Sierra Leone


  • As the climate crisis intensifies, so does the crackdown on environmental activism, finds new report

    New research brief from the CIVICUS Monitor examines the crackdown of environmental activism and profiles important victories civil society has scored in the fight for climate justice.

    • Environmental protests are being criminalised and met with repression on all continents
    • State authorities and private companies are common perpetrators of violations to civic freedoms
    • Despite the risks and restrictions, activist groups continue to score important victories to advance climate justice.

    As world leaders meet in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Negotiations (COP26), peaceful environmental activists are being threatened, silenced and criminalised around the world. The host of this year's meeting is one of many countries where activists are regularly facing rights violations.

    New research from the CIVICUS Monitor looks at the common tactics and restrictions being used by governments and private companies to suppress environmental movements. The research brief “Defenders of our planet: Resilience in the face of restrictions” focuses on three worrying trends: Bans and restrictions on protests; Judicial harassment and legal persecution; and the use of violence, including targeted killings.

    As the climate crisis intensifies, activists and civil society groups continue to mobilise to hold policymakers and corporate leaders to account. From Brazil to South Africa, activists are putting their lives on the line to protect lands and to halt the activities of high-polluting industries. The most severe rights abuses are often experienced by civil society groups that are standing up to the logging, mining and energy giants who are exploiting natural resources and fueling global warming.

    As people take to the streets, governments have been instituting bans that criminalise environmental protests. Recently governments have used COVID-19 as a pretext to disrupt and break up demonstrations. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor indicates that the detention of protesters and the use of excessive force by authorities are becoming more prevalent.

    In Cambodia in May 2021, three environmental defenders were sentenced to 18 to 20 months in prison for planning a protest  against the filling of a lake in the capital. While in Finland this past June, over 100 activists were arrested for participating in a protest calling for the government to take urgent action on climate change. From authoritarian countries to  mature democracies, the research also profiles those who have been put behind bars for peacefully protesting.

    “Silencing activists and denying them of their fundamental civic rights is another tactic being used by leaders to evade and delay action on climate change” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor. “Criminalising nonviolent protests has become a troubling indicator that governments are not committed to saving the planet .”

    The report shows that many of the measures being deployed by governments to restrict rights are not compatible with international law. Examples of courts and legislative bodies reversing attempts to criminalise nonviolent climate protests are few and far between.

    Despite the increased risks and restrictions facing environmental campaigners, the report also shows that a wide range of campaigns have scored important victories, including the closure of mines and numerous hazardous construction projects. Equally significant has been the rise of climate litigation by activist groups. Ironically, as authorities take activists to court for exercising their fundamental right to protest, activist groups have successfully filed lawsuits against governments and companies in over 25 countries for failing to act on climate change.



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  • How ICSW empowered me to become a better activist

    By Augustine Macarthy, Sierra Leone

    AugustineLast month, I had the opportunity to attend International Civil Society Week 2019 (ICSW). It was a turning point for me, as my participation gave me the opportunity to share experiences and ideas with brilliant civil society representatives from every corner of the world. The event built my skills and gave me access to tools and resources that will effectively steer my future work.

    Firstly, this year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness,” helped me better understand the relevance and impact of collaboration. Building alliances with other civil society actors, stakeholders and community members which will contribute towards a sustainable civil space and strengthen our interventions. Collaboration and co-creation are key in responding to some of the pressing challenges we face as activists.

    ICSW 2019 also helped me realize the scope of the challenges facing civil society in an increasingly restrictive civic space. Activists have it harder than ever: according to the CIVICUS Monitor, nearly six in ten countries globally are severely impeding on people’s freedom to protest, engage in activism and defend human rights. In this context, collaboration is key. Working together will be essential in   ensuring respect to civic space. This event has inspired me to keep the momentum and continue promoting civic freedoms. Human rights are fundamental and universal, and defending them is crucial in order to  initiate changes and address social issues.

    As per the sessions, one that turned out to be particularly useful for me was organized by Bridge47. Under the title “Global Citizenship Education: the Power of Sharing Power,” the event inspired me with new ideas and resources for collaboration. Moreover, this session introduced me to the concept of Global Citizenship Education, a transformative approach meant to develop the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed for a more just, peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable world. Since I am involved in an education, peacebuilding and youth organization, becoming acquainted with this concept has been a crucial development, and I will definitely use the learnings from this session to improve our strategies.

    One of the most inspirational stories I heard came from Dessy Aliandrina, Executive Director at Sociopreneur Indonesia. Dessy uses entrepreneurship and innovation to boost the creativity of the young generation in Indonesia. Through education and experimentation, her organization fosters an environment where future entrepreneurial leaders can thrive and create the jobs that are required to solve people’s problems. This is a fundamental undertaking: not only does Dessy help ensure the availability of crucial skills to tackle important challenges, but she also plays an important role in training Indonesian youth to boost their self-reliance and realize their potential.

    Furthermore, my organization Movement towards Education and Youth Empowerment-Sierra Leone was one of the six partners that helped plan the Youth Assembly, which took place the weekend before ICSW in Novi Sad, Serbia. As a planning team member, I had the privilege of working for four months with a group of very bright youth leaders from across the world. We were tasked with designing a program that would strengthen young activists’ skills to become resilient against threats and more effective in responding to other challenges. This not only gave all of us the opportunity to share ideas ahead of the event, but it also enhanced my ability to take action, use my creativity, and improve my communication skills.

    As a young changemaker, I will employ all this knowledge and skills and I will tap into the networks I contacted during the event. My community is experiencing pressing humanitarian crises, and the strategies we develop to respond to them will be largely informed by learnings from ICSW 2019.

    If you would like to connect with Augustine, you can find him on Facebook.













  • SIERRA LEONE: ‘Civil society needs international support to monitor the implementation of the new land laws’

    BernsLebbieCIVICUS speaks with Berns Lebbie, lead campaigner and national coordinator of Land for Life (LfL) in Sierra Leone, about two new laws aimed at improving the ability of communities to protect their land rights and the environment. LfL brings together civil society organisations (CSOs) in four African countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It aims to contribute to the formulation and implementation of policies on land governance and agricultural investment consistent with international standards, and specifically the human right to adequate food.

    What prompted Sierra Leone’s parliament to pass new environmental and land rights legislation?

    Sierra Leone’s parliament has finally debated and passed the Land Commission and Customary Land Rights Bills, which are pending presidential approval. The new laws aim to address the problems of the country’s dual land tenure system. More than 95 per cent of Sierra Leone’s land is under customary rules preventing private ownership. Customary rules are often ambiguous and inconsistent, allowing for arbitrary and discriminatory application.

    The need to rethink the land tenure system came to the forefront following a rush for large-scale land acquisitions for biofuel production between 2010 and 2013. The government was not prepared to handle multinational investment, as existing laws were obsolete. As a result, tensions grew between private sector investors and community land holders, and legal reform became a must.

    The new laws came after years of progress in implementing legal and policy changes advocated for by civil society and the international community. It all started in 2010 as the government became aware of the importance of investment. Through an initiative funded by the United Nations (UN) Development Programme, Sierra Leone had its first version of a national land policy in 2011. Policies then underwent several updates.

    In 2013, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests were introduced in Sierra Leone. This internationally agreed framework guided the review process of Sierra Leone’s policy, which was finalised in 2015 and launched in 2017.

    One of the key policy recommendations to emerge from the review process was that the government should enact new land legislation, so in 2018 consultants were hired to draft model bills. These were drafted with input from national stakeholders, local authorities, traditional chiefs, CSOs and the private sector. Our network participated in the process by producing policy papers representing the views of community landowners and local authorities. We ensured their perspectives became an integral part of the documents that accompanied the model bills.

    Once they were presented to the public, however, the model bills sparked a lot of debate. The National Council of Paramount Chiefs rejected them entirely in a letter to the president. The private sector sent a list of concerns to the Minister of Land, while civil society raised some concerns through a parliamentary brief. In response, the minister engaged separately with each interest group, paving the way for parliament to continue with the reform process.

    How significant is the new legislation?

    Although they are only first steps in a long road to organise and modernise Sierra Leone’s land governance sector, the two laws offer distinct benefits.

    The 2022 National Land Commission Act establishes a land commission that will function as an operational arm of the Ministry of Land, as well as several decentralised level structures. It takes an inclusive, gender-sensitive and participatory approach. As a result of this law, all lands will be titled and registered through a state-run real-time information and cadastral system.

    The 2022 Customary Land Rights Act is aimed at protecting customary land rights, organising and harmonising customary land governance in the provinces. To address the problem of gender-based discrimination, it establishes women’s right to own and use family land on an equal footing with their male relatives.

    Regarding investment processes, the law mandates investors to seek landowners’ free, prior and informed consent. All customary lands must be registered before they can be acquired for investment. The law also seeks to ensure the responsible use of natural resources and protected areas. Citizens now have a 10 per cent minimum share in all large-scale land-based investments. When government sets a floor price for land leases, families still have the right to renegotiate lease fees.

    The law also states that no investment should take place on ecologically sensitive areas such as wetlands, swamps, lagoons and protected areas. Under certain conditions, only sustainable development projects approved by the authorities will be able to proceed.

    Any commitment or agreement of private companies with regulatory agencies or funders will automatically form part of their land lease agreements. In this way, the land law will strengthen the enforcement of other laws, such as those on environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

    What’s next for the civil society groups working on land and environmental rights in Sierra Leone?

    Parliament now needs to pass the final reviewed versions of the bills to the president so he can sign them into law. At this stage, civil society plays a key monitoring role to ensure the contents of the bill sent to the president for signature are the ones debated and agreed upon.

    Once the bills are signed, we will take part in their formal launch at a national land conference that we will co-organise with the Ministry of Land. Following that, we will organise a national-level training of trainers targeting CSOs, the media and others. To make the laws accessible to the public, we will produce a simplified compendium. For instance, we will work with telecom agencies to break down the key contents of the laws into text messages. We also plan to launch an app with a search function for easy referencing.

    How can international allies support land rights groups in Sierra Leone?

    Sierra Leonean civil society needs international support to monitor the implementation of the new land laws. First and foremost, we need financial support.

    Our CSO network is currently funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development through the German CSO Welthungerhilfe, but that funding is quite limited. Although the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has overseen the reform process, we have not received any funds from them, as all its funding goes directly to the government. It is the same with other UN agencies, the World Bank and other international financial institutions. As there is no hope for Sierra Leonean CSOs to get any funding from them, we really need international civil society to step in.

    Civic space in Sierra Leone is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with LfL Sierra Leone through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@Land4LifeSalone on Twitter.


  • SIERRA LEONE: ‘We advocate for a civic space where people can protest with no risks’

    Andrew LavaliCIVICUS speaks about recent protests in Sierra Leone with Andrew Lavali, Executive Director of the Institute for Governance Reform, a civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for good governance in Sierra Leone.

    What triggered the recent protests in Sierra Leone?

    Sierra Leone has many underlying issues that have greatly contributed to the recent protests. First, political polarisation has grown tremendously since the change of power in 2018. Fights over limited public sector jobs have made politics a zero-sum game.

    For the past 15 years we have seen this happen as groups in power try to appease their support bases by employing people from a certain region, who then risk losing their jobs when the government changes. To an extent, preaching hate and stoking polarisation have become a political strategy used by parties to either stay in power or propel themselves to leadership.

    It appears the opposition party has not fully embraced the result of the 2018 election and it may have fuelled the protests, judging by the fact that these broke out only in areas where the opposition have a strong presence and not throughout the country. The fact that protests are focused in certain places makes one to think that they are not just about socio-economic issues but there are also underlying political issues.

    At the same time, there are genuine concerns about economic hardship. COVID-19 restrictions and the Russian-Ukraine war have resulted in rising prices of essential commodities, especially for people living in urban areas. Socio-economic issues such as high youth unemployment and poor access to essential services are real problems. Protesters are demanding the president’s resignation due to the economic hardship they are experiencing.

    How have the authorities responded?

    During the protests both civilians and police officers were attacked, and some were killed, revealing an ongoing tension between citizens and the police. Evidence shows that the protests were in no way peaceful. They were leaderless and faceless. Some Sierra Leoneans living abroad used social media to call for protest. According to the police, they only heard about the protest on social media. They did not receive any official request from an identifiable person for police clearance.

    As soon as the violence erupted and the situation became unsafe for those not protesting, the government imposed a curfew. There were also internet restrictions imposed because protesters were coordinating their actions via social media platforms. Security presence on the streets has increased since then. These measures helped to scale down the violence and improve safety and security.

    The government also responded by making arrests. A leading youth activist in an opposition area was killed during a police raid. The response raised concerns about how police are trained to handle protests. The police have not sat down with interest groups to see how future protests can be organised. There are legitimate fears that given Sierra Leone’s recent history of violence, high youth unemployment and economic hardship, protests can easily get out of control and become very difficult to handle.

    Do you think the response will deter people from protesting?

    People will certainly be timid for a while, but I don’t think the police response will stop them mobilising in the long run. There are too many issues citizens want the government to address and if it fails to do so, protests will inevitably keep breaking out. Regardless of protests being instrumentalised for political purposes, there is a general situation of hardship that needs to be addressed. As civil society we will continue to monitor the situation and try to bring citizen voices into policy conversations.

    Protest restriction has a long history in Sierra Leone. For the past 15 years police have failed to grant permission to protest. This strained relationship with the police has culminated in a case against the police being brought to the Supreme Court by civil society. Civil society is currently documenting the events that are taking place and will then get together to discuss the situation and try to find a way to advocate for more open civic space in which people can protest without risking their lives.

    What assistance is needed from the international community?

    We need the international community to help us promote democracy, the rule of law and effective governance. International allies should support open platforms for dialogue between the police and various interest groups on the rights and responsibilities of protesters and the role of the police in securing their rights. The international community could help CSOs create awareness and provide training so that the security forces will protect the rights of citizens to exercise their right to protest safely.

    Civic space in Sierra Leone is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. 
    Get in touch with the Institute for Government Reform through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@GovernanceFor on Twitter.


  • SIERRA LEONE: ‘We are dealing with a relentless campaign by anti-rights groups’

    Nicky Spencer CokerCIVICUS speaks about the struggle for sexual and reproductive health rights in Sierra Leone with Nicky Spencer-Coker, head of advocacy and movement building of Purposeful Sierra Leone.

    Purposeful is a feminist hub for girls’ activism, rooted in Africa and working all around the world. The organisation has played an active role in promoting the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Bill in Sierra Leone.

    What is the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Bill?

    The Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Bill is currently being drafted following the president’s announcement that his government unanimously backs an initiative to promote risk-free motherhood, made during the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in early July. But the message that came out on the media was that Sierra Leone had legalised abortion, which was actually not the case.

    Following its announcement, the government has hired national and international consultants to take part in the process. Further, a working group that includes activists, practitioners and government officials is working alongside the Ministry of Health.

    The expectation is that the bill will have reached parliament by the time the new parliament opens in October. Sierra Leone will have elections next year and we do not want this to carry over into the election period because we could face problems with members of parliament wanting to protect their seats by not engaging with an initiative that could be viewed as controversial, as it should include access to sexual and reproductive health services. We hope the bill will be submitted to parliament by October and it will pass this year.

    In 2015 parliament passed the Safe Abortion Act, which was supposed to allow women and girls access to safe abortions. But the former president blocked the bill, possibly due to both lack of political will and pressure from anti-rights and religious groups.

    It is worrying that the same issues that led the former president to not sign the Safe Abortion Act continue to be raised by certain segments of society in the context of the Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Bill. We hope this time around it will be different because our president has signalled that he and his cabinet are willing to challenge abortion stigma in the context of health services for girls and women.

    In addition, our government has signed international instruments such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which requires states to provide people with access to adequate and affordable health services. This puts pressure on the government to respect and promote the right of women to health, including sexual and reproductive health. We remain hopeful that these commitments will be fulfilled.

    How has civil society in general, and your organisation in particular, advocated for abortion rights?

    Women’s rights groups and activists for sexual and reproductive health rights have been fighting for the abolition of colonial-era abortion laws for years, with the movement growing stronger in 2014 and 2015 when the Safe Abortion Act was being advanced. Most of these organisations and activists collaborate under the umbrella of the People’s Alliance for Reproductive Health Advocacy, a coalition that advocates for sexual and reproductive rights through engagement, dialogue and partnership with key stakeholders.

    As well as being part of the coalition, Purposeful also operates as an independent organisation that carries out our own advocacy work in communities. We are an African-led feminist hub for girls’ activism, and we want to make sure Sierra Leonean girls inherit a world where they can live safely and have choices. High on our agenda are sexual and reproductive rights, but we work on a wide platform including the provision of comprehensive sexual education, accurate information on reproductive health choices and life skills.

    A strategy that has proven particularly successful for the Coalition has been to engage directly with various groups of stakeholders. We have tried to stay in constant dialogue with organisations and people who vehemently oppose women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Telling human stories that show how women and young girls are affected by the lack of access to reproductive health services has helped bring awareness of the severity of the issues we face.

    Over the years, the Coalition has been fortunate to work with medical professionals and the Ministry of Health to shift the narrative on the safe termination of pregnancy and safe motherhood in Sierra Leone, a country with a very high rate of teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality. A significant number of these deaths are caused by lack of access to safe abortion and reproductive health choices.

    Have you faced anti-rights backlash?

    In 2015, when the Safe Abortion Act was being discussed, there were several confrontations between anti-rights groups and civil society activists, and I was nearly assaulted when attending a parliamentary session. For the drafting of the current bill we are not seeing the same level of aggression, but we are dealing with a relentless campaign by some anti-rights and religious groups that are going on radio and television to denounce a bill that does not even yet exist.

    We don’t find the backlash surprising and we know that the position of certain groups won’t ever change. But it’s the government’s responsibility to look to the greater good and ensure the health and wellbeing of women and girls.

    Besides, we have seen a positive response from the public. I think this is the result of civil society’s focus on sharing information and creating awareness. We also appreciate international attention, as it will provide incentives for the government to stay true to its words.

    What are the next steps, and what kind of international support would Sierra Leonean civil society need?

    There is a joint drive by the Ministries of Education and Health to ensure the success of the initiative that is pushing the government to provide comprehensive sexual education in schools. Our country has extremely high rates of teenage pregnancy, which we hope to reduce through education. While legalising abortion is important, many other issues regarding accessible and affordable health services for women and girls must also be addressed, and healthcare professionals must be adequately trained to provide those services.

    We need international civil society to keep these issues on the agenda. In Africa we have noticed that when you stop insisting on something, governments automatically think the issue is off the table and there’s no need for them to do anything about it. It’s our job to continue to remind our government that it has signed certain instruments that make it imperative for it to recognise the reproductive rights of women and girls. We also need to have a cross-border conversation with other African countries that have more progressive reproductive health rights legislation.

    Civic space in Sierra Leone is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Purposeful through itswebsite orFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow@Purposeful_org on Twitter.


  • Sierra Leone: stop violence against peaceful protesters and respect democratic rights of citizens

    The government of Sierra Leone must stop the brutal repression of peaceful protests and respect the rights of its citizens to engage in demonstrations which is in line with the country’s international human rights obligations, said the global civil society alliance CIVICUS today. Over the past few weeks Sierra Leoneans took to the streets to express their views about the unprecedented economic hardship, brazen political intimidation, human rights violations, and high levels of corruption. They also expressed concerns over the selective application of the rule of law, and government’s control of the judiciary. The ongoing protests for democratic and economic reforms is a culmination of years of socio-economic challenges and marked increases in the cost of living.


  • Youths adopt Post- 2015 Development Vision

    Youths from different organizations and communities have adopted a powerful post -2015 development vision in a two-day consultation workshopheld in Freetown.The workshop was organized by Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) in collaboration with Restless Development (RD) and Ipasas leading organizations from Sierra Leone to feed into the post Millennium Development Goal (MDG) agenda.

    Outcomes from the consultation, according to the organizers, will be contributed to the framework that will be guiding future government policies not only in developing countries but also globally, on the ideas to ensure that any future development would recognize the role that young people play as assets and problem solvers.

    One of the facilitators, Moses Johnson from YMCA said that the workshop was for youth to identify the issues and challenges in the MDG and see what gaps and how they could be addressed in the next development framework, which could be set after 2015.

    He said young people will look at the MDG’s to see how far they can suggest alternatives that will replace them after 2015, adding that this workshop is among series of processes that various international organizations are undertaking to add youngpeople’s voice to the next development framework.

    Read more at Awoko Business