Sierra Leone: justice for women who kill

Aminata* was only 17 years old when she was arrested for killing her former boyfriend eight years ago. She was sentenced to death for murder in November 2010 and feared each day she would be executed before her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the government on Sierra Leone’s 50th Independence Day on 27 April 2011. A local NGO, AdvocAid, filed an appeal for her in 2010 but Aminata is still waiting for her appeal judgment almost 7 years later. She, like many women behind bars, are often forgotten and overlooked.

Aminata is from the Eastern region of Sierra Leone, Kenema, rich in diamonds. She is an orphan, is illiterate and did not go to school. Aminata was in a relationship with Foday* but left him as he used to beat her on a regular basis. Unfortunately, Foday lived in the same compound as Aminata as he was the landlord’s son and he used to harass her to continue the relationship.

One morning in September 2009 it all got too much for Aminata. Foday was beating her with a rubber pipe and she stabbed him with a knife to protect herself. She was arrested by the police and detained for several days. AdvocAid hired a senior female lawyer to represent Aminata in court. She argued at the jury trial that Aminata acted in self-defence and was not guilty of murder. However, the Judge did not agree and, when advising the jury on the law, he stated that using a knife when being beaten by a rubber pipe was disproportionate use of force.

At 17 years old, Aminata was a juvenile and should not have been sentenced to death in the first place. However, like many people in Sierra Leone, she did not have a birth certificate to prove her age and so the police listed her age as 18.

AdvocAid met Foday’s brother in 2013. He stated (on film) that his brother used to severely beat Aminata and he felt bad she was spending her life in prison when she was a victim of abuse.

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