From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone: Restorative justice and treatment of victims

29 January 2019 at 15:33 | 2547 views

By Emperor Bailor Jalloh, PV Freetown Bureau Chief

My home country, Sierra Leone , a tiny country in West Africa that saw a devastating war of bundles, cruelty with no rules of engagement for a decade during which women and children suffered a lot in the hands of the warring factions, but restorative justice and treatment of primary and secondary victims of crime still remain an open battle field where the human and civil rights of offenders and addressing their needs is evidently more prioritised by the state , human rights defenders and civil society actors at the detriment of victims of crime.

In the criminal justice system ,restorative justice involves more than retribution, it is two fold:It must punish offenders or perpetrators and also address their needs and the needs of victims of crime and the community, because repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour should be emphasised considering many ethical issues related to victims’ human and civil rights and addressing their needs. But in my home country, Sierra Leone, there is a contrary model. That is, the human and civil rights of offenders or perpetrators are more protected and promoted and even addressing their needs more than the human and civil rights of victims and their needs.

I have been asking the following questions in a bid to ascertain the real situation of this ugly syndrome in this beleaguered nation.

1. In restorative justice and victimology ,are the human and civil rights of victims of crime being prudently protected and their needs promoted in Sierra Leone ? If yes, how? And if no, why?

2. Why is attention being devoted to the protection and promotion of the human and civil rights of offenders/ perpetrators and addressing their needs at the expense of victims of crime ?

3. Is there special planning and budgeting for the welfare of victims of crime in Sierra Leone ? If yes, how? And if not, why?

4. Is there institutional coordination to respond to victims of crime in Sierra Leone? If yes, how ? And if not, why?

5. How do victims of crime perceive restorative justice and treatment of victims of crime in Sierra Leone?

As the legal system often needs to reconcile conflict between the protection of individual civil liberties, while maintaining mechanisms for the suppression of crime on behalf of victims of crime and society as a whole, addressing their needs, protecting and promoting their human and civil liberties should be highly considered in restorative justice and victimology.

According to the Sierra Leone Constitution,1991 Chapter III- The recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, section 20 Protection from Inhuman Treatment which correlated to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act of 1948 Article 25 states that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family , including food, clothing ,housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness ,disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

There are many considerations related to the perception, needs and treatment of victims of crime, which continue to lend growing area of study. Dr Augustine SJ Park of University of Australia ’ Issues Paper’ 2 May,2007 titled " Restorative Approaches to Justice : Strategies for Peace in Sierra Leone" . In post- conflict Sierra Leone, restorative approaches to justice can be used to remedy both serious war - time crimes and minor crimes committed in the emerging peacetime context. This Issues Paper explores how both restorative transitional justice and restorative criminal justice are important features of peace consolidation by maximizing access to justice and facilitating reconciliation. Restorative approaches to justice understand crime as " violation pf people and relationships ", which implies a responsibility to make amends through a reparatory and reconciliatory process ( Zehr, 1990: 181).

Remarks by Susan Herman, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime, USA, before the International Symposium on Victimology, Montreal Canada August 10,2000) replicate my thoughts here about restorative justice and treatment of victims of crime in the Republic of Sierra Leone. Restorative Justice Programs Leave Out Most Victims and Restorative Justice Does Not Address Many Criminal Needs of Victims.

Concluding, the human and civil rights of victims of crime and addressing their needs should be prioritised by the state, the international community, human rights defenders and civil society actors.