Solomon Sogbandi, the acting director for Amnesty International in
Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone says the group is working to
make sure the government abolishes the death penalty in the country.
So far the government has put a moratorium on executions. And that is
a step in the right direction, Sogbandi says.
"To us [the death penalty is] unconstitutional and violation to the
right to life, as it says in Universal Declaration of Human Rights,"
However, recent news reports that executions were held in neighboring
Gambia last week have raised his concerns about what that may mean for
Gambia outlawed capital punishment decades ago, but President Yahya
Jammeh re-instated the death penalty in 1995.
"Today it is happening in Gambia, tomorrow it could be Sierra Leone,"
Sogbandi added. "You can't tell because it was initially abolished,
but reintroduced with Jammeh coming to power so we can't tell. Now we
have government saying it does support the issue, or is in favor, but
if we have another that may not support it, it then becomes difficult
for Sierra Leoneans."
Amnesty isn't the only organization concerned. City of Rest is a
Freetown-based mental health organization that focuses specifically on
care for youth and adults.
Joshua Duncan, a project coordinator there, estimates at least half of
the prisoners in the country may be suffering from a mental illness.
Duncan says providing better mental health services would be more
effective at reducing crime than having capital punishment. He also
recommends more education for those in working in the mental health
"And also include in training courses of nurses certain aspects well
enough to cater to those suffering from mental illness, so we'll be
able to attend to them," said Duncan.
Duncan acknowledges with only one psychiatrist in the entire country,
Gambia has a long way to go in that regard. But the public can also
play a role. Duncan says there is still a stigmatization towards
mental health and that also needs to change.
"You might be a victim one day, so let's not neglect those who have
been challenged with mental health," Duncan added. "Let's put our
resources together so as to be able to help them and help our
The government says it is doing its part. Frank Kargbo, the attorney
general and the minister of justice. says that after the country's
elections on November 17, the government will abolish the death
"First of all you will notice no executions have taken place since Dr.
Ernest Bai Koroma took up reins of government," Kargbo noted.
"Secondly, in 2009, 2010 he [commuted] all death sentences to life
imprisonment. It is now government policy that the death sentence now
operates as life imprisonment... [We are taking these measures] until
such time as we can amend the constitution and laws so [the] death
penalty can be taken off our books."
But Amnesty's Sogbandi worries that if the All Peoples Congress Party
is not voted back in, that could change.
And so during the 1st week of September he is going around to all the
political party leaders asking them to sign an agreement with Amnesty
stating that they will abolish the death penalty if elected.
"They are going to sign what we call ballot paper, a paper that will
tell us they are committed to key human rights issues," Sogbandi said.
"After [the] elections, we are going back to say you were committed to
A, B, C, and D, so the death penalty is one of those issues we want
people to be committed to."
Sogbandi notes several African countries have recently taken measures
to abolish the death penalty, including Benin and Togo. He hopes
Sierra Leone is another country that follows through.
(source: Voice of America)