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HRCSL, NANHRI facilitate discourse on decriminalizing Petty Offences

By Ibrahim Tarawallie

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) has in collaboration with the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) yesterday commenced an engagement with key stakeholders in the justice sector on the need to decriminalized petty offences in the country.

The two day consultative conference at the Sierra Palms Resort, Lumley Beach Road in Freetown will develop a National Action Plan to decriminalize petty offences.

Chairperson of HRCSL, Patricia Narsu Ndanema recognized the great work of AdvocAid and the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) in their campaign towards the decriminalization of petty offences over the year.

“We are well in place to play a lead role in the decriminalization process in collaboration with key actors in government, civil society organizations and other interested partners intervening in the field of human rights,” she said.

She expressed fervent hope that when the action plan would have been developed, it will form a platform that will encourage a national dialogue on the way forward for the decriminalization of petty offences.

Representing the Chief Justice, Justice Miatta Samba of the Court of Appeal stated that the document that will be developed at the end of the conference will yield positive result and send signals to authorities concern that such offences being criminal offences by the laws of the country impact negatively on the limited prison capacity.

“Petty offences are still found in our laws and they are offences that were created by our colonial masters. They are not as grave as felonious offences. They offend human rights especially the right to movement, liberty and freedom of expression. Many a time petty offences have a no victim,” she said.

While stating that the decriminalization should also be a call to members of parliament, Justice Samba noted that if the correct reasons and data were to be provided, the country’s lawmakers will be happy to consider decriminalizing petty offences.

“I hope that this conference will help with the advocacy around the decriminalization of petty offences in Sierra Leone,” Justice Samba added.

In his keynote address, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Anthony Y. Brewah said he was happy that the conference is being hosted at a time when the government had repealed the Criminal and Seditious Libel provisions of the 19965 Public Order Act.

“The government will continue to look at part of the Public Order Act and some other legal instruments that are viewed as violations of human rights and that tend to affect particularly the poor and marginalized women in our society.

As a legal practitioner of almost 30 years standing, the Attorney-General stated that he was aware that petty offences laws are often vague in definition and that their interpretation tends to leave law enforcement officers and the court with unfettered discretion and unequal enforcement.

“We have now thrown this challenge to the Human Rights Commission to see this process through because it is the reason why state institutions are created to help the government achieve it goal of protecting and promoting human rights, respect for the rule of law and increase access to justice for all,” the Attorney-general and Minister of Justice noted and expressed hope that the commission would continue to work with other state and non-state actors to achieving the aim of decriminalizing petty offences.

He assured of government commitment to such ideas and that his office would continue to provide the necessary support needed for such reform.

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