U.S. Department of State Releases 2019 Country Report On Human Rights Practices In Liberia

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Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly and a democratically elected government.
The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2017, and legislative by-elections in 2018, which domestic and international observers deemed generally free and fair.
Vacancies in one Senate seat and one House of Representatives seat prompted by-elections on July 29. Soon after, the National Elections Commission (NEC) declared Liberty Party candidate Darius Dillon winner of the Senate race. On August 28, the NEC held a run-off in 20 voting precincts for the House seat, given irregularities in voter registration.
There were incidents of violence during the campaign for the House seat, including stone throwing and property damage. In addition, multiple press outlets reported allegations of an assault on Deputy Police Inspector General Marvin Sackor. On August 28, the NEC declared the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate Abu Kamara the winner.
 
The Liberia National Police (LNP) maintains internal security, with assistance from the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and other civilian security forces. The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities if called upon.
The LNP and LDEA report to the Ministry of Justice while the AFL reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
 
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary killings by police; arbitrary detention by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; substantial restrictions on free expression and the press, including site blocking; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women due to government inaction in some instances, including rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.
 
Impunity for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities during the civil wars that ended in 2003, remained a serious problem.
The government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Security forces and law enforcement officials undertook some training to increase respect for human rights.

Highlights on some of the issues the report captures .

FREEDOMS OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. 

Freedom of Movement : The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Security officials at road checkpoints throughout the country frequently requested bribes, which may have inhibited domestic travel.

Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

In June a grand jury indicted 10 persons, including sitting representatives Edward W. Karfiah and Josiah M. Cole, following an investigation by the LACC into corruption related to construction of the Bong County Technical College.

According to the press release, the individuals were accused of using fraud to embezzle approximately $2.7 million in county development funds. In a press conference after the indictment was announced, Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus said he would keep the indictment sealed pending an investigation. As of November the indictment remained sealed.

According to media reports, former speaker of the House Alex Tyler was listed in documents as owning 7.5 percent of the company contracted to build the college; Tyler was speaker at the time of the alleged scheme, and funds from the national budget were allocated to the project despite a lack of visible progress.

Tyler was not included in the indictment, prompting further questions about transparency and accountability.

Discrimination, Societal Abuses

Sexual Harassment: The Decent Work Act prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but it remained a significant problem at work and in schools.

Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace.

The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Ministry of Education trained school administrators, students, and parents from seven of the 15 counties to identify warning signs and report incidents of sexual harassment and violence in schools.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: By law women may inherit land and property, are entitled to equal pay for equal work, have the right of equal access to education, and may own and manage businesses.

By family law, men retain legal custody of children in divorce cases. In rural areas traditional practice or traditional leaders often did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit land.

Programs to educate traditional leaders on women’s rights, especially on land rights, made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights.

PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

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.

Sign language interpretation was often not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services.

Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, housing, access to all levels of education, and health care. Activists for persons with disabilities reported property owners often refused housing to persons with disabilities. According to NUOD, persons with disabilities were more likely to become victims of SGBV.

OTHER SOCIETAL VIOLENCE OR DISCRIMINATION

The penal code classifies mob violence as a crime. Nevertheless, mob violence and vigilantism, due in part to the public’s lack of confidence in police and the judicial system, were common and often resulted in deaths and injuries.

Although mob violence sometimes targeted alleged criminals, it was difficult to determine underlying reasons, since cases were rarely prosecuted.

In August a mob attacked a group of “zogos”–homeless young men who often have drug problems–for allegedly stabbing a man to death after stealing his cellphone.

According to reports, John Flomo was killed after he was stabbed attempting to recover his cellphone. A number of community members in the Pottery Market area of Paynesville then attacked and injured at least one individual.

Police later announced the arrests of two persons in connection with the attack on Flomo, one charged with murder, and of 12 persons in connection with the retaliatory attacks, one charged with manslaughter.

Details of the report can be found on this link.

https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/liberia/