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After long resisting pressure from human rights defenders, Sierra Leone on Friday became the latest country to abolish the death penalty. The country is located in West Africa.

“Today we are writing a page of history again. We as a Nation exorcise the horrors of a cruel past,” President Julius Maada Bio said at the abolition enactment ceremony in Freetown, capital of this small West African country. “After twenty years, we are keeping the promise we made to ourselves as a Nation: after twenty years, the death penalty is finally completely abolished in the Republic of Sierra Leone,” he said.

Around fifty States continue to apply the death penalty around the world, by beheading, hanging or even lethal injection. On the African continent, some thirty countries maintain this punishment in their legislation, but a good number of them have not carried out executions in recent years. In April, the Supreme Court of Malawi declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

In Sierra Leone, the first capital execution officially dates back to 1798, a decade after the colony was founded by Britain for freed slaves, Deputy Justice Minister Umaru Napoleon Koroma told AFP. .

Sierra Leone’s 1991 law provided for the death penalty for aggravated theft, murder, treason and mutiny. The last executions dated back to 1998, when 24 army officers were put to death after an attempted coup a year earlier. Death sentences were generally commuted to life imprisonment.

In 2020, the president commuted seven death sentences, the deputy justice minister said. But 94 people remained under such a sentence at the end of last year, he said. Sierra Leone, like other non-abolitionist countries, continued to be criticized by human rights defenders for the persistence of the sentence in law. The government announced its desire for abolition in May.

“Open hostility”

On July 23, after a lively debate, MEPs voted to abolish the death penalty, replaced by a sentence of life imprisonment or a minimum of 30 years. The abolition, however, remained suspended from promulgation by the Head of State.

“The first time I proposed to abolish the death penalty entirely for all capital crimes, it met with broad skepticism, cynicism and even open hostility,” he said on Friday. “My position was to say no to the death penalty in all its forms, for any crime whatsoever,” he said, speaking of “cruel, inhuman and degrading” punishment.

“We are a civilized country; we must not execute anyone and we will never execute anyone again in this sovereign republic,” he said. “By abolishing the death penalty in Sierra Leone, we are today affirming our faith in the sanctity of life,” he said.

Despite soil rich in diamonds, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries on the planet. Its economy, plagued by corruption, was devastated by an atrocious civil war (1991-2002) which left some 120,000 dead.

A truth and reconciliation commission set up to investigate the brutal conflict had recommended in the 2000s the abolition of the death penalty, likening it to “an affront to civilization”. But Sierra Leonean leaders opposed it. The courts sentenced 84 people to the death penalty between 2016 and 2020, according to the UN. “Today we honor a crucial recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” the president said.

This article was published automatically. Sources: ats / afp

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