

Fatmata Kallon, a tall, rail-thin woman in her early 40s is seated on the front porch of her shack at Sorie Town, located at the hill top in the west end of Freetown, a fast-growing settlement of tin houses, with no running water.

"About three weeks after he left, we were informed that he was killed in an ambush at the Bo-Kenema highway by the rebels. Osman Kallon, my husband had been the nerve centre of the family. Since his demise things have been hell for us."

Kallon is among the large group of women described as war widows - their total number is still unknown.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in 2002 to investigate the causes of Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war, a brutal conflict during which all factions were accused of committing gross human rights violations.

The TRC specifically recognised the effects of violence on women and the family structure. War widows - in the words of the TRC's report, "women whose husbands were killed as a consequence of any abuse or violation and who, as a result, have become the primary breadwinners for their families" - such women were designated as a privileged categories for reparations, notes the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, Jamesina King.

The TRC recommended the provision of skills training and micro-credit schemes for these women, defined in its final report as to help equip and empower them to provide for their families.

But the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), the body that will be implementing the reparations, has no immediate plans to begin these projects.

"Because skills training and micro-credit schemes for these women need a lot of planning and the money that we have now will be insufficient to take this venture on board, when we have more funding we will consider that recommendation," the Reparations Program Manager, Amadu Bangura, told IPS.

NaCSA instead has chosen to give priority to the implementation of a housing project, providing housing to only three other categories affected by the war: adult war wounded, adult amputees and adult victims of sexual violence. The housing project was not a reparation recommendation by the TRC.

"I feel so deprived and the loss of my husband during the war will be more painful to me and my family if the reparations recommendations set out by TRC will not be followed strictly by NaCSA for whatever reasons," Kallon appealed.

Bangura maintains that the housing project is in line with the recommendations of the Reparations Steering Committee after analysing the TRC report and finding that 49 percent of victims called for the provision of housing.

He stated that when they did their assessment they found that out of the 960 amputees and war wounded registered by the Amputee and War wounded Association, 500 have already been provided with housing by international NGOs.

"We want to continue with what has been started and finish off the 460 beneficiaries that remain. We intend to start off with 50 houses for amputees and 25 for war-wounded beneficiaries," Bangura pointed out.

Bangura said that the whole reparations programme is expected to start next year, as soon as the verification process of beneficiaries is concluded. It is expected to last for six years.

Each house will cost $6,500 dollars, taken from the present reparations budget total of three million dollars.

"Housing is the best reparations and I support NaCSA to include housing," says Jusu Jarka, the chairman of an association of amputees and war wounded who stand to benefit from the housing project. Jarka is the only active representative of beneficiaries in the reparations committee.

"I agree that housing is very good, but if the TRC in their wisdom expressly did not recommend it, they must have taken into consideration many factors like limited budget for the reparations," said Jariatu Kamara, a war widow. "So I do not see any justification in providing housing for one set of people and excluding the skills training and micro credit schemes that were directly proposed for us in the report. It is unacceptable."

Jamesina King said that the TRC Report makes provisions for amendment of the reparations recommendations by the implementing body, but only with the unanimous consent of the members of the Advisory Board to the proposed amendment.

"The HRCSL was not aware that such directions had been followed before the housing decision was taken and at what level."

She told IPS that they have done a letter to NaCSA to request an explanation and justifications for making the amendments to the TRC reparation recommendation.

A total of 2.3 million dollars is expected to be expended on reparations for amputees, war wounded, sexually violated and children victims in the project's first year.

Amadu said that the Reparations Committee was expecting funding from the government which is still not forthcoming.

In addition, he said that the committee has developed a five-year strategic funding plan to attract international donors and if they have the funds they will implement all the TRC recommendations before the end of the six year Reparations Programme.

"We have suffered greatly during the war and up till now we are suffering. We are helplessly looking at NaCSA to help us get our lives back. Whatever decision they will be taking on reparations, we hope will be selfless and should be in the spirit of the TRC report that has made provision for us," Kallon pleaded.

The TRC Report stated that they were enjoined by statute to give special attention to the needs of women and girls because while the majority of victims were adult males, perpetrators singled out women and children for some of the most brutal violations of human rights recorded in any conflict.

The report states that "it is only when the legal and socio-political system treats women as equals to men, giving them full access to economic opportunities and enabling them to participate freely in both public and private life, that they will realize their full potential."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Successful Appeal Strengthens Case For Abolition

A court in Sierra Leone has overturned treason convictions for 11 men. It is the first successful appeal against a death penalty in that country, opening the possibility of an eventual end to capital punishment there.

"It was like a miracle, I could not believe it. We were all filled with emotions when the judge said that we were acquitted and discharged," said Hindolo Trye, one of those aquitted.

The charges - laid against 10 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 on the armory at Wellington barracks, on the outskirts of Freetown in January 2003, in an apparent attempt to overthrow the government of President Kabbah.

"The acquittal of the eleven condemned prisoners is phenomenal," said Brima Sheriff, the director of Amnesty International in Sierra Leone. "This is the very first time in the history of this country that condemned prisoners had won their appeal and released especially for the conviction of treason."

Sadly, Osho Williams, the lawyer and All Peoples' Congress member of parliament who represented the eleven convicted prisoners during their 2004 trial and subsequent appeal, died just a few days after winning this victory.

This overturning of a previous decisions by the court has highlighted a key argument against the death penalty - the fact that an error in judgment can never be corrected if the victims have lost their lives.

The Court of Appeal acquitted the ten for procedural lapses during their trial; the fact that the trial judge failed to analyse the evidence led by the prosecution and to relate same to the law; and the trial judge's failure to direct the jury adequately on the law relating to accomplices, and the danger of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice.

In Sierra Leone murder, aggravated robbery and treason are capital crimes.

However there have been no judicial executions since October 1998, when 24 AFRC members convicted of treason were publicly executed after a trial before a military court.

One of the key recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which 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 was enshrining the right to human dignity and abolishing the death penalty.

The TRC's report explicitly calls for the immediate repeal of laws authorising the death penalty, for a moratorium on all executions pending abolition, and for the government to commute all pending death sentences.

But the Constitutional Review Commission of Sierra Leone has recommended only that the death penalty be replaced by life imprisonment in all cases of treason or other crimes of political nature that do not directly result in the death of another person and be replaced by life imprisonment.

"This is not enough," said the Amnesty Director in Sierra Leone. "We are calling for full commitment by the government for a abolition of the death penalty and nothing less"

Meanwhile, on Nov. 20, Sierra Leone abstained from voting on a moratorium on the death penalty at the UN General Assembly. This abstention has been condemned by many rights activists in the country.

The country still has 13 prisoners - ten male and three female - on death row at the maximum-security Pademba Road Prison, according to prisons officials.

Mambu S. Feika , the director of Prison Watch - an organization that monitors all prisonS in Sierra Leone - said that the acquittal of the ten death row prisoners has brought not only faith in the justice system of the country but hope for the other 13 prisoners awaiting executions.

"The previous government of Tejan Kabbah has observed a moratorium on the death penalty. The Ernest Bai Koroma government has started on a good footing on the death penalty we sense willingness by this government to get rid of the death penalty in our statutes and these signs are good for the remaining 13 on death row."

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Serry Kamal, pointed out that the president still reserves the decision to endorse the death penalty prescribed by the courts but that as the Minister of Justice, he will not recommend to the President to sign the execution order for any condemned Prisoner.

"Osho fought to save our lives it is a pity he had to loose his before he could see us live again, we hope that his party which is in power lives his dream to abolish the death penalty," Hindolo sighed.

The Abortion Dilemma—where would Sierra Leone go?

CONFUSED, frightened, tearful, a 15-year-old girl watches her boyfriend walk away in disgust. He called her stupid for getting pregnant. She thought they were in love.
A woman is filled with despair when she realizes that she is expecting her sixth child. Her husband is out of work, and the little ones go to bed hungry every night. How can they possibly care for another child?
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” explains a smartly dressed woman to her doctor. She has finally earned her Accounting degree and is about to begin her new career. Her husband is completely absorbed in his law practice. Where would they find time for a baby?
These people live worlds apart and face different dilemmas, but they choose the same solution: abortion.
The Debate
Abortion is one of the most explosive issues of the decade, igniting raging debates in political, social, medical, and theological fields. Around the world, pro-lifers march for the rights of the unborn. The pro-choice camp stands on the grounds of freedom and a woman’s right to decide. Crusaders battle freedom fighters in elections, in courtrooms, even in the streets.
Millions are caught in a tug-of-war, torn by the impassioned arguments of each side. The very terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” were carefully chosen to woo the undecided. In this age where freedom is idolized, who wouldn’t favor choice? But then again, who wouldn’t be for life?
This whole death-dealing tragedy is aptly described in Laurence H. Tribe’s book Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes. “Many who can readily envision the concrete humanity of a fetus, who hold its picture high and weep, barely see the woman who carries it and her human plight. . . . Many others, who can readily envision the woman and her body, who cry out for her right to control her destiny, barely envision the fetus within that woman and do not imagine as real the life it might have been allowed to lead.”
While this moral war rages on, in many western Countries and some parts of Africa, Sierra Leone is calm as the silence of the lambs. Abortion had never been an issue in Political debates or has been discussed in Civil Society forums. Human Rights organizations including The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone had not grappled with the issue and its controversy. But it should be noted that unofficial figures of abortions puts it at 15-20 abortions a week in the country. This figure is huge and I think the country has to take a stance on whether abortion should be legalized or the existing abortion laws be enforced.

Abortion Laws in Sierra Leone
Under Sierra Leone law, The English Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 is still in effect. This Act prohibits the performance of all abortions and makes a person performing an abortion and a pregnant woman consenting to the performance of an abortion subject to imprisonment. A law introduced in 1988 to regulate the practice of pharmacy (Pharmacy and Drugs Act of 1988) also prohibits any advertisement of drugs or services that could be used to terminate or influence the course of a human pregnancy.

Nonetheless, under general criminal law principles of necessity an abortion can be performed to save the life of the pregnant woman. In addition, Sierra Leone, like many Commonwealth countries whose legal systems are based on English common law, follows the holding of the 1938 English Rex v. Bourne decision in determining whether an abortion performed for health reasons is lawful. In the Rex v. Bourne decision, a physician was acquitted of the offence of performing an abortion in the case of a woman who had been raped. The court ruled that the abortion was lawful because it had been performed to prevent the woman from becoming “a physical and mental wreck”, thus setting a precedent for future abortion cases performed on the grounds of preserving the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health.

Facing the issues
I think Sierra Leone should join the debate and determine as a state, what side they should take on the issue of abortion: to what extent should they as a government be allowed to interfere with a woman's reproduction? This is a major issue in a number of countries. A parallel question also runs through the debate over legalized abortion: to what extent is the right to life a basic human right that the state has an interest in protecting?

As a nation we still have to come to grips with some of the most significant and common issues treated in the abortion debate which are:
The beginning of personhood (sometimes phrased ambiguously as "the beginning of life"): When is the embryo or fetus considered a person?
Universal human rights: Is aborting a zygote, embryo, or fetus a violation of human rights? What about fetuses with genetic disabilities? On the other hand, is not allowing a woman to terminate her unwanted pregnancy a violation of the woman's human rights?
Circumstances of conception: How important are the circumstances of conception to the ultimate fate of the embryo or fetus? Does pregnancy induced by rape or incest, or by poor or non-existent birth control use, change the permissibility of abortion?
Alternatives to abortion: Is adoption a viable and fair alternative to abortion? Are there resources available to aid mothers who are unprepared for parenthood, but who may wish to keep their child?
Limit of government authority: Are laws controlling abortion violations of privacy and/or other personal liberty rights?

In a nut shell, where does Sierra Leone stand on this emotional issue? How would we answer these key questions: Is it a woman’s fundamental right to decide? Is an abortion justified under any circumstances? When does life begin?

Sierra Leone to take a Position
Many volleys fired in this conflict deal with the question of when life begins. Few will argue the point that the fertilized egg cell is living. The question is, living as what? Mere tissue? Or is it human? Is an acorn an oak tree? Then, is a fetus a person? Does it have civil rights? The wrangling over words is endless. How ironic that in one and the same hospital, doctors may work valiantly to save the life of a premature baby and yet end the life of a fetus of the same age! The law may allow them to kill a baby inside the womb, but it’s murder if the baby is outside the womb.
There are many questions that need answers to in the issue of Abortion in this country and this is the finest time we have to banter with these questions because we are going through a constitutional review. Human Rights organizations, The Human Right Commission and the government should begin to take a stance –if the stance is to enforce the English Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 and the Pharmacy and Drugs Act of 1988 or pitch tent with Reproductive Rights activists, there has to be a clear cut and defined position of the government and the state.

However as we are looking at what to do with the issue of Abortion, we should also note that with the prevailing free access to abortion, many have felt no pressing need to guard against unwanted conception. They prefer to use abortion as a safety net to do away with any “accidents” that come along.
Statistics show that the age of puberty has dropped in this century. Hence, younger children are capable of childbearing. Are they taught the weighty responsibility that accompanies that privilege? The average Sierra Leonean loses his or her virginity by age 12. One third of married men and women are carrying on an affair or has done so in the past. Abortion finds ready clients among the promiscuous. The legalizing of abortion may make the practice somewhat safer medically and address the issue of reproductive rights but what about that unwanted piece of tissue a growing, thriving life, complete with its own set of chromosomes. Like a prophetic autobiography, it tells the detailed story of a unique individual in the making. According to renowned research professor of fetology A. W. Liley explains: “Biologically, at no stage can we subscribe to the view that the foetus is a mere appendage of the mother. Genetically, mother and baby are separate individuals from conception.” So with abortion would we not be taking the life of another Human being, would such laws legalizing abortion not tantamount to the state violation of the fundamental human Right to life? We have to chose.