The Sierra Leonean authorities must ensure truth, justice, and reparations for those killed during the August 2022 protests which turned violent, Amnesty International said today, on the first anniversary of the burial of protesters and bystanders killed.
More than 20 protesters and bystanders, and six police officers, were killed during violent protests on 10 August 2022 over mounting frustrations over the soaring cost of living. A Special Investigation Committee set up by the government delivered its findings in March this year. Despite recommending training of police officers in avoiding heavy handedness, the report falls short of recommending investigation into excessive use of force during the protests. To date, none of the civilian deaths have been investigated.
According to eyewitness testimonies, security forces used excessive force to crack down on the protests.
More than a year on and the pain of the victims’ families is still as raw as it was in the days following the killings. The Sierra Leonean authorities have failed to live up to their promise to conduct a full, impartial, and transparent investigation and guarantee justice and truth to the families of victims.
Samira Daoud, Director of Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa office
“The authorities must fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of each and every person killed, including the allegations that security forces used excessive force, and must include all families of victims including the police officers killed in any investigations.”
Protesters and bystanders killed during the protests were interred in a collective burial on 17 October 2022. The families of the victims were not given the opportunity to identify their loved ones or bid them farewell in accordance with their wishes and rituals.
A brother of one victim told Amnesty International: “At burial, we watch from 50 meters. We could not identify where they put the bodies, you couldn’t even tell which coffins [the bodies had been put in …] I usually don’t talk about this, even if I go outside and they talk about this, I would move away from that place because of the stigma. For example, I went to a place to buy food the other day, they were talking about it, the woman who sells the food when she saw me, she said “this man’s sister was gunned down on August 10, 2022”, after that I did not feel good at that time, so I had to leave and go.”
Another man whose daughter was killed, said:
“My family and myself are not happy. Since her death, I have had challenges with my health and my condition has been deteriorating including my wife’s.
“When [my daughter] was doing her business, most of the responsibilities or obligations around her education were handled by her as I have retired from the military, and she sometimes contributed to the feeding of the home. I am suffering and presently engaged in charcoal burning for our survival.”
Neither of the men Amnesty International spoke with were consulted during the Special Committee’s investigation.
A brother of a victim said: “We just hope someday [those responsible] will be brought to justice, and we will have justice. I know one day justice will prevail, but I don’t know the exact time now.”
The father of the girl killed said: “I wish and believe there is a law and an institution that makes sure that justice is served. I still want justice for her and the person who killed my daughter to be brought to justice.”
After the protests, 515 people were arrested and prosecuted for offences ranging from malicious damage, arson, unlawful procession, riotous conduct, seditious behaviour to murder. According to testimonies gathered by Amnesty International, some of those detained were not able to see their lawyer until their trial and they were convicted solely on the testimony of the arresting officer without any further corroborating evidence. Some have already served their sentences while others are still in jail.
“The authorities should protect the right to peaceful assembly and ensure that protest policing respects both national and international human rights standards,” said Samira Daoud.
On 10 August 2022, protests broke out in Freetown and other areas of the country amid mounting frustrations over the soaring cost of living. Some demonstrators called for President Bio to resign. On August 23, the six officers killed during the protests were buried. On October 17 of the same year, those protesters and bystanders killed in the protests were collectively buried in Waterloo Cemetery (Freetown) by the government.