Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which criminalises acts of ‘buggery’. This provision carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Only men are criminalised under this law.

The law was inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Sierra Leone. Although Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961, all provisions of the Offences Against the Person Act remain in force. As such, Sierra Leone continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity today.

There is limited evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being occasionally subject to arrest and arbitrary detention in recent years, though there appear to be no prosecutions, successful or otherwise, under the law. There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including assault, threats, harassment, blackmail, familial rejection, and the denial of basic rights and services.

Sexual Offence Law Assessment

We’ve also assessed Sierra Leone’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does Sierra Leone criminalise same-sex sexual activity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and people with disability, from sexual offences.

Find out more


The US Department of State report noted that the law is not actively enforced.


Although the law is not actively enforced, police occasionally make arrests for ‘promoting’ LGBT rights; in March, police arrested four participants at a HIV/AIDS workshop for men who have sex with men. This followed a similar incident in May 2016 in which 18 people were arrested at an LGBT social event. In both cases, the arrested individuals were detained overnight before being released.


A stakeholder report submitted to the Human Rights Committee noted that police “constantly subject members of the LGBTI community to threats, abuse, and detention.” The report cited an incident in which an uncle reported his young nephew to police after finding out he was gay, leading to him being arrested and detained in unhygienic conditions. In another reported incident, a gay man was arrested for allegedly being dressed ‘as a woman’ and was held in detention for a week without charge.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State report cited LGBT organisations who reported that the existence of the criminalising provision impedes the exercise of their rights and freedoms, but that police were increasingly treating LGBT people with understanding. Nevertheless, the community faced violence, stigma, discrimination, familial rejection, blackmail, and the denial of services.


In June, authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing in public. 


A stakeholder report submitted to the Human Rights Committee documented widespread official and societal discrimination, including in healthcare and education, and violent attacks, rape, and murder.


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 report details discrimination in healthcare, where harassment, unnecessary postponement of treatment, and outright denial of services occurred. Almost all of respondents to the survey (99%) had experienced at least one form of harassment and discrimination on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 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.

In June, following the release of the above report, three staff members of Pride Equality were forced to flee Sierra Leone after attempts on their lives were made.

In July, 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”.

Also in July, the coordinator of an LGBT organisation, Gay for Life, and some of his colleagues were reportedly in hiding following persistent death threats from their neighbours.


Local Organisations

Dignity Association

a local organisation working to advance the health and rights of men who have sex with men.

Youth Arise

a local volunteer organisation working towards the full inclusion of LGBT people in Sierra Leone.

Related Countries


Liberia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment.


Guinea criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.


Nigeria criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death by stoning.

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