Bartholomew B. Colley, acting chairperson of the Independent Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), has threatened to go after any security personnel, be they police or officers of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), who violates the rights of civilians.
“We will go after you if you violate our laws by failing to properly protect the civilian population and their respective property in the case of conflict,” Colley warned.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear how the entity plans to accomplish this as it lacks the power to prosecute, and rather exposes rights violators.
However, Colley said the INCHR will follow up on, investigate, and look for all available remedies to seek redress by prosecuting any security officer that violates the rights of the civilian population, “whether they are armed personnel or any other officers, we will ensure to follow them to the end.”
Colley’s warning was contained in his welcome remarks at a one day stakeholder national conference held yesterday at a resort in Monrovia on the protection of civilians (POC) in Liberia after UNMIL peacekeepers leave the country in March 2018. The INCHR organized yesterday’s forum for security and justice actors on the protection and rights of the civilian population.
The forum was held in line with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2333, Article 11 (a) (i), which mandates UNMIL to protect the civilian population from threats of physical violence within its capacities and areas of deployment, particularly in the event of a deterioration of the security situation that could risk a strategic reversal of peace and stability in the country, without prejudice to the primary responsibility of the Liberian authorities for the security and protection of its population.
Key focus topics discussed included: Protection of Civilians; Legal Considerations; UNPOC Strategy, Roles and Responsibilities; Protection of Civilians: Threats and Response Mechanisms; SGBV and Protection of Civilians; and Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.
The gathering, which brought together 14 officers of the Liberia National Police, 14 Immigration Officers, 15 officers from the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and 10 soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), discussed and reviewed efforts to protect civilians after UNMIL departs the country.
The participating officers are being trained in the basic principles and understanding of POC.
Other participants included four county attorneys, four county gender coordinators, three MOJ and five INCHR staff members.
In reaction to Colley’s threats, AFL Deputy Chief of Staff, Brigadier/General Prince C. Johnson, III, said it was the work of any rights organization, including the INCHR to check and correct the conduct of soldiers and any security personnel for the good of the society.
“This is why in the army, we also have the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with a component that supervises soldiers and also provides lessons for civilian protection,” the Brig/Gen. Johnson said.
Yesterday’s forum builds on the February 2017 workshop on the POC, organized under the auspices of UNMIL, which brought together 20 national and United Nations Country Team actors working in Monrovia.
According to Colley, at the onset of the February workshop, the commission observed that, in the past, most participants believed that POC was the primary responsibility of UNMIL, and that it mainly entailed security personnel’s use of force to protect civilians from acts of violence.
“As UNMIL completes its transition in March next year, a national conference on the United Nations POC Strategy is being proposed so as to provide further understanding of the POC and the state’s responsibility going forward,” Marcel Akpovo, chief of UNMIL-Human Rights and Protection Service, told the participants.
Akpovo said yesterday’s event was also organized with the understanding that various justice and security actor-invitees do have in place their own strategies regarding POC, thus the forum would allow for reflection on the POC and think of ways to strengthen existing programs and policies.
“It is hoped that these discussions will help to identify new strategies to protect civilians threatened by violence and human rights violations,” Akpovo declared.
The forum was organized by authorities of the INCHR with technical support from the Human Rights Protection Service and other sections of UNMIL.