US Issues Damning Human Rights Report on Sierra Leone, Whose National Security Advisor is a Former US Green Beret

A report released by the United States Department of State on the state of human rights in Sierra Leone in 2023 has highlighted the existence of “significant human rights issues including arbitrary or unlawful killings; political prisoners or detainees; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly, and serious government corruption.” Despite the claims made in the report, the United States continues to partake in training the Sierra Leonean Armed Forces. What’s more, a former United States Green Beret and defense contractor, Jerry Torres, is the country’s National Security Advisor.

What You Need to Know:

The report claims that despite the existence of serious human rights abuses in the country, “the government took some steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses, but impunity persisted.”

Section one of the report focused on the repressive activities of the ruling Sierra Leonean People’s Party (SLPP), stating, “There were credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On June 25 (the day after the June 24 elections), at the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party headquarters in Freetown, police reportedly killed a party volunteer. On June 26, police killed four other APC supporters in the town of Masiaka. During protests on September 11, police reportedly killed two more individuals.”

The Details:

“On April 13, the government’s Special Investigation Committee (SIC) released its report on violent demonstrations in August 2022, during which the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) shot and killed 30 protesters, primarily unarmed youth, and protesters killed six police officers. 

The SIC recommended further investigation to determine the precise number of civilian casualties during the demonstrations. The SIC further stated there was no evidence to support allegations security forces committed extrajudicial killings on the night of the violent demonstrations. Critics of the report noted strong ties to the government and security services among a large percentage of the members of the committee,” the report stated. 

The report does note that there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government officials but touched on the abusive physical conditions endured by inmates at Freetown’s Male Correctional Center. The prison, which was designed to hold 324 inmates, now holds 1,820, with some prison cells just six by nine feet and holding nine or more inmates. 

On arbitrary arrest or detention, the report noted that, “The constitution and law prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention and provided for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. [However], the government generally did not observe these requirements.” 

On political prisoners and detainees, the report claimed, “In mid-June, authorities arrested 35 APC supporters participating in a protest against the Electoral Commission. Authorities released them on June 23, the eve of the June 24 elections, without charge.” 

Moreover, media freedoms were regarded as low with the Committee to Protect Journalists reporting on the March 28th assault of Journalist Alie Melvin Towake by SLPP supporters while he covered an event in Moyamba-Southern Province. 

Additionally, the report noted that, “Reporters Without Borders stated APC supporters harassed and intimidated their staff during its coverage of a June 14 APC campaign event.” Furthermore, despite police requiring that they be informed of any planned protest, protests were claimed to be largely respected in major areas. 

In rural areas, however, reports emerged that SLPP members attempted to disrupt APC party rallies. Furthermore, the APC party headquarters in Bo was set alight by unknown assailants. 

In regards to elections and political participation, the report stated, “National elections in June were widely reported by domestic and international observers to have logistical problems and delays on election day and a lack of transparency during the tabulation process. There were reports of attempted intimidation by alleged supporters of the ruling party at some opposition APC rallies. There were also reports of threats against and intimidation of domestic observers by government and government supporters.”

So, What Now?:

Despite the contents of the report essentially condemning the Sierra Leonean government, the United States continues to build on its ties with the country. According to the US State Department, the US has supplied Sierra Leone with $954 million in assistance over the last 20 years. Much of that assistance ($260 million) goes to improving Sierra Leone’s health sector, although Sierra Leone still holds the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, with 1,360 mothers dying in every 100,000 live births. 

Further complicating things is the appointment of former Green Beret Jerry Torres to the role of National Security Advisor by President Julius Maada Bio.

According to The Africa Report, by August 2023, “six agents have registered with the US Department of Justice to assist with “government relations, public relations, and communications advice and services, including outreach to government officials and US media,” including former Congressman Anthony ‘Toby’ Moffett, a Democrat from Connecticut.” 

Torres was hired by the Bio administration, who came to power through election results deemed by international observer missions as ‘containing irregularities’, to “[help US officials] understand the facts related to the recent presidential election, and recognize the legitimacy of the recent democratically held election and the election results.” 

Seemingly, Sierra Leone’s checkered human rights record should, on principle, deter United States officials from attempting to engage with its government, but the United States is most likely focused on preventing a turn to increased authoritarianism in the nation as seen in neighboring West African states in recent years. It is likely that the United States’ policy in the country is centered on training Sierra Leone’s Armed Forces to a standard acceptable in the West, while using assistance payments to raise living standards and through this bring about increased democratic practices; although according to the United Nations Development Agency, 59.2% of the country remains ‘multidimensionally poor.’

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.

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