Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone

by AdvocAid
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Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone
Access to Justice for 500 Women in Sierra Leone

In 2022, KM (name protected for her privacy) was arrested for unlawful possession. She was helping her aunty clean up her house when the police came and arrested her. Although her aunty testified to the police that she was not involved in the matter, she was taken to a correctional centre.

KM received legal advice and support from AdvocAid’s paralegals and social workers. Additionally, after the intervention of the organization, she was cautioned and released.

The women we work with often have complicated realities. AdvocAid considers that access to justice should grant them – particularly the poorest and most underprivileged – the ability to access impartial, effective, and accountable instruments to protect their rights, control abuse of power, and conflict resolution.

 On behalf of the women and girls we work with, thank you for your continued support for AdvocAid. Each and every donor, nevertheless the size of their contribution, helps us provide women and girls with better opportunities to access justice.

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Photo - Boaz Reisel
Photo - Boaz Reisel

When Susan was 31 years old, she was arrested after her co-wife died. (Polygamy is common in some parts of Sierra Leone.) She was pregnant at the time. 

Susan received legal advice and support from AdvocAid’s paralegal and our AdvocAid appointed lawyer provided her with legal representation at the Magistrates Court and High Court. Susan gave birth to a baby girl while detained at the Freetown Correctional Center. AdvocAid's social worker supported her with food, clothes and other items for the baby.

In February 2022, AdvocAid's lawyer made a no case submission at Court and Susan was discharged due to want of prosecution.

Susan is currently living with her daughter and family members and taking steps to rebuild her life after this challenging experience.

The women we work with often have complicated realities. Court cases can take time, several years even, to progress. AdvocAid tries to make sure we support a woman, and her children, throughout this process and enable her to access justice.

On behalf of the women and girls we work with, thank you for your continued support for AdvocAid. Each and every donor, however big or small their contribution might be, helps us provide women and girls with legal empowerment services.

 

 

 

 

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Photo: Tom Bradley/ AdvocAid
Photo: Tom Bradley/ AdvocAid

* Trigger Warning - the report below contains information that may be distressing to some readers

On Boxing Day (26 December 2021), a 17 month old baby tragically died while being detained in a police station in Makeni (Northern Sierra Leone) with its mother. She had been detained on allegations of stealing a handbag.

Our offices were closed for the Christmas Break but our staff responded in order to support this woman to access justice. Our Makeni social worker, who was in hospital having just given birth, alerted the rest of the team to what had happened and started making calls to advocate for the mother. Our Makeni paralegal returned back from her vacation in the capital in order to assist. AdvocAid put out a press release the next day, calling for the mother to be released and for an investigation into the tragic death by the Independent Police Compaints Board (IPCB). Our calls were heeded. The mother was discharged and the IPCB announced they would commence an investigation. 

Our team continued to support the mother and arranged for her to get urgent medical treatment. Our paralegal went with her and waited with her in the hospital to make sure she was attended to without any problems. She also ensured that the family got a small grant to support them to buy medicines and food.

A few days later, the baby's body was taken to Freetown for an autopsy to be performed. One of our Freetown paralegals supported the family through this difficult process and went with them. He said it was not an easy experince for him but it was important that the family not feel alone through this. 

Justice is not just about the court room but also ensuring dignity, support and solidarity. We will continue to support this family through the investigation process and their fight for justice. 

We have also issued a press release, calling for the cases of all women and girls, especially those detained with young children, to be reviewed and considered for early release. 

As well as supporting individuals, AdvocAid also tries to focus on wider, systemic change. Our advocacy work highlights the need for a gender-responsive justice system and for international and regional standards to be implemented, which state that pregnant women and women with young children should be given alternatives to incarceration. We have also published a Police Complaints Manual which provides more information abour rights upon arrest and various ways to seek redress if they are violated. 

On behalf of the women and girls we work with, we thank you for your generosity. To get the latest news from AdvocAid please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and sign up to our newsletter via our website.

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Recognising and considering a history of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) when investigating and prosecuting women who commit violent crimes is a core advocacy message of our EU funded project “Enhancing Access to Justice for Sexual and Gender Based Violence Survivors and Promoting The Rights Of Women and Girls In Freetown, Bombali and Kenema”.


The project focuses on empowering women by providing them with knowledge on their rights and putting the power of the law into their hands to hold the system to account.


Through this project, 353 women received legal aid and representation, 40 women benefited from family tracing, and 107 women received psycho-social support since 2020.


Our paralegals monitor 18 police stations every week, including Family Support Units (FSUs), to identify women or girls in police custody who are in need of legal aid. AdvocAid’s paralegals took up their cases to ensure clients received due process.


As we move through year two of this project we will continue to develop legal education for correctional centres, remand homes, high risk groups, PWDs, teachers’ unions, women's groups, and religious and community leaders to work towards ensuring women and girls in Sierra Leone have access to justice.


On behalf of the women and girls we work for, thank you for helping us provide access to justice to those who need it most.

--

Rhiannon Davis
Executive Director | AdvocAid Sierra Leone

Tel (SL): +232 (0) 80 030 812
Tel (UK / WhatsApp): +44 (0) 7921 354 840
Find out more about us at advocaidsl.org | Facebook | Twitter
 
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This year is the first year of AdvocAid’s new five-year strategy. Pursuing Justice for Women and Girls is one of our core strategic directions. Through this strategic direction we continued to ensure that women’s rights were safeguarded during the implementation of Covid-19 emergency measures.

Soon after Covid-19 hit Sierra Leone, the government of Sierra Leone declared a 12-month long state of emergency and introduced new measures including reducing market hours for traders, lockdown periods, restrictions on travel between provinces, and a nationwide curfew.

During this time, AdvocAid noted that the government had implemented a law enforcement approach rather than a public health approach which disproportionately affected women especially women and girls in contact with the law. Taking into consideration their financial hardships, they were forced into debt to pay such fines, or face incarceration for their inability to pay once they breached rules. In addition to this, AdvocAid noted that the broadly defined and applied rules also violated the right to religious practice which resulted in Muslim women being affected discriminately.

Advocaid has worked to provide recommendations to the Sierra Leone government that the emergency measures declared safeguard women’s rights under our submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights report.

Our submission highlighted multiple issues with regards to access to justice for women in Sierra Leone. The report highlighted that 77% of women detained during the lockdown were arrested for COVID-19 related offences, compared to only 31% of men. Through AdvocAid’s interventions and sensitization work, they were able to secure the release of the 71 men and women arrested for breaching COVID- 19 related restrictions. AdvocAid noted that it is the poor and marginalized that bear the brunt of the lockdown and other restrictions. Emergency measures have impacted access to justice for women and girls in Sierra Leone, particularly market women who have been restricted from selling goods while simultaneously acting as the breadwinner in the family.

AdvocAid , through its work to ensure emergency measures do not impact access to justice to women in Sierra Leone made multiple recommendations such as the Government needs to reduce overcrowding in detention centers as this increases the risk of covid-19 infection rates. For example, it could start from inmates arrested for committing petty offences and vulnerable low-risk and pre-trial detained women and lastly decriminalizing petty offences like loans or debts.

AdvocAid is continuing to provide recommendations to address the issues faced by women and girls accessing justice in Sierra Leone. To find out more about the recommendations made by AdvocAid to ensure access to justice click here.


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Organization Information

AdvocAid

Location: Freetown, Western Region - Sierra Leone
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @advocaid
Project Leader:
Rebecca Wood
Freetown, Western Region Sierra Leone
$34,092 raised of $40,000 goal
 
1,037 donations
$5,908 to go
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