Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March 2018 the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party by a narrow margin. In January 2018 parliamentary elections, the APC won a plurality of the seats. Following a High Court ruling in May and by-elections, the SLPP maintained a majority with 59 seats, and the APC held 57 seats. Observers found these elections to be largely free and fair.
The Sierra Leone Police (SLP), which reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining security within the country. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities to assist police upon request in extraordinary circumstances. The RSLAF reports to the Ministry of Defense and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel laws; official corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor.
The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, but impunity persisted.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Upon assuming office in 2018, President Bio introduced an executive order lifting the ban on public assembly, including Sunday trading, imposed by his predecessor.
In a few cases, police used excessive force when dealing with demonstrators and used public order law to deny requests for protests and demonstrations. On May 31, police fired teargas canisters into the headquarters building of the opposition APC, which resulted in several injuries.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In August the National Electoral Commission organized a parliamentary election rerun in the Western Rural District, Freetown peninsula. Independent observers and the Sierra Leone Human Rights Commission reported intimidation, arrests, and political violence. Police arrested opposition party supporters, including a member of parliament who was later released without charge. Police opened an investigation into the destruction of ballot boxes at one polling center that led to the cancellation of the election results. Video footage appeared to show that SLPP operatives had ransacked the polling place. The rerun was required after a May decision by the High Court that invalidated the election of nine APC parliamentarians for alleged election irregularities, thus changing the majority in parliament from the APC to the SLPP. Observers reported less violence during the parliamentary by-elections in the Falaba and Koinadugu districts in September, although there were multiple reports of intimidation and arrests of opposition supporters.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. A total of 17 political parties were registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women have the right to vote and did cast votes at similar rates as men. A December 2018 poll by the International Republican Institute found women most frequently cited fear of violence, cultural norms, and lack of support from political parties as reasons why they avoided a more active role in politics. Women were underrepresented in government. Of the 146 parliamentarians, 18 were women. As of September women led five of the 24 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms).
All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born in and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Strong ethnic loyalties, biases, and stereotypes existed among all ethnic groups. Ethnic loyalty was an important factor in the government, armed forces, and business. Complaints of ethnic discrimination in government appointments, contract assignments, and military promotions were common. Little ethnic segregation was apparent in urban areas, where interethnic marriage was common.
Residents of non-African descent faced some institutionalized discrimination, particularly in the areas of citizenship and nationality (see sections 3, Participation of Women and Minorities, and 6, Birth Registration).