By Kemo Cham…..
Sierra Leone has become the latest country to outlaw the death penalty, after its Parliament on Friday approved a Bill replacing relevant sections of the penal code.
Until now the death penalty was invoked for four main crimes in the country: murder, robbery with aggravation, mutiny and treason. All these offences are now punishable by life sentences, according to the new law.
While it prescribes a minimum penalty of 30 years imprisonment for a life sentence for certain crimes, notably murder and treason, it gives judges the power to use their discretion to determine the length of sentences for others.
The lawmakers voted unanimously to pass the piece of legislation dubbed “The Abolition of the Death Penalty Act 2021”, which repealed all related laws inherited from British colonial era administration:
the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, the Larceny Act of 1916, the Sierra Leone Military Forces Act of 1961, and the Treason and State Offences Act of 1963.
The move by parliament marks a fulfilment of a campaign promise by President Julius Maada Bio, as contained in his party’s manifesto.
It is also a fulfilment of a recommendation by the post-war truth and reconciliation commission in 2005, which described the death penalty in the country’s laws as “an affront to civilised society”.
Sierra Leone becomes the 120th nation in the world to have abolished the death penalty, and the 23rd country in Africa to do so. It follows on the footsteps of Malawi in April and Chad earlier in May 2020.
Sierra Leone is also the first English speaking West African country to repeal the law.
Campaigners against the death penalty said there is no evidence to show that it deters crime.
Friday’s session was witnessed by representatives of Civil Society and Human Rights Organizations who have been leading calls for the abolition of capital punishment.
Throughout its checkered history, characterized by a brutal eleven years (1991-2002) civil war and coups and countercoups, Sierra Leone has been accused of using the law to eliminate opponents of successive regimes.
It last carried out an execution in 1998, when 24 soldiers were controversially put to death by firing squad for their role in a coup against the administration of the late former President Ahmad Tejan Kabba. The suspects were convicted by a court martial, in a trial process that was widely viewed as unfair and which strained Sierra Leone’s reconciliation process.
Since then, even though people were sentenced to death, successive administrations had placed and maintained a moratorium on execution.
According to reports, as of this month, there were at least 94 people on death row in the country