CSO Condemns Liberia’s Reintroduction of Death Penalty in Shadow Report

Adama Dempster

Monrovia – The Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia (CSO-HRAPL) has condemned Liberia’s reintroduction of the cruel death penalty.

This was one of 18 issues with recommendations released in a shadow report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in March 2018 with support from the Center for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) in Geneva.

According to CSO-HRAPL secretary-general Adama Dempster, they are grateful for the opportunity to address outstanding issues on behalf of Liberian human rights community.

Liberia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2004 but its first report, which was due in 2005, was submitted on 2nd November 2016.

Following the submission of the report, the UNHRC adopted a list of issues 26 key questions on August 21, 2017 with Liberia’s first review scheduled at the 122 session from March 12 to 6 April 2018 in Geneva.

Liberia signed and acceded to the Second Optional Protocol (SOP) to the ICCPR in 2005 but Liberia remains the only country in the world that reintroduced the death penalty in 2008.

Dempster believes Liberia needs to repeal the clauses that sanction the death penalty and adopt a new clause that abolishes capital punishment.

“Unfortunately, there has not been the political will to translate this into

reality. The reintroduction of the death penalty is in total contradiction with the SOP to the ICCPR.

“This protocol calls for state parties to place a moratorium on the application of the death penalty and work towards its abolition. The death penalty, according to the new Penal Code of 2008, may be imposed for the following three classified crimes: armed robbery, terrorism and hijacking.

“It is estimated that around 20 death sentences have been passed since the penalty resurfaced in 2008. The total number of convicts currently on death sentence is estimated at seven,” Dempster recalled.

The human rights group called on the United Nations to recommend to Liberia to repeal the July 2008 law that allows the death penalty, in line with Liberia’s obligations under the SOP to the ICCPR.

Commenting on the recommendations as released by defunct Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the group called on the UNHRC to recommend to the government to set-up a panel to review progress made on the implementation of the report.

According to Dempster, the panel should comprise the government, civil society and Liberia’s Independent National Commission on Human Rights with a view for retributive justice.

“We should consider the draft legislation to facilitate the establishment of an extraordinary criminal court to fairly and effectively prosecute past human rights violations and abuse or appeal to the UN and ECOWAS for the extension of the Sierra Leone war crime court to cover Liberia and West Africa in the case of lack of political will.

“We should ensure adequate support and funding for programs designed in view of the TRC recommendations to improve Liberia’s judicial and criminal justice systems to ensure victims have access to effective legal remedies and reparation,” he added.

On the INCHR, which was established by a 2005 act to monitor, investigate and report on human rights abuses and violations in Liberia as well as ensure the promotion and protection of human rights for all regardless of race, colors, age, gender, creed etc., the group conceded that the TRC’s successor been challenged to fully undertake its responsibilities as a result of restrictions to, and interference in its operations and financial autonomy.

Dempster said they asked the UNHRC to emphasize the independence of the INCHR in line with the Paris Principles for the government to ensure its independence by removing the commissioner, who was appointed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in contravention to the act.

He also called for the restoration of its financial autonomy and granting of free access to funding from alternative sources.

Dempster said the government should make no further move to amend the act on the basis of tenure.

FGM and violence against women

While Liberia’s 2011 Education Law provides that no child shall be subjected to harmful cultural practice (including female genital mutilation or FGM) during school period, the group noted that many children of school-going age continue to undergo FGM.

A national working group against FGM was set to advocate and create awareness to secure the criminalization of FGM under component 16.21L of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA).

However, the 53rd Legislature struck out a criminalization clause on FGM in the DVA based on the culturally sensitive nature of the practice.

One week into the transition of the new government, an Executive Order #92 (EO #92) was issued by President Sirleaf seeking to ban FGM for girls under 18 years for a year.

The EO #92, nonetheless, leaves room for FGM to be performed with consent from adults, thus, undermining the commitment to protect women and children from all harmful traditional and cultural practices.

The group recommends to the UNHRC to remind the government of its international obligation in line with the implementation of the 2010 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations and specific obligations under ICCPR.

It wanted an amendment to the DVA to criminalize FGM before the expiration of EO #92.

“Liberia should embark on national awareness on the rights of women to combat discrimination against women, and in particular, reorient Liberians on the need for the abolishment of harmful traditional practices.

“We call on the government to do everything possible to attend the July 2018 final review by the UNHRC in Geneva to guarantee the full implementation of the recommendations on the ICCPR in Liberia,” Dempster stressed at a formal presentation to Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Deweh Gray on May 31, 2018.

Others issues captured in the report were rights of refugees and asylum seekers, freedom of expression and association, media rights, rights of the child, freedom of assembly, participation in public affairs, customary land, state of emergency and counter-terrorism measures, non-discrimination, gender equality, violence against women, voluntary termination of pregnancy, right to life, liberty and security of persons; trafficking in persons, forced and child labor, treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and rights to due process and fair trial.