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Calls to Protect Sierra Leone’s Poor

A case has been filed against the government of Sierra Leone to overturn the country’s loitering laws, which activists and lawyers claim are discriminatory, and used by police to extract bribes from people and sexually abuse women. The laws are used to target poor and vulnerable people, say critics, and to subject them to criminal sanctions for potential conduct rather than actual harm caused. Loitering has been on the statute books since the days of British rule and is punishable by up to a month’s imprisonment. It is a petty offence that is defined in the Public Order Act of 1965 and the Summary Conviction Offences Ordinance of 1906. The case, filed at the Ecowas court of justice in Nigeria on 21 April and brought jointly by the IHRDA and AdvocAid, a civil society organisation working with girls and women caught up in Sierra Leone’s legal system, alleges that the laws violate provisions under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, such as the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to freedom of movement.