Rule of Law in Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone Army experienced a bloody civil war against the Revolutionary United Front from 1991 to 2002. At the time, the state of fragility and rule of law in Sierra Leone was abysmal. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) designed to end the civil war, almost collapsed in 2000 after the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) kidnapped hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers. To rescue UNAMSIL, the United Kingdom began a military intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, bringing the nation away from state failure. This military intervention defeated the RUF, ended Sierra Leone’s civil war and helped Sierra Leone develop a counterinsurgency doctrine. As the civil war ended, Sierra Leone has significantly democratized with three peaceful transfers of power since 2002.

Rule of Law

Today, Sierra Leone’s state of rule of law is magnitudes better than during the Sierra Leone civil war. While the country does have a basic judiciary system to enforce the law, corruption issues and unequal treatment of civilians still plague Sierra Leon’s court and policing system.

Sierra Leone’s police force suffers from a grave lack of accountability for extrajudicial killings and physical abuse. In December 2007, authorities did not hold any police officer to account for shooting and killing two demonstrators protesting a diamond mining company. Additionally, in 2012, authorities did not place blame on any police for the killing of two young men at Calaba Town without evidence that those young men had weapons. Sierra Leone police have also not received blame for shooting dead a motorcyclist they mistook for a bank robber in 2012. Sierra Leone has an endemic issue of police accountability and the Complaint Discipline and Internal Investigations Department (CDIID), a body designed to investigate police complaints is a body exclusively made up of police members. While this body has occasionally taken action for professional misconduct, the department has not investigated serious abuses or any of the abuses above.

Corruption in Sierra Leon’s Judiciary System

While Sierra Leone’s corruption in its judiciary system has improved, Sierra Leone’s court system still suffers from widespread corruption. The Sierra Leonean courts suffer from a lack of legitimacy as 32% of Sierra Leonean citizens say they trust the courts “somewhat” or “a lot” and 47% of Sierra Leone citizens say that “most” or “all” judges and magistrates are corrupt as of 2017. While defendants had the right to legal counsel, many defendants did not receive this right. The attorneys were often overworked and many defendants who could not pay for an outside attorney were not able to obtain pre-trial legal counsel or aid as of 2020. Luckily, Sierra Leone does not hold political prisoners and still maintains a relatively independent judicial system while the law, in theory, provides the right for every defendant in Sierra Leone to have a fair trial.

Fragility

In terms of political institutions, Sierra Leone is relatively stable. Since the end of the civil war, Sierra Leone has had three peaceful transfers of power in democratic elections. While Sierra Leone’s democratic institutions are functioning relatively well for a newer and poorer democracy, the threat of political violence is pervasive as 80% of Sierra Leoneans believe that politics almost always leads to violence.

Sierra Leone has come a long way since 1991. Fragility and rule of law in Sierra Leone today are orders of magnitude better than in 1991. The country has a relatively stable political landscape while suffering from an undercurrent of political violence as of 2022. Corruption permeates Sierra Leone’s criminal justice system and while in theory, every defendant receives the right to legal counsel, the system still does not equally apply it to all defendants in practice. Sierra Leone is relatively democratic with relatively free and fair elections and they have not suffered from mass political violence since the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Alexander Richter
Photo: Flickr

the rule of lawIn many countries around the world, the judicial process comes with a hefty price tag. As a result, impoverished communities often lack access to the legal services and assistance necessary to achieve justice. To ensure these communities can access the judicial process, legal organizations are expanding their manpower internationally to provide legal tools and programs to people in need. Below are five legal organizations addressing global poverty by promoting the rule of law.

  1. Lawyers without Borders (LWOB) – This organization offers pro bono legal services to communities in need around the world. These services often include legal advice and assistance to promote the rule of law. Additionally, the organization helps train future members of the trial system through its “Support Through Trial Advocacy Training” (STTAT). This includes judges, prosecutors, magistrates and more. LWOB takes participants step-by-step through the trial process to better understand legal proceedings. To ensure as many communities benefit from STTAT training as possible, LWOB has translated course materials into a plethora of languages including “Swahili, Amharic, Creole, Nepali, French and Spanish.”
  2. Lawyers Against Poverty – This organization works to promote social justice in different countries. Composed of volunteer lawyers from around the world, Lawyers Against Poverty provides legal assistance and donations to communities in need. For example, in 2020 the organization donated 30,000 pounds to help women living in Jordan file legal proceedings for domestic violence during the pandemic. Additionally, the organization has donated 10,000 pounds to provide refugees in Greece with legal assistance filing asylum cases. To date, the organization has donated time and money to Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya and Greece to broaden important access to judicial systems.
  3. TrustLaw (The Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Created in 2011, this program came into being as part of the Thomson Reuter Foundation’s aim to provide pro bono legal services to worldwide communities. By connecting non-governmental organizations with law firms, TrustLaw provides a plethora of communities with legal assistance and training courses. In fact, TrustLaw has supplied legal assistance worth about $172 million since its creation. Additionally, the program works on three “areas of impact” to promote the rule of law. First, TrustLaw encourages members to devise solutions to climate change. Next, TrustLaw works to end modern slavery by conducting legal research on the issue. Finally, TrustLaw works to ensure women’s rights are upheld and respected on the international stage.
  4. International Development Law Organization (IDLO)In 1988, the International Development Law Organization was uniquely formed to serve as a global intergovernmental organization that promoted the rule of law. It has impacted more than 90 different countries worldwide. Additionally, IDLO works in regions like Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. In addition to promoting the rule of law, the organization also focuses on women’s rights, economic sustainability, peace and democracy, public health, climate change and access to justice. The organization focuses on U.N. goals as well in its efforts toward sustainability.
  5. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) – A nonprofit, the Global Legal Action Network dedicates itself to injustice and holding countries that violate human rights accountable. To gain international influence, the nonprofit partners with local grassroots organizations and civil society leaders in countries around the world. In addition to addressing human rights violators, the organization also deals with legal issues. These include issues tied to war, immigration and economic justice. More recently, GLAN has partnered with the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) to expose how the Chinese government mistreats Uyghurs in concentration camps.

The five legal organizations mentioned above address global poverty by offering donations, legal services and assistance to communities in need. This way, poor communities are not disadvantaged in terms of accessing different judicial systems around the world. Overall, these legal organizations ensure justice is available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, sex, ethnicity or nationality.

Chloe Young
Photo: Unsplash