CHAIRMAN: E.V.O. Dankwa
VICE CHAIRMAN: K. Rezag-Bara
COMMISSIONERS: A. Badawi El Sheikh, Isaac Nguema, N. Barney Pityana,
H. Ben Salem, Florence Butegwa, A. Raganayi Chigovera, Vera M.
Chirwa, Jainaba Johm
|Forum of Conscience v. Sierra
Leone, Decision, Comm. 223/98 (ACmHPR, Nov. 06, 2000)
|IHRDA, Compilation of Decisions on
Communications of the African Commission On Human and Peoples’
Rights Extracted from the Commission’s Activity Reports 1994-2001,
at 331 (2002); Documents of the African Commission on Human and
Peoples’ Rights, Vol. 2, at 255 (Malcolm D. Evans & Rachel Murray
eds., 2009); (2000) AHRLR 293 (ACHPR 2000)
25th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
26th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
2th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
28th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
SUMMARY OF FACTS
1. The complaint is submitted by the Forum of Conscience, a Sierra Leonian
Human Rights NGO on behalf of 24 soldiers who were executed on 19th October
1998 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
2. The Complainant alleges that the 24 soldiers were tried and sentenced to
death by a Court Martial for their alleged roles in the coup that overthrew
the elected Government of President Tijan Kabah.
3. The communication alleges further that the trial of the soldiers by the
Court Martial was flawed in law and in violation of Sierra Leone’s
obligation under the African Charter.
4. It is also alleged that the Court Martial which tried and convicted the
above mentioned victims allowed no right of appeal against conviction or
sentence to a higher tribunal and therefore in breach of Article 7(1) of the
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
5. The Complainant contends that the public execution of the 24 soldiers on
19th October 1998 after being denied right of appeal to a higher tribunal
also amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life contrary to
Article 4 of the African Charter.
The Complainant alleges violation of articles 1, 4 and 7 (1) (a) and 7(1)(d)
of the African Charter.
6. The communication was received at the Secretariat on 24th October 1998.
7. At its 25th ordinary session held in Bujumbura, Burundi, the Commission
postponed consideration of the communication to its 26th ordinary session.
8. On 11th May 1999, the Secretariat of the Commission notified the parties
of this decision.
9. At its 26th ordinary session held in Kigali, Rwanda, the Commission
decided to be seized of this communication.
10. Between 14th and 19th February 2000 when the Commission’s delegation
visited Sierra Leone on a promotional mission, the subject of the complaint
was taken up with relevant government officials, including the Attorney
General of Sierra Leone.
11. On 2nd March 2000, the Secretariat of the Commission informed the
parties of the decision taken by the Commission at its 26th ordinary
12. At its 27th ordinary session held in Algeria, the Commission examined
the case and declared it admissible. It requested the parties to furnish it
with arguments on the merits of the case.
13. The above decision was communicated to the parties on 12th July 2000.
14. The Commission takes note of the fact that the complaint was filed on
behalf of people who were already executed. In this regard, the Commission
held that there were no local remedies for the Complainant to exhaust.
Further that even if such possibility had existed, the execution of the
victims had completely foreclosed such a remedy.
15. The Complainant alleges that the decision of the court-martial is not
subject to appeal and is therefore a violation of the victims' rights to
16. The facts as submitted by the Complainant disclose that the 24 soldiers
were executed publicly after being deprived of the right of appeal to a
higher tribunal. In its Resolution on the Right to Fair Trial and Legal
Assistance in Africa, the Commission had, in adopting the Dakar Declaration
and Recommendations, noted thus:
"In many African countries Military Courts and Special Tribunals exist
alongside regular judicial institutions. The purpose of Military Courts is
to determine offences of a purely military nature committed by military
personnel. While exercising this function, Military Courts are required to
respect fair trial standards."
17. The Commission notes that the trial in issue was that of a purely
military nature, i.e. for their alleged roles in the coup which overthrew
the elected Government. The Commission is however constrained to hold that
the denial of the victim's right of appeal to competent national organs in a
serious offence as this is falls short of the requirement of the respect for
fair trial standards expected of such courts. The execution of the 24
soldiers without the right of appeal is therefore a violation of article
7(1)(a) of the Charter. This is more serious given the fact that the said
violation is irreversible.
Article 7(1)(a) of the Charter states:
1. An individual shall have… the right to appeal to competent national
organs against acts violating his fundamental rights…
18. The Complainant alleges a violation of Article 4 of the African Charter
on Human and Peoples’ Rights which provides that:
Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect
for his life… No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right.
19. The right to life is the fulcrum of all other rights. It is the fountain
through which other rights flow, and any violation of this right without due
process amounts to arbitrary deprivation of life. Having found above that
the trial of the 24 soldiers constituted a breach of due process of law as
guaranteed under Article 7(1)(a) of the Charter, the Commission consequently
finds their execution an arbitrary deprivation of their rights to life
provided for in Article 4 of the Charter.
Although this process cannot bring the victims back to life, it does not
exonerate the government of Sierra Leone from its obligations under the
20. The Commission notes the failure of the competent authorities of the
Republic of Sierra Leone to respond to its request for additional
information and arguments on the admissibility and merits of the case. It is
noted that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General explained to the
Commission’s mission referred to above that the regulations of the military
did not allow for the right of appeal. However, before the Commission, the
African Charter is the yardstick for determining violations. The rules and
regulations governing court martial, to the extent that they do not allow
the right of appeal offend the Charter. But it is noted with satisfaction
that the law has been amended, subsequent to the mission to Sierra Leone, to
bring it into conformity with the Charter.
FOR THE ABOVE REASONS, THE COMMISSION
Finds the Government of Sierra Leone in violation of Articles 4 and 7(1)(a)
of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Done at the 28th Ordinary Session held in Cotonou, Benin from 23rd October
to 6th November 2000.