Amnesty International has recommended in a report published yesterday that the recruitment of Operational Support Division (OSD) of the Sierra Leone Police into United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world be suspended.
The report says the ban on the deployment of OSD officers should continue until investigations are concluded by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and Inspector General of Police (IGP) into cases highlighted in the report with a clear line of actions be taken by authorities to strengthen police accountability.
The human rights watchdog report focuses on how Sierra Leone has impermissibly restricted the right to peaceful protest and assembly particularly by opposition parties over the past 10 years.
The report notes that 39 people were on trial for taking part in protests in 2016 and 2017.
A press release issued together with the report accused the previous All Peoples Congress-led government to have used the police to crackdown on peaceful protesters in the country.
"Over the past 10 years, police have frequently used excessive force to disperse spontaneous protests, with at least nine protesters killed and more 80 injured. Amnesty International report also found that more than 80 protesters had their properties looted or were arbitrarily arrested," the release said.
The rights group says no police officer has been held criminally responsible for any of the cases they documented, although recommendations had been made by two Commissions of Inquiry and the Independent Police Complaints Board, adding that instead officers allegedly involved had been transferred to different departments.
"In one case, Amnesty International found that the police officer suspected of giving the command to shoot had been promoted. In another case, a police officer suspected of being responsible avoided disciplinary action despite being recommended for dismissal in a 2009 Commission of Inquiry," the report states.
The report calls on the authorities to ensure they promote the right of individuals to 'peacefully assemble without fear for their safety', thus tasking the new government to implement reforms that would help the police manage demonstrations 'effectively and safely' to restore public trust in the security forces.
Meanwhile, to compile the report, the group says it conducted field research in Freetown, Kono, Kabala, and Bo and interviewed 105 including government officials and police officers across the country.
Among many incidents, the report says 'in August 2016, two schoolboys were shot dead and four young men injured when police opened fire on a protest against the removal of a planned youth village'.
The group also called on the new government to overhaul a 'repressive legal framework' that is out of step with the country's obligations under international human rights law, thus reminding the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party that it was a victim of repressive laws and policing while in opposition and now has a chance to effect change whilst in government.