Sierra Leone became the 110th country worldwide to end capital punishment when President Julius Maada Bio signed a new law banning the death penalty last Friday.
“We should not, we shall not and we will never again execute any persons in this sovereign republic,” he said, denouncing capital punishment as “inhumane” and declaring that the country had “exorcised horrors of a cruel past.”
Sierra Leone’s first recorded execution was in 1798—about a decade after the British took control in 1787 and imposed a criminal code that included capital punishment. The nation of 7.5 million people is the first in Anglophone West Africa to abolish what civil society groups have challenged as a vestige of colonial oppression.
“The death penalty is a colonial imposition, and these laws were inherited from the U.K.,” Sabrina Mahtani, the co-founder of a nonprofit group that provides legal assistance to women and girls in Sierra Leone, told The New York Times.
In June, lawmakers voted unanimously to replace the death sentence for crimes like murder and treason with sentences ranging from 30 years in prison to a maximum sentence of life in prison. Judges will consider mitigating circumstances to determine the appropriate sentence within that range.
Deputy Minister of Justice Umaru Napoleon Koroma told The Guardian that sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go.”
The country’s last execution took place in 1998.
At the end of 2020, at least 94 people were under a sentence of death in Sierra Leone, according to Amnesty International, and the Death Penalty Information Center reported that the new law will be applied to them.
Sierra Leone is one of 22 countries in Africa that have abolished capital punishment. Chad became the 21st in May 2020.
Ms. Mahtani said that her country’s decision to abolish capital punishment should inspire countries like the U.S. to follow suit.
“Here’s a small country in West Africa that had a brutal civil war 20 years ago and they’ve managed to abolish the death penalty,” she said. “They would actually be an example for you, U.S., rather than it always being the other way around.”