Sierra Leone

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The Republic of Sierra Leone



Sierra Leone has had first-hand experience of the destructive effects of the absence of the rule of law and presence of impunity. As many as 50,000 lives were lost and more than two million people were displaced during the civil war, with thousands of others becoming victims of amputation, rape and sexual slavery. It is for this reason that Sierra Leone requested the UN establish a court to hold criminally liable those most responsible for the civil war. A stable democracy now, the country has continued its unflinching support for international criminal responsibility by signing the Malabo Protocol and deciding to stay with the ICC. Numerous factors support ratification by Sierra Leone, including concerns about drug trafficking and corruption; an active and progressive civil society and strong political parties; and a society which does not want repetition of the gross violations of human rights seen during the war.


Treaty ratification Process

The constitution gives the Executive branch of government the power to sign and partially ratify treaties on behalf of Sierra Leone. In some instances, however, Parliament is given authority over the Executive in the ratification process. Specifically, international instruments which relate to any matter within Parliament’s competence, alter Sierra Leone’s laws, or authorizes financing from state coffers must be forwarded to Parliament for ratification. Two methods may be used by Parliament to ratify treaties: (1) legislation or (2) a resolution backed by the votes of not less than half of the members of Parliament. Treaties of the sort of the Malabo Protocol (defining crimes, extending criminal jurisdiction and requiring cooperation with the state) use the first route of parliamentary ratification – meaning that domestic legislation would be required to integrate their provisions into Sierra Leonean law. This makes Sierra Leone a dualist state, at least for the domestic application of treaties such as the Malabo Protocol.


State of legislation on International and transnational crimes

Sierra Leone does not have a comprehensive domestic legal framework defining and prohibiting genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression as recognized under international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is mostly attributable to the fact that an ICC Bill has not been enacted by Parliament to give effect to the Rome Statute. For instance, while certain acts that may constitute crimes against humanity when committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack have been made offences under national law (murder, enslavement and rape), the majority have not (such as deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or severe physical deprivation of liberty, persecution, forced pregnancy, apartheid, enforced disappearance, forced sterilization and other forms of sexual violence). Moreover, even when committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack, those acts criminalized domestically would not constitute crimes against humanity under Sierra Leonean law, but are only ordinary domestic crimes. Criminalization of war crimes is also incomplete. As a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Conventions Additional Protocols of 1977, Sierra Leone made the grave breaches part of the Conventions and their Protocols offences under domestic law. But other acts constituting war crimes under the Rome Statute are yet to be prohibited under Serra Leonean national law. The crime of genocide and the crime of aggression are not recognized all together.  Money laundering, corruption, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism are defined and criminalized in a manner that is compatible or mostly compatible to the Malabo Protocol. Trafficking in hazardous wastes is partially criminalized under Sierra Leonean law. The crime of piracy, mercenarism, illicit exploitation of natural resources, and unconstitutional change of government are not found under the domestic law of the state. Of the additional crimes contained in the Malabo Protocol, drug trafficking seems to pose the greatest threat to the country, as it is growing tremendously and also significantly affecting the local population. Corruption and human trafficking are other areas of concern, next to drug trafficking.


Human Rights treaty signing and ratification trends

While ratifying or acceding to almost all of the human rights and crime-defining UN instruments, Sierra Leone has not done the same for some of their AU counterparts.[1] It also takes an average of 34 months to ratify UN treaties, while the average time is three times more for AU treaties (102 months).[2] It is not clear why AU treaties take more time to ratify when compared to UN treaties.


AU Judicial bodies membership

Treaty Signature Ratification
Protocol to the African Charter on Human And Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights Yes No
Protocol of the Court of Justice of the African Union Yes No
  Protocol on The Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (Merger Protocol) Yes No
Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights Yes No


[1] Annex – treaty signing and ratification trends calculation chart: Sierra Leone.

[2] The calculation only includes treaties which are signed and subsequently ratified and hence does not consist treaties which have been acceded to by Sierra Leone. Ibid.