On Friday 23 July, Sierra Leone made history by becoming the 110th country in the world to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. 

The Abolition of the Death Penalty Act 2021 passed unanimously in the country's Parliament, eradicating capital punishment for those convicted of crimes such as murder, aggravated robbery and treason - removing the threat of execution for those currently on death row. In a progressive move, instead of replacing the death penalty with a mandatory life sentence, Sierra Leone will adopt a system of judicial discretion where judges are able to consider mitigating circumstances.

The Death Penalty Research Unit (DPRU) is thrilled to have played a small part in this achievement, working with our partner organisation, The Death Penalty Project (DPP), and our Sierra Leone NGO partner, AdvocAid. This built upon years of activism and engagement to abolish the death penalty by organisations including the Sierra Leone Bar Association and the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice, among many others.

In March of this year, The DPP, AdvocAid and Professor Carolyn Hoyle, Director of the DPRU, formally set out the case for abolition to President Bio. To assist the process, the group presented an evidence-based perspective on the fundamental problems with the death penalty; not least, its arbitrariness, unavoidable room for error and its violation of international human rights standards. In a further submission to the Attorney General and other ministers in May, the group also detailed how and why the death penalty should be replaced with a flexible humane system of imprisonment, instead of life without parole.

Although no executions had been carried out in the country since 1998, judges continued to impose the mandatory death penalty, handing down death sentences as recently as this year. There were at least 78 people on death row, all of whom will now be removed and have their death sentences quashed.

Sierra Leone is the second country in Africa to abolish in 2021. It follows Malawi, which abolished in April, and joins West African neighbours, Guinea, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo.

For further details see the news update on The Death Penalty Project website.