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Opening minds to rights behind bars

Opening minds to rights behind bars

‘OPENING MINDS TO RIGHTS BEHIND BARS’ – Report on the situation of detention in Sierra Leone.

Report to be launched at 11.30 on Monday 17th December at UNIPSIL HQ, Cabenda Lodge, Signal Hill Road, Freetown (Ground Floor Conference Room)

Overcrowding, poor hygiene and dilapidated buildings – these are some of the findings of a report on the state of detention in Sierra Leone today, showing that prisons and police cells around the country fail to meet international standards.

The report entitled ‘Opening minds to rights behind bars” reveals that juveniles are often confined alongside adults due to a lack of proper assessment. Researchers spoke to inmates and prison officers and found that access to food and drinking water is often inadequate. Poor hygiene standards are making inmates sick but medical care is limited.

Produced jointly by the United Nations Integrated Peace Building Mission in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the report also recorded worrying levels of overcrowding. This is due to a lack of magistrates, limited access to bail and irregular court sittings which leave some prisoners on remand having to wait up to a year for a court appearance. In addition, many prisoners have been convicted for only minor offences but their confinement places an additional burden on the already limited resources allocated to the prison service.

The report is the result of intensive fact-finding carried out by UNIPSIL’s own Human Rights staff between February and September of this year. During that time researchers visited all 17 of the country’s prisons, its three juvenile detention centres and a number of police cells and local court cells in the regions. The study follows up progress since the 2007 UN report “Behind Walls: An Inventory and Assessment of Prisons in Sierra Leone”.

Besides investigating the physical conditions, the report assesses Sierra Leone’s legal framework and the country’s obligations in light of relevant international human rights standards. Questions are asked about the effectiveness of donor intervention in the field of technical assistance and capacity building.

The report goes on to make a number of recommendations aimed at key state institutions and stakeholders.

“All our findings were shared with senior figures in the justice sector, ministry officials and development partners”, says UNIPSIL’s Human Rights Chief Beatriz Balbin.

“But long term answers to these problems can only be found by looking at prisons and detention centres in the context of the whole justice sector, from arrest to sentencing. And I’m pleased to say that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prison Service have said they’re willing to meet the challenges head on. We call on donors and stakeholders to support any steps the government might take to implement the recommendations in this report”.


by UNIPSIL and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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