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2017 U.S. Human Rights Report on Liberia – An Indictment of the Sirleaf Administration and a Wake up Call to President Weah

2017 U.S. Human Rights Report on Liberia – Arbitrary killings by LNP, Ministry of Finance PSDI Loan Corruption, Rape by LNP and UNMIL, and Failure to Implement the TRC.

On Friday, April 20, 2018, the United States Department of State released its 2017 Human Rights Report on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration. The report raises significant issues relating to the rule of law and the lackadaisical manner the Sirleaf government violated basic human rights. Moreover, the report leaves Liberians wondering how did Madam Sirleaf win the Mo Ibrahim prize? Not unless the prize has now become a useless and corrupt vehicle for former African leaders.


https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper


Here are the key findings:

Impunity remained a serious problem for individuals who committed atrocities during the civil wars, as well as for those responsible for current and continuing crimes, despite intermittent and limited government attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Corruption and other forms of economic crimes at all levels of government continued to undermine public trust in state institutions.

Respect for Individual Rights and Liberties, Including Freedom from:

  1. Random and Indiscriminate arrests – investigators found that the Sirleaf government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. While officers were known to have committed murder, the Professional Standards Division of the LNP failed to report such crimes.
  2. Under the Sirleaf government, the LNP and other security forces violated Sections 5.1 and 5.6 of the penal code by using excessive force to abuse, harass, and intimidate persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. It’s reported that at least one police officer was convicted of rape of a person seeking police protection.
    1. In February 2017, the report shows a police officer was found guilty of statutory rape of a child in Bong County after the child requested police protection at the local police station. The officer was eventually convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.
    2. There were incidents where officers rape female inmates and Health Ministry workers attempted to force abortion to hide the pregnancy. After an internal investigation – investigators found the officer had raped the same woman back in 2014.
    3. United Nations officials were also implicated in cases of rape and exploitation of Liberian women.

Violations of Constitutional Rights Against Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The arbitrary arrest, assault, and detention of citizens continued. In July two LNP officers assaulted and pepper-sprayed a civilian while attempting an arrest. The victim, Mark Doe, died from his injuries. The officers were dismissed, and a criminal case remained pending.

Police officers or magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant. In August 2016 Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ordered judges and magistrates to stop issuing criminal writs of arrest without the approval of prosecutors from the Ministry of Justice or based on case-specific police requests. Despite Korkpor’s order, some magistrates continued to order writs of arrest in exchange for payment from complainants. This occurred in both civil cases and criminal cases.

In 2015 the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services identified the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as having a high incidence of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). The UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU) of the Department of Field Support identified 85 cases of alleged SEA in the period 2008-14. To address this, between July 2015 and June 2016, 5,042 UNMIL personnel received training in the UN’s “Zero Tolerance Policy” for sexual exploitation and abuse. In October 2016 UNMIL issued new standard operating procedures on reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct to combat further SEA cases. UNMIL also worked with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MoGCSP) to integrate its SEA referral pathway with the ministry’s own sexual and gender-based violence pathway, and it undertook a comprehensive training and awareness campaign through its Anti-SEA Champions program involving prominent representatives from both UNMIL and local communities. A November 2016 special report of the secretary general reported only one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse that took place in 2016 (by a police officer from Zimbabwe). Not all allegations were reported, however, and despite concerted efforts to oppose the practice, UNMIL’s CDU was aware of continued exploitation by personnel who frequented prostitutes.

Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Uneven application of the law, unequal distribution of personnel and resources, lack of training, and a poor road network remained problems throughout the judicial system.

Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.

According to the UNMIL HRPS, while the Supreme Court has made provision through the establishment of the Ethics and Grievance Committee for the review of the unethical conduct of lawyers and has suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public has brought few cases for fear of retribution. Mechanisms for the public to bring complaints of corruption and malpractice include the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which deals with complaints on judges’ conduct, and the Grievance and Ethics Committee, which deals with lawyers. Both lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively.

Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human RightsShare

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views, although they often failed to act on requests from other countries for assistance on investigations associated with the prosecution of individuals who committed atrocities during the civil war.

The government had not implemented the majority of the recommendations contained in the 2009 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and the president often failed to submit quarterly progress reports to the legislature on the implementation of TRC recommendations, as required by the law creating the commission.

Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in PersonsShare

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. Conviction of first-degree rape–defined as rape involving a minor, rape that results in serious injury or disability, or rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon–is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without the aggravating circumstances enumerated above, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A specialized sexual violence court (Court E) has exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault, including abuse of minors, but it was limited in effectiveness by having only one of two authorized judges presiding. Of 121 SGBV cases submitted to the grand jury for prosecution, 117 resulted in an indictment. Observers believed the true incidence of statutory rape was much higher than the number of rape cases reported or prosecuted.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades one-six) through junior secondary (grades seven-nine) levels, but many schools charged informal fees to pay teachers’ salaries and operating costs the government did not fund. These fees prevented many students from attending school. By law fees are required at the senior secondary level (grades 10-12).

Child Abuse: Widespread child abuse persisted, and reports of sexual violence against children continued. The government engaged in public campaigns to combat child rape. The MoGCSP reported removing children from the immediate reach of the perpetrators and placing them in safe homes. During the year the MoGCSP launched a “child hotline.” Because the ministry had not designated a call-answering command center, social workers were responsible for taking calls while working and at home, and they did not always respond.

Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce such laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The law prescribes a minimum sentence of one year’s imprisonment for the trafficking of adults but does not prescribe a maximum sentence; these penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred. Families living in the interior sometimes sent young women and children to stay with relatives in Monrovia or other cities with the promise that the relatives would assist the women and children to pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances, these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, or beggars. While there are no official records regarding labor, young women and children also were subject to forced labor on rubber plantations and in gold mines, rock-crushing quarries, and alluvial diamond mines. Forced labor continued despite efforts by the government, NGOs, and other organizations to eliminate the practice.

More details to follow……..

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