Liberia:‘No Reports of Persistent Patterns of Human Rights Violation with Impunity’ – Government Tells Human Rights Council, But Civil Society Organization Disagrees
Monrovia – Human Rights Defenders and Civil Society Organizations in Liberia have debunked Liberia’s Human Rights report presented to theUN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group.
Liberia is one of the 14 States that is being reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its ongoing session taking place from November 2 to 13, 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the meeting is being held using a combination of in-person and remote participation through webcast live at http://webtv.un.org.
The head of Liberia’s six-member delegation, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Frank Musa Dean, presenting Liberia’s Third Cycle National Report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) via a video conference from a local hotel in Monrovia on Monday, said since 2015, Liberia continues to be “calm and peaceful with no human rights violation.”
“Liberia remains calm and peaceful with no reports of persistent patterns of human rights violation with impunity,” he said.
“Every incident bordering on abuse or violation of human rights, under the laws of Liberia and international instruments to which Liberia is signatory, is routinely investigated, those responsible charged, prosecuted and punished consistent with law. There are no political prisoners in Liberia.”
But the Secretary General of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, Mr. Adama Dempster, refuted the Liberian delegation’s report, and said it does not represent the actual picture on the ground.
“We wanted to hear from the government to give a true accounts of the human rights situation on the ground, but unfortunately, the government’s presentation did not admit to the unaccounted human rights violation that are occurring in the country,” Dempster debunked.
“So, having listen to the head of delegation, Cllr. Musa Dean, who have said that there have been no human rights violations that have occurred in Liberia, that beats my imagination and that is entirely untrue,” he adds.
Liberia, as one of the United Nations’ 193 member states, is a party to the Human Rights Council (HRC) and is under obligation to submit periodic review on its human rights record. Liberia last submitted its UPR- the Second Cycle, in 2015 during the administration of former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Following the submission of the report, the HRC made 187 recommendations relating to civil and political rights as well as social and economic rights.
Minister Dean reported that in the implementation of the recommendations, the Government adopted a National Human Rights Action Plan, into which it incorporated all the recommendations it accepted. The Government, he added, constituted a Steering Committee comprising representatives from the line ministries and agencies of Government, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), particularly the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), to lead and guide the process of implementation.
He reaffirmed Liberia’s commitment to being a responsible party of the HRC with the unfettered commitment to abide by all obligations it has undertaken, under the various international human rights treaties and instruments to which it is signatory.
Stance on Death Penalty & FGM
Minister Dean said Liberia still maintains its “abolitionist by practice” stance on the death penalty which translated into a “de facto moratorium” on the death penalty since 1990 and moving toward a de jure abolition in due course, consistent with the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, signed in 2004 and ratified in 2005.
Over the past several years, he added that the Government, in close collaboration with non-state actors, has engaged in sustained public education and awareness of the harmful effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful traditional practices, with the view to laying the foundation for attitudinal change and paving the way for law reform.
However, harmful traditional practices that border on human rights violations, such as “Trial by Ordeal” have been criminalized, he said.
In 2018, the Liberian Government repealed Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978 on criminal libel against the President; Section 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on Criminal Malevolence, which led to the passage into law of the Kamara Abdullai Kamara (KAK) Act of 2019 for Press Freedom, to promote free speech, expression, independence and safety of the Liberian press.
These reforms in the law, the Minister trumpeted, have paved the way for an unfettered promotion and protection of press freedom, freedom of expression and a more wholesome media environment in Liberia.
In the area of constitutional reform, Minister Dean noted that upcoming referendum seeking the amendment of certain portion of the Constitution and the legislation of the Local Government Act of 2018 are some milestone achievement.
The act decentralized governance and provides for women participation in local governance, including opportunities for training of women and girls in matters of leadership but it is yet to fully go into effect.
He noted that these achievements were not void of constraints amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Ha said the achievements made by Liberia were not without challenges; adding that Liberia, like many other countries around the globe, has had its share in the global COVID-19 Pandemic.
Taking cue from the 2014 EBOLA experience, he noted that Liberia managed, through robust proactive measures, to contain and minimize the spread of the Virus.”
Speaking further, he mentioned that as part of its response to the pandemic, the Government introduced stringent measures, including a declaration of a National Health Emergency, which was followed by a declaration of a State of Emergency.
During the state of emergency, he admitted that the government was compelled to impose restrictions on schools, public gatherings, free movements of people and goods and services throughout the country, among others.
He conceded that the impact of these restrictions have had a toll on the economy, resulting to “rise in unemployment, impediments in local and international trade and travel; drastic fall in GDP; slow and contraction of revenue generation and hard currency earning.”
Notwithstanding, courts remained open and the Writ of Habeas Corpus was not suspended, he noted.
He named the lack of funding for the operationalization of the National Mechanism for treaty Reporting and Follow-up (NMRF); insufficient capacity of existing prison facilities to address prison congestions, and inadequate funding to support the National Human Rights Action Plan, as some of the challenges.
Blind Eye to TRC Recommendations
Following the submission of Liberian delegation’s report, Mr. Dempster, speaking to reporters, said the delegation’s failure to mention the Liberian Government’s plan or effort toward the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, which among other things called for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, clearly indicates that the Weah-led Government has no planned to address past crimes and the culture of impunity.
On FGM, he stated that the Legislature removed the portion that criminalized the practice from the Domestic Violence Bill that was passed into law.
“These are important elements of human rights that we think the government should have addressed long since. The head of delegation did not even mention about the TRC report. But we see that under this identical administration, anything about the TRC, the government doesn’t want to talk about it,” he said.
Speaking further, he noted that“In as much we have interest and responsibility to improve human rights situation on the ground, we have to be honest in dealing with these issues. Because the enjoyment of human rights is just not the ordinary citizens, it extends to individuals and others within the border”.
Also Speaking, Mariam G. Deah, one of Liberia’s foremost anti-FGM activist and Executive Director of ‘Restore their Hope Liberia’ lauded the government for some of the progress made so far and called on it to do more.
“Human rights issues are still on the increase. On civil and political rights that cover rights to life and security, we still want to let the government know that more needs to be done. Human rights issues are still here and the government needs to double up.”
She lamented that the refusal of the government to criminalize FGM was a major setback that needs to be achieved to ensure the protection of women and girls.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the recommendations made to Liberia on November 6. The State under review may wish to express its positions on recommendations made to it during the review. The three country representatives serving as rapporteurs for the review of Liberia are: Bahrain, Nigeria and Spain.
The UPR is a ‘unique process’ which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Since its inaugural meeting was held in April 2008, all 193 UN member States have been reviewed twice within the first and second UPR cycles. During the third UPR cycle, states are expected to enumerate the steps that they have taken to implement recommendations made during the previous reviews as well as highlight recent human rights developments in the country.