MONROVIA – The U.S. State Department in its 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices says there were several reports that the government of Liberia or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]
The report: “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.”
The report captured two incidents where police killed unarmed civilians. One of the incidents occurred on June 13, 2022 when 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, 2022, LNP officer James Togba shot and killed Orlando Broh, 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, the reports said.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government-mandated Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported the government did not address most human rights concerns, including those linked to past unresolved disappearances, thus instilling public fear and curtailing various freedoms, the report added.
On torture and other cruel or related abuses, the State Department reported incidents that were widely reported by the Liberian media of security maltreating civilians. It captured the January 6, 2022 incident where a Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency officer allegedly beat a criminal suspect who had allegedly stolen the officer’s mobile telephone.
In addition, the Department recorded that On March 29, 2022, the Ministry of Justice dismissed four senior LNP officers – Deputy Commander Amos Williams, Inspector Otis Wallace, Sergeant George Wleh, and Humphrey Karhn – for allegedly beating civilians in Monrovia.
There were also reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents. One of the cases highlighted involved an LNP Officer Lydia Garga Flomo, who alleged in a February 7 radio interview that she was raped by Deputy Police Commissioner Joshua During in late 2021 in his office at LNP headquarters. This case was widely reported in the local media. The survivor, Flomo threatened to commit suicide out of frustration that she is being denied justice.
Though he denied the allegation, During was suspended, but after a lengthy investigation, he was reinstated in his position. In May, the Ministry of Justice agreed to prosecute During after the INCHR successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to compel his prosecution. But the Department reported that at year’s end, there was no action on the Supreme Court’s order to proceed with the case. Another case involved Harper City Solicitor Thomas Togba Kun, who was arrested and charged for a May 6 sexual assault of a woman law client.
The report also noted that impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The reported quoted observers as saying there were some security force members who believed they were above the law and were aided by a judicial system that rarely convicted and punished abusive officers.
Freedom of Expression
The report noted that people could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but government officials used the threat of civil defamation suits to place limits on free expression, and self-censorship was widespread as a result.
The report captured the sanctioning of three Government officials On August 15, 2022. 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. Though these three subsequently resigned in September, the government continues to ignored calls for their prosecution.
Violence and Harassment
There were several incidents where journalists were harassed by state security.
The report captured the incident in Lofa where unknown perpetrators caused extensive damage to a radio station 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.
Citing the Committee to Protect Journalists, it flagged the June 29, 2022 incident where 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.
Further in the report, the State Department said although generally journalists were able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid harassment.
“Some but not all media outlets avoided criticizing government officials due to fear of legal sanction and potential loss of government advertising, which, according to the Press Union, was the largest source of media revenue. Other outlets, but not all, avoided addressing sensitive human rights topics such as female genital mutilation/cutting.
There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to cover their events. Some media outlets and broadcasters reportedly charged fees to publish articles or to speak on radio programs.”