Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
Commonwealth member state
Offences Against the Person Act 1861, Section 61 Unnatural Offences

Section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which is an English law in force in Sierra Leone through the Courts Act 1965, criminalises buggery with a penalty of up to life imprisonment. This provision only applies to men.1

Enforcement

2017

The US Department of State Human Rights Report for Sierra Leone states that the law has not recently been enforced. However, the police shut down two LGBT public activities and arrested participants under accusations such as promoting gay activities in the community.

Statements by Public Figures

2013

When a review of the Sierra Leone Constitution was initiated in 2013, President Koroma reportedly spoke of his wishes to create a more “tolerant culture”. However, LGBT organisations later claimed that they were excluded from the review process.

Following an attack on LGBT rights activist George Freeman, Francis Munu, then Sierra Leone’s Inspector-General of Police, told the BBC in June: “We must be very careful when it comes to dealing with the issue of gays and lesbians because these are very strange phenomena in our society and we do not have any special protection for them because they are not recognised by the laws of Sierra Leone.”

We must be very careful when it comes to dealing with the issue of gays and lesbians because these are very strange phenomena in our society and we do not have any special protection for them because they are not recognised by the laws of Sierra Leone.

Francis Munu, Inspector General of Police

2011

During its first UPR cycle, Sierra Leone rejected recommendations to decriminalise same-sex intimacy. The delegation stated that there was no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In response to the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for respecting the human rights of LGBT people, President of the Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, Bishop Arnold Temple stated: “The church in Sierra Leone will do everything possible to protect democracy but our values will not accept the call from British Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, for countries in the Commonwealth like Sierra Leone to accept the practice of lesbianism and gayism.”

A Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone representative reportedly said in a media interview: “the law of Sierra Leone does not give the commission the mandate to advocate and support LGBT human rights.”

Persecution and Discrimination

2017

The US Department of State Human Rights Report for Sierra Leone noted that: “On March 30, police in Waterloo arrested four participants attending a workshop on HIV/AIDS for Men who Sex Men, accusing them of promoting gay activities in the community. They were released on March 31 after being humiliated and denounced.”

The report indicated that sexual orientation and gender identity were the basis for abusive treatment in employment and education, leading individuals to leave their jobs or courses of study. It also highlighted issues for LGBT people in a number of other areas of life including healthcare and housing.

It further reported that in June, authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing in public.

2016

Dignity Association reported that an LGBT social event in Aberdeen was shut down in May and 18 participants at the event were held in custody overnight.

2015

The HIV infection rate among men who have sex with men was 7.5% in 2015, more than five times the national rate of 1.5%.

2013

An extensive study conducted in 2012-2013 by three LGBT organisations, Global Rights, Pride Equality, and Dignity Association, revealed the deeply rooted discrimination faced by the Sierra Leonean LGBT community in nearly every facet of life. The research also demonstrates an overwhelming silence from the LGBT and human rights communities due to significant fear of exposure or association with the LGBT community. The report details a number of forms of persecution of LGBT people:

  • Healthcare: The research documented several cases and conducted interviews with healthcare personnel and members of the LGBT community in various districts of the country. The report documents that discriminatory practices range from disrespect, harassment, unnecessary postponement of treatment and outright denial of services. In a study, more than half of medical practitioners who were interviewed indicated that they would not treat LGBT people.
  • Violence, abuse and harassment: The report indicates that 99% of LGBT respondents had experienced at least one form of harassment and discrimination, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the report, Pride Equality investigated and documented 35 cases of violence, abuse and harassment experienced by LGBT persons. Describing several such cases, the report concluded that: “individuals in Sierra Leone are frequently subjected to discrimination and high levels or verbal abuse, violence and harassment by public officials, members of their communities and even their own families. The combination of discriminatory laws, backed up by ignorance, lack of legal protection; and intolerance by high rank politicians and religious leaders in public create an environment where LGBTI individuals cannot feel safe.”

In June 2013, George Freeman, the executive director of Pride Equality, and two of its senior members were forced to flee Sierra Leone after attempts on their lives were made in the wake of the release of a report on LGBT issues jointly prepared by the Dignity Association, Pride Equality and Global Rights – Partners for Justice as well as the publication of a newspaper article on George Freeman’s homosexuality. Earlier, in May, Freeman was reportedly beaten and his car was destroyed.

An LGBT rights activist explained that he became an activist in 2011 after his nephew was beaten and lost an eye just because he was gay. He also wrote that during his activism in Sierra Leone “we were constantly abused, spat on, and sometimes assaulted”.

In July, the coordinator of Gay for Life, Septimus John, and some of his colleagues were reportedly in hiding following persistent death threats from their neighbours.

2012

In January, protests were reportedly organised in various Sierra Leonean cities at which demonstrators marched to voice their disapproval at the possibility that Sierra Leone might recognise same-sex marriages. The organisers claimed that they were worried that persistent pronouncements from major powers could influence the country’s politicians to recognise ‘alien’ and ‘immoral’ practices in the country.

Legislative News

2016

In its second UPR cycle, Sierra Leone noted recommendations to decriminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations.

2014

The UN Human Rights Committee, in its concluding observations on Sierra Leone, raised concerns about the criminalisation of same sex relationships and recommended that the Sierra Leone: “should review its Constitutional and legislation to ensure that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited, including by decriminalising sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex, in order to bring its legislation into line with the Covenant.”

In September, Sierra Leone abstained from voting when the Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

2011

In its first UPR cycle, Sierra Leone rejected recommendations to repeal all provisions which may be applied to criminalise sexual activity between consenting adults. The delegation also stated that there was no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and that it was expressly prohibited under the Constitution. However, the Constitution of Sierra Leone contains no such provision expressly prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The National HIV and AIDS Commission Act 2011 contains penalties for discriminatory acts against those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.

At the UN Human Rights Council in March, Sierra Leone supported an historic Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.

Footnotes
1. Offences Against the Person Act 1861, Section 61 Unnatural Offences

“Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be kept in penal servitude for life or for any term not less than ten years.” Full text.

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