Liberia: Concerns over accountability of war crimes and other human rights violations

Human Rights Committee's 123rd session - July 2018

A worker for The Women in Peacebuilding Network informs a market vendor about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Photo credit: www.ozy.com

The fourth periodic report of Liberia was reviewed by the Human Rights Committee on the 9th and 10th of March 2017. Some of the major issues identified by the Committee include the impunity of past human rights violations and the prevalence of harmful traditional practices against women. The Committee duly noted that Liberia is undergoing a period of transition with the election, 6 months ago, of a new President.

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"We as a government and as a people recognize that there are several challenges[...]in honoring our international treaties obligations."

- Deputy Minister Juah Nancy Cassell, Head of the Liberian Delegation

Impunity of past human rights violations

The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made significant progress in the transitional justice efforts, however many of its recommendations have yet to be implemented. For instance, none of the alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the TRC report, has been brought to justice and reparations to victims of war crimes have not been fully observed.

The Committee was concerned with the provisions of article 97 of the Liberian Constitution. Indeed, the article prohibits prosecuting any People's Redemption Council member for the overthrow of the Tolbert administration, which comes in direct contradiction with the recommendations of the TRC on accountability regarding human rights violations. In light of this, the Committee asked the delegation if it was considering addressing these aforementioned issues, by bringing to justice those responsible for past war crimes.

The Delegation made it clear that it is well aware of these shortcomings but reassured the Committee that steps will be taken in the near future, provided there are sufficient funds, to fully comply with the TRC recommendations.

Female genital mutilation and ritualistic killings

The Committee was concerned by reports that the practice of female genital mutilation (FMG) is still highly prevalent in Liberia. It has also been brought to the attention of the Committee that ritualistic killings are still performed in rural areas. The Committee questioned the delegation as to whether the government was considering implementing a zero tolerance policy on FMG.

The delegation, in response to the Committee’s concerns, stated that it will commit to extending  executive order number 92, which prohibits FGM, until a law prohibiting the procedure is enacted. However, this executive order allows for the possibility of performing FGM with an adult’s consent.

Regarding sacrificial killings, the delegation indicated that although punishable by law, are hard to discourage due to long-standing tradition. Nevertheless, the State assured the Committee that all of those who participate in these killings will be prosecuted and that awareness-raising campaigns will be launched.

Discrimination against LGBTI persons

The Committee deplores the lack of protection of LGBTI persons, who are routinely discriminated against. The Committee also highlighted reports of hate speech and violence against LGBTI persons, in particular by police officers.

The Committee asked the delegation if legislative reforms were to be expected to further ensure the rights of LGBTI persons. Voluntary sodomy for instance, is considered a misdemeanor under chapter 14 Section 14.74 of the Penal law. Additionally, the Committee asked what other measures are envisaged by the State to combat discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons.

Although the delegation did not express any intention to decriminalise voluntary sodomy, it assured the Committee that this law is not enforced. It also indicated that the State has trained 100 police officers on LGBTI rights and is considering incorporating the issue into the police curriculum.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Within two years, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Impunity and past human rights violations

  • Establish a process of accountability for past gross human rights violations and war crimes that conforms to international standards
  • Ensure the independence and expertise of the judiciary, victims access to justice, due process and fair trial guarantees, and witness protection.
  • Ensure that all alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes are impartially prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted and punished in accordance with the gravity of the acts committed, regardless of their status or any domestic legislation on immunities
  • Remove any persons who have been proven to be involved in gross human rights violations and war crimes from official positions
  • Implement the TRC recommendations and consider establishing a well-resourced body, comprising government representatives, the National Independent Commission on Human Rights and civil society organisations, to monitor the implementation of those recommendations
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive reparations scheme for all victims of gross human rights violations and war crimes
  • Redouble efforts aimed at fostering reconciliation and sustaining peace, with the participation of victims and their families as well as civil society organisations

Administration of justice and fair trial

  • Pursue efforts to reform the justice system and ensure that all court proceedings are conducted in full observance of due process guarantees set forth in article 14 of the Covenant
  • Effectively address the court backlog, including by strengthening financial resources allocated to the judiciary and increasing the availability of trained judges, prosecutors and public defenders, also by reducing registration fees for lawyers
  • Take measures to curb incidents of corruption within the judiciary and ensure that disciplinary procedures to unethical judges and magistrates are duly applied
  • Expedite the revision process of the Constitution provisions that adversely affect the independence of the judiciary
  • Ensure that the appointment, promotion, and removal of judges is compatible with the independence of the judiciary and free from executive interference
  • Create an adequately-resourced legal aid system and ensure that free legal aid is provided in a timely manner
  • Ensure the right to a fair trial without undue delay
  • Provide for free interpretation for all defendants who do not understand or speak the language used in court

Customary land

  • Accelerate the adoption of the Land Rights Bill and ensure that it provides for equal land and property rights for women and men and eliminate barriers restricting women’s access, use, ownership, and control of the land, including in concession areas
  • Guarantee, in law and practice, that genuine consultations are conducted with local communities occupying customary lands, including women, prior to concluding concession agreements with a view to obtaining free prior and informed consent of local communities, and that such communities can benefit from development projects carried out on their lands, and are provided adequate compensation
  •  Ensure that private companies carrying out development projects implement corporate social responsibility policies supported by effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms

 

Liberia's next periodic report is due by 27 July 2022.

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