DAKAR (Reuters) – Sierra Leone’s parliament voted unanimously on Friday to repeal the death penalty more than two decades after the West African country carried out its last execution.
President Julius Maada Bio is expected to soon sign the bill into law, which will make Sierra Leone the 23rd African country to abolish capital punishment.
The bill also gives judges additional discretion when issuing sentences, which opponents of capital punishment say is particularly important in cases where the person convicted is a victim of sexual violence.
Sierra Leone has observed a moratorium on executions since 1998, but prisoners sentenced to death still live separately from other inmates, which activists say is dehumanising.
“This is exactly what we were calling for,” said Rhiannon Davis of Advocaid, an advocacy group in the capital Freetown.
“It allows for judges to interpret the law and pass sentence in individual cases, which is particularly important in cases involving people who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence,” she said.
Sierra Leone is one of several African countries moving to end capital punishment. Malawi’s Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in April, and Chad ended executions for those charged with terrorism last year.
Sierra Leone’s last executions took place in 1998, when 23 soldiers were executed by firing squad at the height of an 11-year civil war. But death sentences have continued to be issued.
As of June 2020, 99 people were on death row for crimes ranging from aggravated robbery to murder, despite pledges from the last three administrations to abolish capital punishment.
“One of the things we have to clarify in the fine print is how this will be interpreted for those currently on death row,” Davis said.
(Reporting by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Aaron Ross and Cynthia Osterman)