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Sierra Leone

European contacts with Sierra Leone were among the first in West Africa. In 1652, the first slaves in North America were brought from Sierra Leone to the Sea Islands off the coast of the southern United States. During the 1700s there was a thriving trade bringing slaves from Sierra Leone to the plantations of South Carolina and Georgia where their rice-farming skills made them particularly valuable.

In 1787 the British helped 400 freed slaves from the United States, Nova Scotia, and Great Britain return to Sierra Leone to settle in what they called the "Province of Freedom." Disease and hostility from the indigenous people nearly eliminated the first group of returnees. This settlement was joined by other groups of freed slaves and soon became known as Freetown. In 1792, Freetown became one of Britain's first colonies in West Africa.

Thousands of slaves were returned to or liberated in Freetown. Most chose to remain in Sierra Leone. These returned Africans--or Krio as they came to be called--were from all areas of Africa. Cut off from their homes and traditions by the experience of slavery, they assimilated some aspects of British styles of life and built a flourishing trade on the West African coast.

In the early 19th century, Freetown served as the residence of the British governor who also ruled the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and the Gambia settlements. Sierra Leone served as the educational center of British West Africa as well. Fourah Bay College, established in 1827, rapidly became a magnet for English-speaking Africans on the West Coast. For more than a century, it was the only European-style university in western Sub-Saharan Africa.

The colonial history of Sierra Leone was not placid. The indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Krio domination. Most of the 20th century history of the colony was peaceful, however, and independence was achieved without violence. The 1951 constitution provided a framework for decolonization. Local ministerial responsibility was introduced in 1953, when Sir Milton Margai was appointed Chief Minister. He became Prime Minister after successful completion of constitutional talks in London in 1960. Independence came in April 1961, and Sierra Leone opted for a parliamentary system within the British Commonwealth. Sir Milton's Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) led the country to independence and the first general election under universal adult franchise in May 1962. Upon Sir Milton's death in 1964, his half-brother, Sir Albert Margai, succeeded him as Prime Minister.

In closely contested elections in March 1967, the All Peoples Congress (APC) won a plurality of the parliamentary seats. Accordingly, the Governor General (representing the British Monarch) declared Siaka Stevens--APC leader and Mayor of Freetown--as the new Prime Minister. Within a few hours, Stevens and Margai were placed under house arrest by Brigadier David Lansana, the Commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF), on grounds that the determination of office should await the election of the tribal representatives to the house. Another group of officers soon staged another coup, only to be later ousted in a third coup, the "sergeantsí revolt," and Stevens at last, in April 1968, assumed the office of Prime Minister under the restored constitution. Siaka Stevens remained as head of state until 1985. Under his rule, in 1978, the constitution was amended and all political parties, other than the ruling APC, were banned.

In August 1985, the APC named military commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Saidu Momoh, Steven's own choice, as the party candidate to succeed Stevens. Momoh was elected President in a one-party referendum on October 1, 1985. In October 1991 Momoh had the constitution amended once again, re-establishing a multi-party system. Under Momoh, APC rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power. Earlier in 1991, in March, a small band of men who called themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of a former-corporal, Foday Sankoh, began to attack villages in eastern Sierra Leone on the Liberian border. Fighting continued in the ensuing months, with the RUF gaining control of the diamond mines in the Kono district and pushing the Sierra Leone army pack towards Freetown. On April 29, 1992, a group of young military officers, led by Capt. Valentine Strasser, launched a military coup, which sent Momoh into exile in Guinea and established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the ruling authority in Sierra Leone.

The NPRC proved to be nearly as ineffectual as the Momoh government in repelling the RUF. More and more country fell to RUF fighters, so that by 1995 they held much of the countryside and were on the doorsteps of Freetown. To retrieve the situation, the NPRC hired several hundred mercenaries from the private firm Executive Outcomes. Within a month they had driven RUF fighters back to enclaves along Sierra Leoneís borders.

As a result of popular demand and mounting international pressure, the NPRC agreed to hand over power to a civilian government via presidential and parliamentary elections, which were held in April 1996. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a diplomat who had worked at the UN for more than 20 years, won the presidential election. Because of the prevailing war conditions, parliamentary elections were conducted, for the first time, under the system of proportional representation. Thirteen political parties participated, with the SLPP winning 27 seats, UNPP 17, PDP 12, APC 5 and DCP 3.

The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), led by Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma, overthrew President Kabbah on May 25, 1997, and invited the RUF to join the government. After 10 months in office, the junta was ousted by the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces, and the democratically elected government of President Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998. On January 6, 1999, the RUF launched another attempt to overthrow the government. Fighting reached parts of Freetown, leaving thousands dead and wounded. ECOMOG forces drove by the RUF attack several weeks later.

With the assistance of the international community, President Kabbah and RUF leader Sankoh negotiated the Lome Peace Agreement, which was signed on July 7, 1999. The accord made Sankoh Vice President and gave other RUF members positions in the government. Lome called for an international peacekeeping force run initially by both ECOMOG and the United Nations. The UN Security Council established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in 1999, with an initial force of 6,000. ECOMOG forces departed in April 2000. Almost immediately, however, the RUF began to violate the agreement, most notably by holding hundreds of UNAMSIL personnel hostage and capturing their arms and ammunition in the first half of 2000. On May 8, 2000, members of the RUF shot and killed as many as 20 people demonstrating against the RUF violations outside Sankoh's house in Freetown. As a result, Sankoh and other senior members of the RUF were arrested and the group was stripped of its positions in government.

After the events of May 2000, a new cease-fire was necessary to reinvigorate the peace process. This agreement was signed in Abuja in November of that year. However, DDR did not resume, and fighting continued. In late 2000, Guinean forces entered Sierra Leone to attack RUF bases from which attacks had been launched against Liberian dissidents in Guinea. A second Abuja Agreement, in May 2001, set the stage for a resumption of DDR on a wide scale and a significant reduction in hostilities. As disarmament has progressed, the government began to reassert its authority in formerly rebel-held areas. By early 2002, some 72,000 ex-combatants have been disarmed and demobilized, although many still awaited re-integration assistance. On January 18, 2002 President Kabbah declared the civil war officially over.

In May 2002 President Kabbah and his party, the SLPP, won landslide victories in the presidential and legislative elections. Kabbah was re-elected for a five year term. The RUF political wing, the RUFP, failed to win a single seat in parliament. The elections were marked by irregularities and allegations of fraud, but not to a degree to significantly affect the outcome.

On July 28th, 2002 the British withdrew a 200-man military contingent that had been in country since the summer of 2000, leaving behind a 140-strong military training team to work to professionalize the Sierra Leone army. The Lome Accord called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators of human rights violations during the conflict to tell their stories and facilitate genuine reconciliation. Subsequently, the Sierra Leonean government asked the UN to help set up a Special Court for Sierra Leone, which would try those who "bear the greatest responsibility for the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as crimes under relevant Sierra Leonean law within the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996." Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court began operating in the summer of 2002.

In November 2002, UNAMSIL began a gradual reduction from a peak level of 17,500 personnel. Under pressure from the British, the withdrawal slowed, so that by October 2003 the UNAMSIL contingent still stood at 12,000 men. As peaceful conditions continued through 2004, however, UNAMSIL drew down its forces to slightly over 4,000 by December 2004. The UN Security Council extended UNAMSILís mandate until June 2005 and may extend it one last time until December 2005, when UNAMSIL is expected to complete withdrawal of all troops.

On January 13, 2003 a small group of armed men tried unsuccessfully to break into an armory in Freetown. Former AFRC-junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, went into hiding, after being linked to the raid. In March the Special Court for Sierra Leone issued its first indictments for war crimes during the civil war. Foday Sankoh, already in custody, was indicted, along with notorious RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, Johnny Paul Koroma, the Minister of Interior and former head of the Civil Defense Force, Hinga Norman, and several others. Norman was arrested when the indictments were announced, while Bockarie and Koroma remained at large (presumably in Liberia). On May 5th Bockarie was killed in Liberia, probably on orders from President Charles Taylor, who expected to be indicted by the Special Court and feared Bockarieís testimony. Several weeks later word filtered out of Liberia that Johnny Paul Koroma had been killed, as well, although his death remains unconfirmed. In June the Special Court announced Taylorís indictment. Sankoh died in prison in Freetown on July 29th from a heart attack. He had been ailing for some time.

In August, 2003 President Kabbah testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on his role during the civil war. Instead of acting in a statesman-like, unifying manner, he answered questions in a partisan, defensive style. He blamed the international community for ignoring Sierra Leone during much of the civil war, without acknowledging its assistance in the late 1990ís that ended the fighting.

ECONOMY

Rich in minerals, Sierra Leone has relied on the mining sector in general, and diamonds in particular, for its economic base. In the 1970s and early 1980s, economic growth rate slowed because of a decline in the mining sector and increasing corruption among government officials. By the 1990ís economic activity was declining and economic infrastructure had become seriously degraded. Over the next decade much of Sierra Leoneís formal economy was destroyed in the countryís civil war. Since the cessation of hostilities in January 2002, massive infusions of outside assistance have helped Sierra Leone begin to recover. Full recovery to pre-war economic levels will require hundreds of millions of additional dollars and many more years of serious effort by the GOSL and donor governments. Much of Sierra Leoneís recovery will depend on the success of GOSL efforts to limit official corruption, which many feel was the chief culprit for the countryís descent into civil war. A key indicator of success will be the effectiveness of government management of its diamond sector.

About two-thirds of the population engages in subsistence agriculture. Despite the fact that most Sierra Leoneans derive their livelihood from it, agriculture accounts for only 42% of national income. The government is trying to increase food and cash crop production and upgrade small farmer skills. Also, the government works with several foreign donors to operate integrated rural development and agricultural projects.

Mineral exports remain Sierra Leone's principal foreign exchange earner. Sierra Leone is a major producer of gem-quality diamonds. Though rich in this resource, the country has historically struggled to manage its exploitation and export. Annual production estimates range between $250-300 million. However, only a portion of that passes through formal export channels (1999: $1.2 million; 2000: $7 million; 2001: $26 million; 2002: $42 million; 2003: $76 million; 2004: $127 million). The balance is smuggled out, where it is used for money laundering and the financing of other illicit activities. Recent efforts on the part of the country to improve the management of the export trade have met with some success. In October 2000, a new UN-approved export certification system for exporting diamonds from Sierra Leone was put into place that led to a dramatic increase in legal exports. In 2001, the Government of Sierra Leone created a mining community development fund, which returns a portion of diamond export taxes to diamond mining communities. The fund was created to raise local communities' stake in the legal diamond trade.

Sierra Leone has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile, a titanium ore used as paint pigment and welding rod coatings. Sierra Rutile Limited, owned by a consortium of US and European investors, began commercial mining operations near Bonthe in early 1979. Sierra Rutile was then the largest nonpetroleum U.S. investment in West Africa. The export of 88,000 tons realized $75 million for the country in 1990. The company and the Government of Sierra Leone concluded a new agreement on the terms of the company's concession in Sierra Leone in 1990. Rutile and bauxite mining operations were suspended when rebels invaded the mining sites in 1995. In 2003 OPIC agreed to a $25 million guarantee to Sierra Rutile to assist with the re-start of operations, which are expected to resume soon.

Since independence, the Government of Sierra Leone has encouraged foreign investment, although the business climate has been hampered by a shortage of foreign exchange, corruption, and uncertainty resulting from civil conflicts. Investors are protected by an agreement that allows for arbitration under the 1965 World Bank Convention. Legislation provides for transfer of interest, dividends, and capital.

Sierra Leone is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). With Liberia and Guinea, it formed the Mano River Union (MRU) customs union, primarily designed to implement development projects and promote regional economic integration. However, the MRU has so far been inactive because of domestic problems and internal and cross-border conflicts in all three countries. The future of the MRU depends on the ability of its members to deal with the fallout from these internal and regional problems.

Sierra Leone continues to rely on significant amounts of foreign assistance, principally from multilateral donors. The bilateral donors include the United States, Italy, and Germany, the largest being the United Kingdom and the European Union.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

Security in Sierra Leone has improved significantly since the end of civil war in 2001. Government forces exercise authority throughout Sierra Leone, aided by a large contingent of peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). UNAMSIL is scheduled to reduce to only 3,250 peacekeepers by March 2005 and to withdraw completely by June 2005. As UNAMSIL draws down, Sierra Leone police and army are filling in behind, but without the capacity for equivalent performance. Periodic security incidents are increasing as a result. The Sierra Leone police are working to improve professionalism, capabilities, and training of their modest force, but fall short of American standards in response time, communications, and specialty skills.

Areas outside of Freetown lack most basic services. Travelers are urged to exercise caution, especially when traveling beyond the capital. Road conditions are hazardous and serious vehicle accidents are common. Emergency response to vehicular and other accidents ranges from slow to nonexistent. Embassy employees are free to travel throughout Sierra Leone with the exception of Tongo Fields in Kenema District and the area between the Moa River and the border with Liberia. Travel to these areas is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. There are occasional unauthorized roadblocks outside Freetown, where travelers may be asked to pay a small amount of money to the personnel manning the roadblock. Because many Sierra Leoneans, especially outside the capital, do not speak English, it can be difficult for a foreigner to communicate his or her identity.

In the past year, there have been security incidents related to police operations to reclaim land from illegal occupants and to clear streets of petty traders and vendors. U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds, political rallies and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.

The continued poor state of the economy and the lack of opportunity for mostin Sierra Leone have led many individuals or small groups to turn to criminal activity. Petty crime and theft of wallets, cell phones and passports are very common. There has been a moderate increase in nighttimeburglaries and other criminal incidents. Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly if they respond at all. Police response and investigative response rarely provide substantive support to victims. U.S. citizens and other expatriates have experienced harassment, blackmail and shakedowns when dealing with Sierra Leone officials. Corruption and incompetence remain serious problems at all levels within the Government of Sierra Leone. Americans traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone should maintain a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings to help avoid being the victims of crimes.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Sierra Leone. The scams pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently, an increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams. There have been many cases of these scams originating from Sierra Leone.

Typically, these scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country. A series of "advance fees" must then be paid in order to conclude the transaction: for example, fees to open a bank account, or to pay certain taxes. In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. One common variation of this scheme involves individuals claiming to be refugees or other victims of various western African conflicts (notably Sierra Leone ) who contact U.S. citizens to request their help in transferring large sums of money out of Sierra Leone. Another typical ploy has persons claiming to be related to present or former political leaders who need assistance to transfer large sums of cash. Other variations include what appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Any unsolicited business proposal originating from Sierra Leone should be carefully checked out before any funds are committed, any goods or services are provided, or any travel is undertaken.

POLICE

Among the Government's security forces, the SLP officially has primary responsibility for internal order; however, on occasion, the RSLAF and UNAMSIL shared responsibility with police in security matters. The RSLAF is responsible for external security under the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained control of security forces throughout the year. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

There were no politically motivated killings by the Government or its agents; however, on March 13, a man died at the Central Police Station while in police custody. Although excessive force was suspected, police sources claimed that the man was already injured when he was first brought into custody for fighting. Police released him to a friend after a few hours, but the man later was returned to the police station, where he died. Four police were investigated for negligence and reprimanded.

In November 2003, guards severely beat three boys, one to death, following an escape attempt at a juvenile detention center. During the year, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children's Affairs launched an investigation, and new guards trained in coping tactics replaced the original guards. The SLP's Criminal Investigation Division distributed 300 flyers describing the guard accused of murder and requesting information on his whereabouts; however, he remained at large at year's end. The case of three RSLAF soldiers accused of beating a Fullah businessman to death in June 2003 was still at trial at year's end.

In April, UNAMSIL soldiers were accused of murdering a prostitute, who was found dead after last being seen with the men. An investigation was ongoing at year's end.

During the year, a local human rights organization began preliminary investigations into allegations of the existence of a mass grave in Kamakwie. UNAMSIL carried out preliminary investigations in 2003 of mass graves found in both Bo and Pujehun Districts. The sites reportedly included graves in Sahn and Bendu Mahlen, which together may hold more than 300 bodies.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. Former RUF rebels continued to hold some persons, including women and children, as forced or common law spouses or laborers. Some women reportedly remained with their captors due to intimidation by their captors and a lack of viable options. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Children, and Gender maintained a database, with the help of UNICEF, which attempted to track children separated from their families during the war. International NGOs continued to work to secure the release of women and children from their captors, often with government assistance.

DETENTION

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, government forces occasionally arrested and detained persons arbitrarily.

The SLP, which has primary responsibility for maintaining internal order, received insufficient resources, lacked investigative or forensic capabilities, and was widely viewed as corrupt and incompetent. During the civil war, numerous officers were killed or fled their posts, which resulted in a reduction of the country's police force from approximately 9,500 officers to 7,000. Budget constraints have impeded recruitment efforts, as have the lack of basic educational skills of applicants, many of whom had no schooling during the civil war. During the year, the Inspector General of Police continued efforts to increase SLP personnel levels, to bring more accountability to top SLP officials through systematic rotations, and to assume primary security responsibility from UNAMSIL. There were approximately 7,900 police officers by year's end.

In February, President Kabbah and Vice-President Berewa visited a police station in Kono and urged police officers to refrain from committing human rights violations.

During the year, there were frequent reports that police officers took bribes at checkpoints, falsely charged motorists with violations, and impounded vehicles to extort money. However, there were other anecdotal reports that police behavior in Freetown improved dramatically during the year; reportedly, police no longer routinely harassed and demanded payment from businessmen in the Lebanese community, and there were no makeshift roadblocks in Freetown to extort money.

The law requires warrants for searches and arrests in most cases; however, arrest without warrant was common. There were judicial protections against false charges; however, prisoners often were detained for prolonged periods on false charges. Detainees have the right of access to family or counsel; however, access to counsel was often delayed, and family visits were restricted at maximum-security Pademba Road Prison. There are provisions for bail, and there was a functioning bail system; however, international observers described frequent cases of excessive bail. Many criminal suspects were held for months before their cases were examined or formal charges were filed.

There were numerous instances of arrest without charges for purely civil causes; arrests for breach of contract or debt cases were the most common. For example, in March, police reportedly detained a woman in Koidu because of a private business debt.

During the year, police arrested demonstrators.

At year's end, approximately 89 RUF/AFRC/West Side Boys who had experienced prolonged pretrial detention were charged. During the year, a visiting Commonwealth judge filed a writ of habeus corpus, leading to the release of 12 former soldiers who had reportedly rebelled against the Government and who had been held since 1996. In addition, 16 West Side Boys were released on August 21. Trials for many of those charged began on October 22; however, at year's end, no testimony had been given due to repeated court cancellations.

COURTS

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice. The judiciary at times was subject to corruption.

The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, appeals courts, the High Court, whose justices are chosen by the President, and magistrate courts. Local chieftaincy courts administer customary law with lay judges; appeals from these lower courts are heard by the superior courts.

Judicial presence outside the capital district improved during the year. By year's end, there were magistrate courts functioning in all 12 judicial districts, which at times were presided over by justices of the peace. Also, magistrates were permanently stationed at five provisional headquarters in Bo, Moyamba, Makeni, Port Loko, and Kenema. The magistrates visited the remaining seven judicial districts at least once per month.

The Constitution and the law provide for a speedy trial; however, in practice, the lack of judicial officers and facilities often produced long delays in the judicial process. Trials were usually fair; however, there was evidence that corruption influenced some cases. A majority of cases on the magistrate level were prosecuted by police officers, many of whom had little or no formal legal training.

Traditional justice systems continued to supplement extensively the central government judiciary in cases involving family law, inheritance, and land tenure, especially in rural areas. There were reports that local chieftains at times exceeded their mandates and executed harsh punishments. For example, in August, there were reports of Councils of Chiefs administering flogging as punishment.

In April, associates of the port director severely beat a port authority official investigating corruption. At the trial, the port director allegedly bribed all 12 jurors, and the suspect who had been arrested for the beating was subsequently acquitted and released. The jurors later were arrested and were in police custody at year's end.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

CORRECTIONS

Prison conditions improved in some locations during the year; however, conditions in most facilities were poor. International human rights observers who visited maximum-security Pademba Road Prison reported that prisoners had adequate access to food, medical care, recreation, and vocational skills training. However, in May, an inmate in the men's unit at Pademba Road Prison presented a formal complaint to the Freetown Magistrate regarding inadequate medical treatment. In September, newspapers reported that 15 Pademba Road prisoners began a hunger strike to protest the poor conditions at the prison, including inadequate food and unsanitary living quarters. After visits to the Western Area, Kono, Bombali, Kambia, Port Loko, and Kenema District, human rights observers reported that conditions frequently fell below minimum international standards because of overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and insufficient medical attention. Such conditions resulted in numerous deaths during the year.

Many problems resulted from the poor state of the judiciary; for instance, case backlogs in the courts led to severe overcrowding. There were approximately 1,400 detainees in facilities built for about half that number. For example, Pademba Road Prison, which was designed to house 325 prisoners, held approximately 840 prisoners. In November, a Commonwealth judge inspected Pademba Road Prison and described the conditions as "deplorable." After meeting with prisoners, some of whom had been held for as many as 8 years, the judge said the delay in justice was a "time bomb." Shortly after the judge's visit, 45 prisoners escaped while being transported from the court to the prison. There are 12 district prisons in the country, 8 of which were functioning. A prison renovation program sponsored by the U.N. Development Program was in progress at all detention facilities to mitigate overcrowding.

Conditions in holding cells in police stations were extremely poor, especially in small stations outside of Freetown. During the year, international monitors visited the SCSL detention facilities and reported that they met acceptable standards.

Government policy precluded family visits to prisoners at Pademba Road Prison except in exceptional circumstances and on a case-by-case basis; however, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) provided a messaging service that allowed prisoners to communicate with their families.

International observers who visited Liberian combatants throughout the year at Mape and Mafanta Internment Camps reported that conditions were adequate except that a number of juveniles were held with adults; however, in February, a Liberian detainee at Mape Internment Camp reportedly died as a result of unsatisfactory health services. Approximately 420 former Liberian combatants were detained at the 2 camps at year's end.

According to a U.N. Human Rights report, prisons in Koidu, Bo, Kenema, and Kabala were using detainees for work outside of the prison without appropriate compensation.

Male and female prisoners were held separately. Adults and juveniles were sometimes incarcerated together. Juvenile detainees did not have adequate access to rehabilitative services, such as education or vocational training. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

International monitors, including UNAMSIL and the ICRC, had unrestricted access to visit Pademba Road Prison and other detention facilities, including the SCSL detention facilities. Prison Watch, a local human rights group, reported on detention facilities throughout the country. Unlike last year, there were no reports that human rights groups were restricted from visiting detention facilities.

WOMEN

Domestic violence against women, especially wife beating, was common. The police were unlikely to intervene in domestic disputes except in cases involving severe injury or death. In rural areas, polygyny was common. Women suspected of marital infidelity often were subjected to physical abuse; frequently, women were beaten until they divulged the names of their partners. Because husbands could claim monetary indemnities from their wives' partners, beatings often continued until the woman named several men even if there were no such relationships. There also were reports that women suspected of infidelity were required to undergo animistic rituals to prove their innocence.

Rape was recognized as a societal problem and was punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. There were reports that some women and girls abducted during the war remained with their captors due to intimidation and a lack of options. There also were reports of the sexual abuse of refugees in refugee camps. Cases of rape were underreported, and indictments were rare, especially in rural areas. Medical or psychological services for rape victims were very limited. Rape victims were required to obtain a medical report to file charges; however, government doctors charged $20 (approximately 50,000 Leones) for such an exam, which was prohibitively expensive for most victims. Human rights monitors urged the Government to eliminate or lower the cost of medical reports. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) expanded its operations since 2003; by year's end, it ran centers in Freetown, Kenema, and Kono to perform medical examinations and provide counseling for victims of sexual assault. The IRC also conducted workshops in Kono, Freetown, Kailahun, Kenema, and Bo.

FGM was practiced widely at all levels of society, although with varying frequency. The less severe form of excision was practiced. UNICEF and other groups estimated that 80 to 90 percent of women and girls had undergone the practice; however, some local groups believed that this figure was overstated. FGM was practiced on girls as young as 5 years old. No law prohibits FGM. Although a number of NGOs worked to eradicate FGM and to inform the public about its harmful health effects, active resistance by women's secret societies, in which FGM commonly occurred as part of initiation rites, countered efforts to stop the practice.

In August, a secondary student died from complications derived from a female circumcision. Police completed an investigation but, by year's end, no indictments had been filed.

During the year, the Director of Public Prosecutions filed charges against the 10 women arrested in 2002 in connection with the death of a 14-year-old girl following an FGM rite. The trial continued at year's end.

Prostitution was widespread and not prohibited by law; however, prostitutes sometimes were arrested and charged with loitering or vagrancy. Many women and girls, particularly those displaced from their homes and with few resources, resorted to prostitution as a means to support themselves and their children.

The Constitution provides for equal rights for women; however, in practice, women faced both legal and societal discrimination. In particular, their rights and status under traditional law varied significantly depending upon the ethnic group to which they belonged. All women born in the Western Area, which is governed by General Law, had a statutory right to own property in their name. Some women born in the provinces, which are governed by customary laws that vary from chiefdom to chiefdom, did not. In the Temne tribe, women could not become paramount chiefs; however, in the Mende tribe, there were several female paramount chiefs. Women did not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities, or social freedoms. In rural areas, women performed much of the subsistence farming and had little opportunity for formal education.

In September, the Deputy Minister of Education formally recognized a study conducted by the British Council, which revealed that girls were being denied an education more often than boys and that traditional beliefs were keeping women confined to the household.

Women were active in civic and philanthropic organizations. Domestic NGOs, such as 50/50 and Women's Forum, raised awareness of gender equality and women's issues, and they encouraged women to enter politics as candidates for Parliament.

CHILDREN

The Government was committed to improving children's education and welfare; however, it lacked the means to provide them with basic education and health services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children's Affairs had primary responsibility for children's issues.

The law requires school attendance through primary school; however, only 42 percent of school-aged children were enrolled in school, according to UNICEF. Schools, clinics, and hospitals throughout the country were looted and destroyed during the 11-year insurgency, but, by year's end, the majority had been rebuilt. A large number of children received little or no formal education. Formal and informal fees largely financed schools, but many families could not afford to pay the fees. The average educational level for girls was markedly below that of boys, and only 6 percent of women were literate. At the university level, male students predominated.

FGM was performed commonly on girls.

Child prostitution was a problem. To address the issue of child prostitution in the capital, the Freetown City Council introduced a regulation that would bar minors from nightclubs, a common venue for commercial sex transactions.

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

During the year, Parliament passed legislation that prohibited trafficking in persons; however, there were reports that persons were trafficked from and within the country.

The country was one of origin, transit, and destination for international trafficked persons. The majority of victims were women and children. There was no quantitative study on trafficking, and no specific figures existed on the number of persons trafficked. Children were trafficked from the provinces to work in the capital as laborers and commercial sex workers and to diamond areas for labor and sex work. Persons were trafficked from neighboring countries for domestic and street labor and for commercial sex work. Persons were trafficked out of the country to destinations in West Africa, including Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau for labor and sex work. Persons were also trafficked to Lebanon, Europe, and North America. The country served as a transit point for persons from West Africa and possibly the Middle East.

In an effort to combat the trafficking of persons into the sex trade, government authorities became more vigilant in their efforts to close brothels, which were perceived as perpetuating trafficking. The Government also began to publicize trafficking issues through government-sponsored radio programs and official statements in the press.

The SLP takes the lead on trafficking issues. The Government worked closely with NGOs on trafficking-related issues to develop training programs but was hampered by a lack of resources and an incomplete understanding of the problem. The Government supported prevention programs, including children's education and women's business initiatives.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Meigan Fukushima and Ali Yousefi

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