Political situation Intended reforms only possible with international support

Sierra Leone has seen positive progress since the end of the civil war in 2002, and its political system has stabilised. Despite huge setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Julius Maada Bio is striving to continue with his ambitious government programme.

The president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio

The president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio

The president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio

Key projects include free universal education, combating corruption, creating jobs, promoting private investment and reforming land rights.

Hurdles to the country’s development include widespread corruption, low education levels and the extremely challenging economic situation. In order to be able to implement its reform programme, the government of Sierra Leone is reliant on extensive external support. Government revenue is not currently sufficient to meet the basic needs of the population.

Within the bounds of its limited scope as a country of around eight million, Sierra Leone has an active foreign policy. It supports efforts towards regional integration in Africa, represents Africa’s interests within the United Nations (UN), and engages in conflict prevention and peacekeeping activities. The government is concerned by the increasing religious fanaticism and terrorism emerging in West Africa. Sierra Leone is committed to promoting the peaceful coexistence of different religions.

Human rights

Sierra Leone has made concrete progress when it comes to political and civil rights. A defamation act that limited the freedom of the press was abolished in 2020, for example. Sierra Leone rose 10 places in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders, ranking 75th in the list of 180 countries. In addition, a regulation banning pregnant girls from attending school was repealed, and the parliament unanimously voted to abolish the death penalty in July 2021.

There are still major deficiencies in the area of women’s rights, however. Many women and girls in Sierra Leone are still subject to female genital mutilation, and domestic violence – primarily against female household members – is widespread. The constitution explicitly allows violations of the non-discrimination principle based on religion or customary law.

Organised civil society is only found in larger cities. However, where it exists, it plays an active political role.

Background The civil war in Sierra Leone (1991–2002)

Corruption, mismanagement, a select few profiting from the country’s natural resources while the majority of the population lived in poverty, widespread unemployment and a lack of prospects for young people, poor-quality education and healthcare systems and an unfair distribution of land were all factors that contributed to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launching an armed rebellion against the government of Sierra Leone in 1991. Political and social motives soon took a back seat, however, and the RUF began fighting primarily to retain power and – with the backing of neighbouring Liberia – to gain more influence over the illegal trade in rough diamonds. The civil war was shockingly brutal, with massive human rights violations.

The rebels signed a peace agreement with the government in July 1999, but this was not immediately adhered to. An official end to the civil war was declared in January 2002. An extensive UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL) helped the government to disarm fighters and reintegrate them into society. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate and address the crimes committed. Its final report contained numerous suggestions for reforms to help combat the causes of the conflict, which have thus far been only partially implemented.

The UN and the government of Sierra Leone created the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to prosecute the main perpetrators. The court gave nine defendants prison sentences of between 15 and 52 years. These included the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

The SCSL was the first international tribunal to issue sentences for the deployment of child soldiers, and to recognise forced marriage as a crime against humanity and rape as a war crime.

As at: 03/02/2022