The size and influence of civil society in Sierra Leone has seen huge growth since the end of the civil conflict in 2002. Prior to the conflict, the country had several professional and trade union organizations, but they were not as influential and active as they have become since 2002. CSOs only became particularly active during and after the conflict.
Civil society in Sierra Leone today be categorized into four types, which have different aims.
- First, there are not-for-profit, membership-based professional bodies, which largely are concerned with the welfare of their profession.
- Second, there are not-for-profit service delivery-based CSOs and development organizations, which largely seek grant and contract funding to address service delivery gaps.
- Third, there are civic organizations, which are primarily concerned with the pursuit of good governance and the maximization of citizens’ economic, social, political and civil rights.
- Finally, the fourth category of CSO is social clubs or mutual benefit organizations, which are membership-based organizations that focus on providing welfare benefits for their members. In past years, these organizations have collectively helped to foster accountability and transparency in government, address service delivery gaps, and protect the interests of their members.
Sierra Leone practices a multi-party, presidential system of government. Only two political parties – the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and opposition All People’s Congress (APC) – have governed the country since independence in 1961. The Constitution, which was passed in 1991, provides for separation powers, but the executive arm is clearly more powerful and seems to wield huge control over both the judiciary and legislative arms. In spite of efforts to enhance access to justice for persons across the country through the Legal Aid Board and additional recruitment of judges and magistrates, the judiciary is perceived to be corrupt and largely unresponsive to the justice needs of the people.
132 of the 146 Members of Parliament are elected by universal suffrage whilst the others (Paramount Chief Members of Parliament) are elected by their peers. In Sierra Leone, customary law and English common law operate in tandem, rather than in conflict. Local courts, which are now part of the judiciary and supervised by the Chief Justice, administer customary law to a significant percentage of the population living outside the Western Area, including regulating matters of marriage, divorce, succession, and land tenure. Sierra Leone has made tremendous progress in the fight against corruption in recent years, but corruption is still pervasive and endemic in both the public and private sphere.
The Sierra Leone government has since 1994 taken steps to regulate or define the role of CSOs in the country. The 1994 policy was reviewed in 2003 and 2009 by the former Kabbah and Koroma administrations, respectively. Efforts to introduce a more restrictive policy in 2016 were resisted by civil society. In December 2018, however, the government approved a policy that has been roundly criticized by CSOs as simply “a tool of the Government of Sierra Leone to unduly control CSOs, narrow the civic space, and potentially silence dissenting voices.”
That policy, known as the Development Cooperation Framework (DCF) or NGO Policy, includes a regulatory and accountability framework for both CSOs and development partners in Sierra Leone. The government claims that the policy seeks to promote transparency and accountability in the operations of CSOs whilst at the same time ensuring better coordination in the sector. CSOs hold a different view and have rejected it since the first day it was passed. Among other concerns, the Policy provides that all development assistance channeled through CSOs must be aligned with the national development priorities and should be properly coordinated with the government. CSOs must sign Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with their respective sector ministries before they can commence operations. In addition, the Policy provides for onerous registration and renewal procedures, including multiple reporting obligations.
Overall, the years of deep-seated mistrust between civil society and government is not improving in the country. This was evidenced by the fact that following a two-day conference in Freetown, the civil society consortium, National Elections Watch (NEW), issued a communique on June 21, 2022 in which it asserted that “there have been attempts, since the 2018 elections, to shrink the civic space using various approaches.” In response to the communique, however, the Secretary-General of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) issued a press statement accusing NEW of being unfair and biased against the SLPP.
This Civic Freedom Monitor (CFM) country note was made possible through the research conducted by Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of the Centre for Accountabilty and Rule of Law.
|Organizational Forms||Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)||Not-for-Profit Company (NPC)||Community-Based Organization (CBO)|
|Registration Body||Ministry of Finance and Economic Development||Registry’s Department||Ministry of Social Welfare or local governments/councils|
|Barriers to Entry||NGOs are confronted by a number of barriers including:
(1) Establishment criteria include at least 5 staff persons, office space, sign board, etc;
(2) Registration procedures require NGOs to sign an agreement with the government and potentially subject NGOs to field verification visits and in-person interviews;
(3) Re-registration is required every two years.
|Barriers to Activities||NGOs are subject to a number of barriers, including:
(1) NGOs must conclude an agreement with the government before commencing operations;
(2) Stringent and detailed reporting requirements apply to NGOs;
(3) Membership in SLANGO, an umbrella organization, is essentially mandated by law.
(4) Unless all requirements are met, including a satisfactory inspection of the offices, the application will not be submitted to the NGO National Supervisory Committee for consideration.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||The Public Order Act 1965 prohibits and criminalizes the reporting of false news and places the burden of proof on the accused. It is also criminal to participate in any demonstration or procession without the approval of the head of the police.|
|Barriers to International Contact||None reported.|
|Barriers to Resources||The law does not impose any barriers on how much funds can be raised by NGOs, however, the new policy imposes a limit on the indirect costs budget. The guidelines provide that only 30% of all funds can be spent on indirect expenses, while 70% of the total funds must go toward items/services that are directly project-related. A lot of NGOs have had difficulty adjusting their budgets to abide by the new policy.|
|Barriers to Assembly||Unclear definition of “procession” and excessive penalties for minor violations.|
|Type of Government||Constitutional Democracy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 53.895 years
Female: 54.69 years
|Literacy Rate||Male: 59.5%
|Religious Groups||Muslims: 78%; Christian: 21%; indigenous beliefs: 1%|
|Ethnic Groups||16 African ethnic groups comprise 90% of ethnic groups, including Mende and Temne, which are the largest ethnic groups and constitute 63.8% of the population; Limba, which are third largest at 8.4%, and Creole, which are descendants of freed slaves who were settled in the Freetown area in the late 18th century, Vai, Krim, and Yalunka collectively constituting 2.3%. Lastly, foreign-born residents in the country constitute 0.8% of the population.|
|GDP per capita||$474.10|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||182 (2020)||1 – 189|
|World Justice Project Rule of Law Index||105 (2022)||1 – 139|
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||51 (2023)||179 – 1|
|Transparency International||110 (2022)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free (2023)
Political Rights: 27
Civil Liberties: 36
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 40
1 – 60
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1996|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||1996|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1996|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||—|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1967|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1988|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2009|
|African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights||Yes||1983|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||Yes||2002|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||Yes||2001|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights on Women in Africa||Yes||2015|
|Dakar-Abidjan Treaty (which seeks to remove travel restrictions and promote trade among seven countries)||Yes||2021|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The current Constitution of Sierra Leone was approved by Parliament in 1991 and is significant in that it re-established a multi-party system.
Relevant constitutional provisions include the following:
Article 25 Protection of freedom of expression and the press:
Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purpose of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, freedom from interference with his correspondence, freedom to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions, and academic freedom in institutions of learning:
Provided that no person other than the Government or any person or body authorised by the President shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever.
Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in the contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision—
a. which is reasonably required—
i. in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
ii. for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons, preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of the courts, or regulating the telephony, telegraphy, telecommunications, posts, wireless broadcasting, television, public exhibitions or public entertainment; or
b. which imposes restrictions on public officers or members of a defence force;
and except in so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof, is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
Article 26 Protection of freedom of assembly and association:
Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade unions or other economic, social or professional associations, national or international, for the protection of his interests.
Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision—
a. which is reasonably required—
i. in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, or provision for the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community; or
ii. for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons; or
b. which imposes restrictions upon public officers and upon members of a defence force; or
c. which imposes restrictions on the establishment of political parties, or regulates the organisation, registration, and functioning of political parties and the conduct of its members;
and except in so far as that provision, or as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- Freedom of Information Act, 2013;
- The Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991;
- Revised Non-Governmental Organizations Policy Regulations, 2009;
- Local Government Acts, 2004;
- The National Revenue Authority Act, 2002;
- Registration of Business Act, 2007;
- Public Order Act, 1965;
- Police Act, 1964;
- NGO Policy, 2009;
- Companies Act, 2009 amended;
- Development Cooperation Framework (NGO Policy), 2018.
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
1. Efforts to review the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, the supreme law of the country, have been ongoing since 2006. Unfortunately, a full-scale review/amendment has not been concluded. However, piecemeal amendments to the document have occasionally been introduced. In July 2022, the Parliament of Sierra Leone amended section 32 of the Constitution to enhance the security of tenure for electoral commissioners and provide for the appointment of an additional electoral commissioner for the Northwest region that was established in 2017.
2. The Government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MOPED), adopted the Development Cooperation Framework (DCF) (NGO Policy) in December 2018, which became effective in January 2020. A number of NGOs only learned about the Policy regulations in early February 2018 and criticized the process for being secretive. The Policy covers only NGOs and does not include community-based organizations.
Among the most restrictive provisions were requirements for NGOs to: (i) align their programs and activities with the Government’s development policies, which significantly limit permissible NGO activities; (ii) sign service-level agreements with the relevant sector ministry (which essentially means that project–level approval must be obtained from the relevant sector ministry) before commencing operations; (iii) register or renew registration every two years; (iv) allow MOPED unduly broad powers to delve into NGOs’ financial information and operations by determining, among other things, the percentage of funding that can be spent by NGOs on direct or indirect expenses.
The Policy regulations also introduced criminal penalties for violations of the Policy; prohibit banking services for unregistered organizations; and place limits on administrative expenses up to a maximum of 30% of an organization’s funds. Finally, the Policy regulations fail to ensure the fundamental right to legal redress through an impartial and effective tribunal.
Following national elections in 2018, the new administration indicated that they were open to discussions with civil society to review the Policy and legal framework. A regional consultative meeting with Western Area heads of NGOs was held in November 2018. The NGO heads expressed concern with “the threat to civil space and the new draft NGO Policy” and emphasized the importance of legal space free of threats or intimidation from government. According to Alphonsus B.M. Gbanie of Human Rights Defenders Network, “The purpose and intent for NGOs to participate in the NGO Policy was not genuine from the government, because our views in the consultation process was not reflected in the final draft of the NGO Policy.”
As of November 2022, civil society–government consultations are ongoing. It is hoped that the outcome of these consultations will help address many of the NGOs’ concerns with the current framework.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) seeking legal entity status may assume one of the following organizational forms in Sierra Leone:
1. A non-governmental organization (NGO) is defined by the Development Cooperation (NGO Policy) Framework (DCF) as “any independent, not for profit making, non-partisan and charitable organization, with the primary objective of enhancing the social, environmental, cultural and economic well-being of communities without any form of religious, political, or ethnic discrimination in line with existing policy and legal framework.” (Article 5.1) According to the NGO Policy, NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MoPED). Registration with the umbrella organization, Sierra Leone Association of Non-governmental Organizations (SLANGO), however, is optional.
According to the NGO Policy, NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MOPED). Registration with the umbrella organization, Sierra Leone Association of Non-governmental Organizations (SLANGO), is optional.
2. A not-for-profit company (NPC) is regulated under the Companies Act 2009 and registers with the Corporate Affairs Department, which is an independent body for the registration of companies doing business in Sierra Leone. NPCs can be formed for various purposes, including member or community benefits.
They are allowed to engage in business activity, provided the profit is used to further the not-for-profit purposes of the organization.
3. There is no law, policy, or regulation that specifically governs community-based organizations (CBOs). The DCF does not cover the activities of CBOs. In practice, a CBO can either register with local government councils or with the Ministry of Social Welfare. The DCF is being reviewed as of November 2022 and there are suggestions that civic groups and CBOs may be covered in the revised document.
Public Benefit Status
There is no public benefit or tax exempt status that is generally available for all CSOs in Sierra Leone. Instead, certain organizational forms are conceived of as specialized forms, which are subject to limited permissible purposes and supported by specific fiscal incentives. For example:
• NGOs are accorded public benefit status and therefore qualify for tax exemptions under the National Revenue Authority Act and the NGO Policy. NGOs may be eligible for a waiver from import duties as well.
• Not-for-profit companies are exempt from certain taxes and may be granted a duty-free waiver under the Public Finance Management Act 2019. Not-for-profit companies can also engage in economic activities, provided that the profit is used to further the not-for-profit purposes of the organization.
• Community-based organizations and other CSOs are not granted “public benefit” or tax-exempt status.
In November 2020, a civil society-government dialogue series was held to address the communication gap that exists between them. At the inaugural meeting, President Bio urged government officials to “infuse more candor and transparency in government business through regular interactions with civil society as representatives of the interests of our people.” At least two other similar dialogue sessions were subsequently organized.
Barriers to Entry
Many CSOs are unregistered and operate freely, provided that they carry out their activities within the confines of the law. There is no penalty for operating unregistered groups in Sierra Leone. However, the activities of NGOS that refuse or fail to renew their registration may be suspended by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MoPED).
The law is permissive with respect to potential founders of CSOs. Anyone may form a not-for-profit company or a CBO, including both foreigners and Sierra Leoneans. The same is generally true for NGOs as well; the only limitation is that founders/members of an NGO should not consist of people from one family.
Establishment requirements vary depending on the organizational form. To set up a CBO requires initial founding members of at least five people living in the community. To form a not-for-profit company, the law requires a board and founding subscribers. To establish an NGO, the policy requires at least four full/part time staff (excluding messengers and drivers, but including secretaries). In addition, NGOs are required an organizational bank account.
In order to be registered as an NGO, applicants must submit a Letter of request for NGO status addressed to Development Secretary or Permanent Secretary of Line Ministry. There are a number of registration requirements and rules that raise potential concerns, depending on the implementation. They include the following:
• NGO applicants may be required to attend an interview with the NGO Unit;
• Successful NGO applicants must sign a “Service Level Agreement with each line ministry of operation”;
• Registration fees are determined periodically by the NGO Supervisory Committee;
• NGO applicants are permitted to re-submit an application, following an initial denial of registration, but have no right to appeal the denial to an independent arbiter.
In practice, some NGOs are subject to excessive delays. The Society for Democratic Initiatives, for example, was forced to wait for nearly two years after it filed for registration with the e Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED). NGO registration is valid only for two years, and therefore must be renewed on a regular basis. Renewal of registration is dependent on the submission of documentation and an “independent assessment of the performance of NGOs” by MOPED. In order to satisfy MOFED, NGOs must submit any or all of the following:
• A summary of final donor project narrative and financial reports;
• Audit reports on projects or the organization itself; and/or
• Copy of most recent certificate of registration from MOPED.
A certification of incorporation can be issued for not-for-profit companies based on the submission of a detailed Memorandum of Association, which includes information on the partners, board and name and place of business. The law allows for no appeal from a denial of registration; instead, the applicant has the right to re-apply.
CBOs are required to submit a constitution, list of members in the community, and a report on past activities; and to pay a fee to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Children’s Affairs or Local Councils. Here again the government can deny registration, but this seldom happens.
Foreign NGOs need accreditation from their government or embassy, proving their legal status and credibility before they can operate in Sierra Leone.
Barriers to Operational Activity
NGOs are subject to several legal barriers affecting their operational activity.
First, NGOs must sign an “Agreement” with the government before they can commence operations. This is interpreted to mean that every project implemented in Sierra Leone by NGOs must be approved by the sectoral ministry concerned and by the MOPED. No project shall be implemented by an NGO in the country without prior approval.
Second, NGOs are subject to stringent reporting and supervisory requirements. NGOs must submit annual reports for all projects implemented. NGOs must submit details of “all funds committed by donors for project implementation,” including the amount committed, sources of funding, details of donors and any details of installment arrangements or other donor requirements. And NGOs are subject to site visits without prior notice.
Third, the NGO Policy states that all assets purchased or acquired with donor funds should be the property of the people of Sierra Leone who are the beneficiaries – rather than of the NGO itself.
Fourth, NGOs are subject to sanctions (which could include cancellation of duty-free concessions and/or suspension or cancellation of certificate of registration) for failing to comply with the provisions of the NGO Policy, for acting in contravention of its stated objectives, and where the “NGO shows by its nature, composition and operations over the years that it is not developing/promoting the capacity of Sierra Leoneans in the management of its operations.”
In addition, a major concern for the sector relates to the role of the Sierra Leone Association of Non-governmental Organizations (SLANGO). Membership in SLANGO is optional, but NGOs are advised that registration with SLANGO is an advantage. It seems to be a key factor in the government’s decision on annual re-registration. In effect, therefore, SLANGO is arguably becoming an instrumentality of government, rather than a truly independent umbrella group and voice for the NGO sector. Unannounced “stop and check” operations have also been carried out in the countryside by government reportedly on the instruction of SLANGO to restrict the movement of vehicles without NGO registration bumper stickers.
In June 2022, members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) summoned 22 NGOs operating in the country to provide an account of their operations and funds received on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. The Committee demanded that each of the invited NGOs submit 17 copies of their status update, including a list of ongoing and completed projects, locations, beneficiaries of projects, cost of projects, donors of projects, current status of projects, breakdown of donor-funded projects, implementing partners, proof of compliance with the service level agreement with the MoPED, and any other relevant information.
Finally, CSO activists have on several occasions been victims of death threats, smear attacks, police detention and attacks on property. No official statements from government condemning the threats and attacks were issued. The government, however, should have a role in providing a secure environment for all of its citizens, civil society activists included.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Sierra Leone repealed Part V of the Public Order Act (POA) 1965, which criminalized libel and sedition. The Act prohibited and criminalized the reporting of false news and placed the burden of proof on the accused. However, the POA still requires police approval for citizens/activists to organize any demonstration or procession in protest over a public interest matter.
While the DCF/NGO Policy does not expressly exclude NGOs from advocating on human rights issues and political advocacy, the definition in the Policy seems to suggest that NGO cannot or may not directly participate in such activities. However, civic groups, including those registered as not-for-profit companies and community-based organizations, can advocate on such issues, including criticizing the government.
On October 6, 2022, lawyer and opposition politician Ady Macauley was arrested and detained by the police for alleged incitement after he expressed an opinion on the country’s freedom of assembly laws. Macauley appeared to have stated on a television show that citizens do not need a police permit to assemble and that he would defend anyone who gets arrested for having protested without a police permit. Several days after his comments, there were violent protests in Freetown and other parts of the country after which his comments were deemed to constitute an offence of incitement. Although he was released on bail, investigations into his comments have been ongoing.
In 2022, accusations of “incitement” have been used to chill opposition movement. For example, on July 3, 2022 opposition politicians Madam Femi Claudius Cole and Dr. Dennis Bright were arrested and detained for what the police referred to as “incitement”. On July 4, the police further arrested 57 people in Freetown, Lungi, Port Loko, Mile 91, and Magburaka for “organizing or participating in an unauthorized demonstration” in contravention of the Public Order Act 1965. Half a year later, on October 6, 2022, lawyer and opposition politician Ady Macauley was arrested and detained by the police for alleged “incitement” after he expressed an opinion on the country’s freedom of assembly laws. Macauley appeared to have stated on a television show that citizens do not need a police permit to assemble and that he would defend anyone who gets arrested for having protested without a police permit. Several days after his comments, there were violent protests in Freetown and other parts of the country, which led to his comments being deemed as an offence of “incitement.” Although he was released on bail, investigations into his comments have been ongoing.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no longer barriers in Sierra Leone restricting international contact or communication.
Barriers to Resources
There are no legal barriers to funding sources for civil society in Sierra Leone
NGOs are expected, however, to disclose all funding sources to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MoPED). This includes “sources of funding,” “details of donors and any details of installment arrangement or other donor requirements (Article 2.7 of the NGO Policy 2009).” Furthermore, NGO registration renewal requires the “submission of a list of assets acquired in the past two years and evidence of having surrendered assets for projects completed to the line ministry or as determined by the Minister of Planning and Economic Development.” It is still unclear how such NGO Policy provisions will be implemented in practice.
In June 2022, members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) and NGOs summoned 22 NGOs operating in the country to provide an account of their operations and funds received on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. The Committee demanded that each of the invited NGOs submit seventeen copies of their status update, including a list of ongoing and completed projects, their locations and beneficiaries of the projects, cost of the projects, donors of the projects, current status of the projects, breakdown of donor-funded projects, implementing partners, proof of compliance with the Service Level Agreement with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, and any other relevant information and staff payee.
Barriers to Assembly
Article 26 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone protects the freedom of assembly: Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade unions or other economic, social or professional associations, national or international, for the protection of his interests.
The exercise of freedom of assembly is regulated by the Public Order Act (POA), 1965 and the Police Act, 1964, as amended.
Part III of the POA on “Processions” requires organizers of assemblies to obtain a permit from the Sierra Leone Commissioner of Police in advance of a “procession” (processions are undefined in the Act). Failure to obtain permission before carrying out a procession is grounds for the police to disperse the procession. Anyone who refuses to obey an order to disperse or anyone who carries out an action that violates the conditions of the permit is liable to a fine not exceeding $12 or six months in prison, or both (Section 17(4)). No exceptions to the permit requirement are made for spontaneous processions, except in the case of events such as circumcisions, funerals, marriages, scouts or girl guide outings, and school activities (Section 17(5a-e)).
In addition, “Any person who intends to convene or hold a public meeting at any place in the provinces shall first notify in writing the Paramount Chief of the Chiefdom (Section 24(1)).” The Paramount Chief may “disallow the convening or holding of the public meeting in any place in the Provinces or impose such conditions as he may consider necessary on any such meeting where the interests of defence, public order, public safety or public morality reasonably so require (Section 24(2)).”
Under Section 24(4), “Any person found guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.” “Public Meetings” are undefined in the POA.
Anyone who deviates from the prescribed route specified in the permit for a procession or who refuses to comply with traffic rules commits an offence. A person guilty of an offence is liable on summary conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $5. For a second or subsequent offence, a person is liable to a fine not exceeding $12 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months (Sections 30 and 31 of the Police Act 1964, as amended).
Any organizer or participant who takes part in a procession that has been disallowed by the Inspector-General of Police or who has failed to comply with the conditions imposed in the permit is guilty of an offence under subsection 3 of section 17 of the Public Order Act (POA), 1965. Anyone guilty of an offence under section 17 of the POA is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 200 Leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both (Section 17(4) POA 1965).
Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions
Section 19(1) of the POA requires that anyone taking part in a procession keep to the left of the middle line of any road used for the procession and comply with police instructions about the route to be followed. Section 19(2) states that any interference with vehicular or pedestrian traffic is an offence for which the person is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 10 Leones or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one month or both.
In addition, “any person who within 500 yards of the precincts of the House of Representatives is guilty of any riotous, indecent, disorderly or insulting behaviour, shall on conviction be liable to a fine of one hundred leones or to imprisonment for six months or to both such fine and imprisonment (Section 23(3)).”
Certain conduct is also prohibited during processions. For instance, section 20(1) of the POA states that no person is permitted during a procession (except with permission in writing from the commissioner of police) to: (1) carry a lighted torch; or (2) carry or bear any offensive weapons. Section 20(2) states that a violation of section 20 (1) is an offence for which the person is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 50 cents or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.
In July 2017, police in Sierra Leone banned group jogging in the street on the grounds that it encourages “disruptive behavior.” Group jogging had taken on a political tone in parts of Sierra Leone. For example, presidential candidates organized “fun runs” in Freetown and the northern town of Makeni, with participants wearing T-shirts bearing the name of the political party they support. The police’s “Public Notice” about the ban said “individuals desiring to jog for health reasons” were “at liberty to do so, but at recreational facilities or at the beach” and added that “any group of persons now found jogging in the streets without authorization will be dealt with according to law. You have been warned.” This seemed to underscore the ban’s intent to restrict freedom of assembly of oppositional political parties and activists. In March 2020, a civil society activist was also arrested and detained for a leading a demonstration of students to protest over the government’s refusal to pay the tuition fees of students of government scholarships.
Three years later, on April 3, 2023, less than three months before the country’s presidential, legislative and municipal elections to be held on June 24, the Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC) issued a ban on all political street rallies after the PPRC stated it had convened all registered political parties, electoral management bodies, security sector actors and the press. PPRC spokesperson Lucien Momoh claim that the measure was taken to reduce election-related violence. The ban covered only traditional street gatherings and political parties could still convene in “designated areas” with “appropriate security coverage”.
Crackdowns on Protests
In March 2020, a civil society activist was arrested and detained for leading a student demonstration in protest over government’s refusal to pay the tuition fees of students. On July 3, 2022, opposition politicians Madam Femi Claudius Cole and Dr. Dennis Bright were arrested and detained for what the police referred to as “incitement”. On July 4, 2022, the police further arrested 57 people in Freetown, Lungi, Port Loko, Mile 91, and Magburaka for “organizing or participating in an unauthorized demonstration” in contravention of the Public Order Act 1965.
As these cases reveal, the mistrust between civil society and government is not improving. Following a two-day conference in Freetown, the civil society consortium, National Elections Watch (NEW), issued a communique on June 21, 2022 in which it asserted that, “there have been attempts since the 2018 elections to shrink the civic space using various approaches.” In response to the Communique, the Secretary-General of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) issued a press statement on June 30, 2022, accusing NEW of being unfair and biased against the ruling SLPP. The statement further encouraged all NGO “friends to bring their own fair share of contribution to democracy building by being neutral and refrain from acting as rogues undermining state efforts.”
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||UPR Report Consideration (October 31, 2021)|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Sierra Leone|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not Available|
|U.S. State Department||2021 Human Rights Report|
|Fragile States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Sierra Leone and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not Available|
|Human Rights Watch||Sierra Leone (2021)|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Not Available|
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Sierra Leone bans political street rallies ahead of elections (May 2023)
Sierra Leone has banned political street rallies, which is a tradition that has for decades characterized electoral campaigns, less than three months before the presidential election, the government said. The Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC) said that election periods were “no time for dancing and merriment”, but rather “times for deep reflection”. The decision came as a surprise in a country where the two main political parties – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), currently in power, and the All People’s Congress (APC) – hold parade-like rallies that move through town. Under the new rules, parties must now identify a single venue such as a stadium or community centre to hold their campaign events.
17 women protesters reportedly arrested in Freetown (July 2022)
It is reported that 17 women have been held in detention with lawyers being denied access to them. The women dressed in all black marched under the rainy streets of Freetown with microphones in their hands and were singing and calling on the government to hear to the suffering and hardship they are battling.
Members of Parliament summon 22 NGOs (June 2022)
Members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOS) have summoned 22 NGOs operating in the country to give account of their operations and funds received on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.
Leadership and advocacy consultant condemns hate speech (September 2020)
A Sierra Leonean Leadership and Advocacy Consultant in Freetown, Brima Abdulai Sheriff, has vehemently condemned the spate of ’Hate Speech’, saying it is not good for the country amid the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and with a State of Emergency in existence. He said the new National Council for Civic Education and Development headed by Kalilu Ibrahim Totangi should take the lead in national civic education programmes.
CSOs frown at reviewed NGO policy (February 2020)
Representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Sierra Leone have seriously frowned at the Development Cooperation Framework (DCF)-the regulatory policy guidelines for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)-which was approved by cabinet in December, 2018. The CSOs observed that the mandatory membership with SLANGO would violate organisation’s freedom of association, while the mandatory administrative structure cannot be feasibly applied to all projects.
Parliament to discuss repeal of seditious libel laws (November 2019)
Sierra Leone’s ministry of information and communications engaged with key local state actors to discuss and map the way forward to enhance national dialogue about the impact of the proposed repeal of Part 5 of the 1965 Public Order Act, known as the seditious libel laws.
NGOs consult for a review of Policy (November 2018)
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) gathered in a consultative meeting to discuss the 2009 NGO Policy, which they see as a threat to their existence. They said they need their space to operate that is devoid of threats or intimidation from government. The regional consultative meeting with Western Area heads of NGOs was organised by Society for Democratic Initiatives with support from OSIWA on the theme, “the threat to civil space and the new draft NGO Policy” held at the Civil Service Training College on Friday 2 November 2018.
Access to justice is central to Sierra Leone’s development (October 2018)
Delivering his keynote address at the ‘Justice 2030: Time for Action’ high-level event in New York on 25 September 2018, president Julius Maada Bio said that access to justice is central to the development of Sierra Leone. The president was addressing lawyers, diplomats, activists and members of Open Society Foundation.
“Suspend new NGO Policy,” say NGOs and CSOs (May 2018)
The former government introduced a new policy amid a deterioration in its relationship with NGOs over civil liberty issues. The government said the policy was necessary to ensure efficiency in service delivery for which donor funding is solicited. The policy document requires 70% of all donor funds to NGOs reach the target beneficiaries. But, NGOs and civil society groups say the policy gives the government direct control over their operational activities and funds.
NGC meets with CSOs on manifesto development (January 2018)
The National Grand Coalition (NGC) engaged CSOs on inclusive and effective manifesto development. A party’s manifesto is a public statement of aims and policies, objectives and intentions. The Chair of the Standing Together for Democracy Consortium applauded the efforts of NGC. He underscored, “It is the first time in Sierra Leone for a political party to bring CSOs on board while developing their manifesto. We want to see the needs of the citizens be reflected in political party manifestos.”
Sierra Leone bans jogging in groups after police say they are ‘menacing’ (July 2017)
Police in Sierra Leone have banned group jogging in the street on the grounds that it encourages disruptive behavior. An NGO, the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), called on police to ensure the ban upheld national and international law and freedom of assembly. Group jogging has taken on a political tone in parts of Sierra Leone. Presidential candidates have organized fun runs in Freetown and the northern town of Makeni, with participants wearing T-shirts bearing the name of the party. The police letter said “individuals desiring to jog for health reasons” were “at liberty to do so, but at recreational facilities or at the beach”. But, it added, “any group of persons now found jogging in the streets without authorisation will be dealt with according to law. You have been warned.”
The arrest of the leader of the ADP is politically motivated – says opposition (June 2017)
Condemnation of the Koroma government is growing after the arrest of the opposition Alliance Democratic Party leader Mr Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray on allegation of possessing an offensive weapon, a stun gun. Supporters of the opposition leader say that the arrest is politically motivated, and an attempt by the ruling APC party to subvert the will of the people ahead of general and presidential elections early next year. Mr Mansaray’s ADP is growing in popularity, especially in the ruling party’s northern heartland, where they are expected to make significant gains and likely to cut the APC’s overall majority.
Civil Society calls for elections before referendum (April 2017)
The Standing Together for Democracy Consortium, National Election Watch (NEW), Action Aid Sierra Leone and the wider civil society in Sierra Leone are calling for elections before a referendum on the National Constitution. The release ended with a call “on all Sierra Leoneans to guard our young and fledgling democracy by participating and contributing positively to the various phases of the electoral cycle. Civil society wishes to restate unequivocally that any attempt to derail the current electoral process will not be tolerated.”
Sierra Leone elections watchdog demand publication of 2018 election timetable (December 2016)
When the executives of the ruling APC party of Sierra Leone announced that they were pulling out of the country’s Constitutional review process, it caused consternation among opposition parties and civil society groups. It seems the ruling APC party are not happy with some of the recommendations made in the report for Constitutional change, including limiting the powers of the president. But while that row is still playing out with much uncertainty as to the outcome, there are new fears the ruling APC party may be contemplating delaying the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2018.
NGOs, stakeholders discuss draft policy (May 2016)
Representatives of NGOs and other stakeholders attended a one day consultative workshop to discuss the NGO Policy of 2009, and proffer recommendations, organised by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.The meeting between the representatives of state and non-state actors generated wide ranging discussions around the 2009 NGO policy for Sierra Leone, which many say needs review and enactment into law.
Sierra Leone Civil Cociety Reacts to Socio-Economic Consequences of Ebola (January 2015)
At a 20 January 2015 presentation at Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, Sierra Leone Youths Rights Activist & Goodwill Ambassador of Sierra Leone Youths, spoke on the “The Socio-Economic Consequences of Ebola in Sierra Leone: Challenges and Prospects for Youth.” She had a special focus on inclusive policy-making and long-term responses to the crisis, particularly paying attention to the voices of youth and women. She acknowledged the efforts of the government, international community, media, civil society, youth, women, children, community groups, NGOs and companies helping to prevent and stop Ebola.
Parliament Takes INGOs to Task (June 2014)
The Parliamentary Special Select Committee has begun probing international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) for funds received for and on behalf of the people and government. Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Claude Kamanda, said they are not witch-hunting any INGO but wanted lawmakers to know how monies collected on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, in the name of development, were being spent. He said that as representatives of the people, they would want to see monies meant for the people being utilized in the right way, adding that a report of the probe would be laid in the chambers of the House for debate by members.
MCC Rejection – Getting It Right Next Time Round (December 2013)
The message from the Board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) cannot be clearer; ‘The fight against corruption is not good enough’. This is despite the fact that our anti-corruption law is very good coupled with the efforts of government and civil society organizations. But all is not lost. The good news is, [Sierra Leone] still stands a chance of being reselected in December 2014. This is reflected in this statement by CEO for the MCC, Daniel W. Yohannees, ‘We recognize the efforts that the governments of Benin and Sierra Leone have undertaken to address corruption, and I can assure them that MCC is committed to helping those efforts succeed. I am hopeful that the continued and deepened efforts of both countries will be reflected in future performance on the control of corruption indicator’.
Discussion of the Constitutionality of a Press Release Issued by the Government (October 2013)
“The government’s issuing of a press release condemning CSOs for giving it ultimatums is a blot on the image of our budding democracy,” says activist Mohamed Kunowah Kiellow. “It is a slap in the face of democracy and a kick in the teeth of our constitutional rights. The president considers civil society as members as mere foreign invaders who are trying to overthrow its government by issuing ultimatums. Who are in these CSOs? Are they not Sierra Leoneans? Did they not vote?” He highlights that, “After all, CSOs are pressure groups who work in the interest of the silent poor in a country where the opposition is there to be seen and not to be heard.”
Civil Society Representative Complains of Social Injustices (May 2013)
The 2013 Human Development Index (HDI) report presented by the United Nations Development Programme at State Hall of the House of Parliament has indicated that Sierra Leone, among 187 countries is ranked 177, suggesting speedy progress as against previous years. In the midst of this UNDP accolade, a representative of Civil Society organizations in the country, Abu Brima, who is the Director of Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), highlighted a number of social injustices prevalent in the country, as the report unveils. Abu Brima, questioning whose prosperity does the “Agenda for Prosperity” caters, said that lecturers are still on strike, as a result of delay in salary payment, thereby deterring academic progress in the country. He said that no country can attain human development without making remarkable success in education, for which, he said, the government should pay considerable attention on education.
Protestors killed at mine in Kono (December 2012)
Reports from Kono, Eastern province of Sierra Leone, state that four mine workers of OCTEA mining company, formerly Koidu Holdings, were allegedly killed by officers of the Sierra Leone Police (OSD personnel), following a protest for payment of bonuses and better conditions of service . Witnesses say it started on Saturday, 15 December, 2012 when hundreds of youths barricaded the entrance to the company and demanded that their concerns be addressed by the company. It is reported that these aggrieved workers gathered at the Tankoro Chiefdom, where the kimberlite mining company does its operations, and started pelting stones at the vehicles belonging to the company. Sources revealed that the incident became worse, which forced the Police to quell down the situation.
Carter Center statement on Sierra Leone elections (October 2012)
Sierra Leone’s upcoming presidential, parliamentary, and local council elections represent a critical test for the country’s emerging democratic institutions 10 years after the end of the civil war. Carter Center observers report that the campaign period has been generally peaceful, allowing political parties to assemble freely and to convey their message to potential voters. The Carter Center calls on political parties to redouble their efforts to promote women candidacies and leadership roles within their ranks, and encourages the All Political Parties Women Association, the Campaign for Good Governance, and other civil society organizations to pursue their advocacy work on behalf of aspiring women candidates and office holders.
Freedom of Information Bill willfully ignored (October 2012)
Outgoing members of parliament came under serious criticism from civil society for “willfully failing to pass into law the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill”, which has been in parliament for a very long time. In an interview at his office in Freetown, chairman of the Coalition of Civil Society and Human Rights Activists in Sierra Leone, Charles Mambu, expressed his coalition’s disappointment at MPs “for deliberately failing to make the FOI Bill become a law.” He stated that MPs were busy passing other bills and agreements, some of which they have no understanding about, but refused to ratify a bill he said is very essential to good governance and democracy.
Civil Society monitoring groups trained (July 2012)
A training was held in Sierra Leone to provide monitors with the necessary skills in assessing the level of compliance in the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2011-2013). The Head of Public Education Unit Ms. Koloneh Sankoh stated that the need for the monitors to live by the codes of conduct and ethics of the job is paramount. She advised the civil society monitors to do their job with integrity and confidentiality and to try to avoid the tendency of conflict of interest in the dispensation of their duties. The monitoring exercise is expected to start in August this year.
New legal aid law in Sierra Leone embraces the role of paralegals (May 2012)
Sierra Leone’s parliament has enacted one of the most progressive legal aid laws in Africa—with an innovative approach to providing access to justice for all that will reinforce the rule of law in a society still scarred by the brutal civil war that ended in 2002.[…]The bill provides for a mixed model of criminal and civil legal aid, from provision of legal information and mediation services through to representation in court, and supplied through a public/private partnership of government, private sector and civil society.
Prosecutor Hollis applauds the people of Sierra Leone following Charles Taylor’s conviction (May 2012)
On a tour of five provinces throughout Sierra Leone, Prosecutor Brenda J. Hollis hailed the resilience and determination of all Sierra Leoneans in demanding justice and accountability for the crimes committed against them during the 11-year armed conflict. Village elders, youth leaders, women’s civil society representatives, officers from the military, the police and the prison service, villagers and townspeople, gathered with the Prosecutor to express relief and satisfaction with the conviction handed down by the judges.
Continued delay in Parliament vote on Freedom of Information bill (April 2012)
The legislation would allow members of the public to obtain access to information held by public bodies, including information that was previously inaccessible, or that was considered sensitive such as government contracts with multinational companies. The bill was introduced in the House of Parliament in September 2010, and by October 2011 had gone through the first, second, third and committee stages, but a final vote is yet to take place. The bill will provide a means by which people can know about their rights and entitlements, identify when their rights are being violated and hold the government to account for its constitutional and international human rights obligations.
Break-in at the office of the Women’s Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (August 2011)
Court acquits civil society activists from criminal and seditious libel law in Sierra Leone (December 2010)
In Sierra Leone, civil society frowns at procurement procedures (December 2010)
UK leads EU efforts to improve human rights in Sierra Leone (July 2010)
Sierra Leone cabineta pproves Freedom of Information bill (June 2010)
Sierra Leone woman barred from becoming chief (December 2009)