GoL Urged to Abolish Death Penalty

 President George Weah.

A coalition of leading civil and human rights groups has begged the Liberia government to abolish the death penalty, which the country still has as legal form of punishment.

The plea, led by the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia and The Independent Human Rights Investigators, reminds the government that the death penalty does add value to the system of punishing people in conflict with the law.

Rather, the group said it delivers failed justice and the process is marred by cruelty, waste, ineffectiveness, discrimination, and an unacceptable risk of error. For Adama Dempster, the group’s Secretary-General, the death penalty does not accord the convicts a chance to reform or be rehabilitated compared to jail time, as the practice itself is inhumane and flawed.

“We plead with the government of Liberia to put into action its acceptance to abolish the death penalty made to the United Nations Human Rights Council third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2021. Liberia, in its submission, accepted among other recommendations to abolish the death penalty, putting a moratorium on executions,” said Dempster, founding director of the Independent Human Rights Investigators.

“We have learned that nothing can bring back to life a loved one, not even the execution of his or her killer,” he said. “Therefore we call on the government of Liberia to take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdictions and in line with its human rights obligations.” 

Dempster added that there is no criminological justification for the death penalty, which would outweigh the human rights grounds for abolishing it.  He added that the argument that the death penalty is needed to deter crime is not true but negates the internationally accepted penological goal of rehabilitating the offender. 

The government’s 2021 commitment follows a similar one made in May 2015, at which time, the then government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accepted some 20 recommendations on the abolition of the death penalty. But shockingly, according to FIACAT, Liberia has also abstained in every vote on UN General Assembly's resolutions, calling for a universal moratorium on capital punishment with a view to abolish the death penalty.

The International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT) is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) for the defense of human rights, whose mandate is to fight for the abolition of torture and of the death penalty. It was formed on 8 February 1987 under French law and is based in Paris, France. 

And while Liberia’s 1986 Constitution of Liberia guarantees the right to life of all persons within the territory of Liberia, it did not implicitly imply that capital punishment could be considered unconstitutional.  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. 

The law also provided that a person convicted of one of the above offenses and who raped or attempted to rape his victim or who caused partial or permanent disability to his victim shall be sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of release at the age of 90 years old. 

It is estimated that a total number of 16 persons are on death row since the penalty resurfaced in 2008.  Liberia had earlier ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2005, but reintroduced the death penalty in 2008 -- the only country in the world to have reversed its position following accession to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. 

The optional protocol calls for state parties to place a moratorium on the application of the death penalty and work towards its abolition. And despite Liberia’s reversal, the last death penalty carried out was in 2000, and the last known death sentences:  were rendered in 2016 for murder by the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Kakata, Margibi County. 

Meanwhile, the Coalition, through Dempster, however, believes that Liberia will join Sierra Leone as the 24th country to abolish the death penalty on the African continent and the 111th country in the world to abolish the death penalty.  On October 8, 2021, Sierra Leone became the 23rd country in Africa to have abolished the law.