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The United States 2022 Country Reports on Human Practices in Liberia

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; the existence and enforcement of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the outlawing of independent trade unions or significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

Impunity continued for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities during two civil wars, as multiple investigative and audit reports were ignored. The government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of abuses during the year, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity continued for government corruption.

The United States 2022 Country Reports on Human Practices in Liberia

TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT, AND OTHER RELATED ABUSES

“There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Killings by police are investigated by the Professional Standards Division of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and then forwarded to criminal courts for prosecution.

On June 13, police killed Rufus Fongbeh, an unarmed civilian, in Kakata, Margibi County. Following an investigation, two LNP officers were formally stripped of duties pending further disciplinary action. On July 4, LNP officer James Togba shot and killed Orlando Broh (also reported in media as Bloh), an unarmed civilian in Monrovia. According to court records, Togba committed the killing during a botched attempt to extort money from drug addicts. After the LNP dismissed Togba from the force, he was indicted and charged with murder. Togba was awaiting trial at year’s end.”

Observers stated some security force members believed they were above the law and were aided by a judicial system that rarely convicted and punished abusive officers. 

“Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces.  Allegations of police harassment or abuse are referred to the LNP Professional Standards Division for investigation.  The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which includes representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), is empowered by law to review complaints against the LNP and Immigration Service.  Observers stated some security force members believed they were above the law and were aided by a judicial system that rarely convicted and punished abusive officers.  The government provided some training to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.”

CORRUPTION AND LACK OF TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT

Corruption:  On August 15, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff Nathaniel Farlo McGill, Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and National Port Authority Director Bill Teh Twehway were sanctioned under international law for their involvement in corrupt practices while serving as government officials.  All three subsequently resigned in September.  This was the third consecutive year in which senior government officials were sanctioned for corruption.

In 2021, President Weah suspended Presidential Special Projects Coordinator Makenneh Keita for allegedly soliciting five million dollars from a businessman who was exploring investment opportunities.  On March 22, the LNP cleared Keita of corruption charges.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and life-threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor medical care.

Abusive Physical Conditions:  Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem, particularly at Monrovia Central Prison (MCP), which held 1,426 inmates in a facility originally built for 374.  At times, prisoners were required to sleep in shifts due to overcrowding.  The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) stated that prison overcrowding was caused mainly by prolonged pretrial detention, especially at the MCP, delay in preparing indictments for felony cases, and difficulties in transferring case files from magisterial court to circuit court.

According to the INCHR, a detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court or available transportation in the area.  The INCHR further stated some jurisdictions occasionally lacked both a prosecutor and a public defender, and the magistrate judge proceeded without them.  Additionally, some magistrates solicited money from complainants to transport the accused or convicted to detention.

Arbitrary Arrest

Arbitrary Arrest:  There were media reports that security forces made arbitrary arrests.  For example, on February 1, opposition political figure Isaac Vah Tukpah, Jr. was reportedly detained by immigration officials at the border with Sierra Leone, even though he had not been charged with any crime and no warrant for his arrest had been issued.  Tukpah was released the next day without charge and fled the country soon thereafter, reportedly after receiving death threats.

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In some cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime.

The use of detention as a punitive measure, failure to issue indictments in a timely manner, lack of a functioning bail system, poor court recordkeeping, failure of judges to assign court dates, ineffective assistance of defense counsel, and a lack of resources for public defenders…

DENIAL OF FAIR PUBLIC TRIAL

Judges reportedly solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases.  Defense attorneys and prosecutors reportedly directed defendants to pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.  Some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were politically connected or socially prominent.

PRESS AND OTHER MEDIA FREEDOM

Violence and Harassment:  Press associations reported that government officials occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners, as well as individual journalists, because of their political opinions and reporting.

Unknown perpetrators caused extensive damage to a radio station in Lofa during an alleged April 23 arson attack.  In the period prior to the fire, the station broadcast advocacy messages against female genital mutilation and other politically sensitive topics.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on June 29, two LNP officers reportedly threatened to shoot Emmanuel Kollie, a reporter with the state-owned broadcasting system, and Amos Korzawu, a reporter for Fortune TV, when they were covering a political rally.

Libel/Slander Laws:  Criminal libel and slander laws were repealed in 2019; nonetheless, government officials occasionally used the threat of civil defamation suits to intimidate critics or political opponents.

THE RIGHT TO PROTEST

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

A variety of civil society groups conducted demonstrations throughout the year, including outside the legislature and the foreign ministry.  On January 18, LNP officers fired tear gas to disperse a political opposition demonstration.  On July 26, a protest by a student group was violently broken up by persons credibly alleged to be ruling party supporters.  According to media reports, LNP officers were present but did nothing to stop the violence.

The government created and granted government positions to members and sympathizers of the ruling party as a reward for, or benefit of, party affiliation rather than based on qualification or experience. 

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were instances of violence against opposition leaders and candidates during the year. For example, media reported that on June 27, a vehicle belonging to opposition political figure Yekeh Koluba was attacked and damaged while he was campaigning and that the attack occurred in the presence of LNP officers, who reportedly did not intervene.

Prior to the June 28 senate by-election, the National Elections Commission attempted to exclude opposition Unity Party and All Liberian Party candidates from participation. After a Supreme Court ruling, the candidates were allowed to participate in the polling.

The government created and granted government positions to members and sympathizers of the ruling party as a reward for, or benefit of, party affiliation rather than based on qualification or experience.

PRESIDENT WEAH DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS “THE FEMINIST IN CHIEF” UNFORTUNATELY, HIS RECORD ON RAPE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SAYS OTHERWISE

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of a woman or man 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 of a child, rape resulting in serious bodily harm, rape using a weapon, or gang rape, is a nonbailable offense punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without aggravating circumstances, is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

According to an INCHR report, perpetrators of rape enjoyed widespread impunity, in part because bureaucratic obstacles restricted the number of cases that could be heard in each judicial term, as well as institutional weaknesses of government agencies tasked with combating sexual violence. An inefficient justice system prevented timely prosecutions, and delays caused many survivors to cease cooperating with prosecutors. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence. Survivors’ families sometimes requested money from perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court.

Government officials allegedly committed acts of sexual violence. Deputy Police Commissioner Joshua During was accused of raping an LNP colleague at police headquarters, and Harper City Solicitor Thomas Togba Kun was charged with sexually assaulting a law client (see section 1.c.).

Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem. The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence is six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Civil society observers suggested that lack of speedy trials led some survivors to seek redress outside the formal justice system.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but it remained a significant problem at work and in schools. UNICEF reported that sexual harassment in schools in the form of “sex for grades” and “sex for school fees” was common. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.

On January 31, local radio reported that residents of Maryland County staged a protest at the Maryland Palm Oil concession company and accused the company of harassment of women employees.

The LDHS estimated the maternal mortality rate was 742 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Postpartum hemorrhage remained the leading cause of maternal mortality and accounted for approximately 34 percent of maternal deaths. In remote areas, clinics often lacked basic infrastructure and facilities, and midwives and health workers sometimes delivered babies at night without electricity. According to the survey, teenage childbearing accounted for 30 percent of all births in 2019-20. FGM/C remained a problem and contributed to maternal morbidity (see the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection).

PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but these prohibitions were not always enforced. Most government buildings were not easily accessible to persons with mobility impairment. The government did not provide information and communication on disability concerns in accessible formats. Sign language interpretation was often not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services. Election ballots were not available in braille, but visually impaired voters could be accompanied by a sighted helper in the voting booth.

Persons with disabilities lacked equal access to social, economic, and political opportunities and were among the most vulnerable population groups in the country. Few children with disabilities had access to education. In 2019-20, less than 1 percent of students in public schools had a disability, suggesting that nearly all school-age children with disabilities were out of school. Some students with disabilities attended a few specialized schools, mainly for the blind and deaf, but only through elementary school. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, housing, and health care. According to the National Union of Organizations for the Disabled, persons with disabilities were more likely to become subjects of gender-based violence.

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