Judiciary Slammed

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    In 2014 US Human Rights Report on Liberia
    • Judges Accepted Bribes for Awarding Damages, Releasing and Finding Defendants ‘not Guilty’
    • LACC received 26 cases, investigated 11 cases, and recommended seven cases for prosecution
    • The Executive failed to act on GAC reports despite legislative endorsement
    • National Chronicle newspaper an example of violence and harassment for alleged beating of its staff and the paper’s subsequent closure.

    The US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has published its 2014 report highlighting corruption, an inefficient justice system, pretrial detentions and police harassment to be among many rights abuses in Liberia.
    Some judges, according to the report, accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases.

    “Judges sometimes requested bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable rulings from or to appease judges, prosecutors, jurors, and police officers.”

    The report also points out denial of due process and harsh prison conditions, violence, child labor, intimidation of detainees, official corruption and arbitrary arrests and detention as other abuses by the Liberian Government.

    On the scale of corruption in government, the Report indicated that government dismisses some officials for corruption, while it forwards others for prosecution.
    It noted that officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

    Low pay for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability exacerbated official corruption and a culture of impunity.

    “The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the Ministry of Justice are responsible for exposing and combating official corruption. The LACC is empowered to prosecute any case it refers to the Ministry of Justice and which the Ministry declines to prosecute within 90 days. Underfunding, understaffing, and judicial bottlenecks hampered the LACC’s ability to act on its own initiative,” the report said.

    During the year LACC received 26 cases, investigated 11 cases, and recommended seven cases for prosecution, the report noted.

    The cases LACC recommended to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution included 13 current and former government officials, including T. Nelson Williams II, Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation ; Clemenceau Urey, former board chair of the National Oil Company of Liberia; Miatta Beyslow, former Minister of Commerce and Industry; Milton Teahjay, Superintendent of Sinoe County; David Kortie, publisher of Flash Point newspaper; and Jusufu S. Keita, Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Public Works.

    While the report acknowledges government’s effort in taking steps to ensure transparency and accountability by setting up integrity institutions including the General Auditing Commission (GAC), it said ministries and agencies of government had been audited and reports sent to the National Legislature, but the Executive had not acted on them despite legislative endorsement.

    The report further states that human trafficking, racial and ethnic discrimination, mob killings and ritualistic killings were documented about Liberia in 2014.

    Impunity remains a serious problem despite intermittent and limited government attempts to investigate, prosecute and punish officials who committed violations, whether by security forces or elsewhere in the government, according to the report.

    Although there were no reports about government engagement in arbitrary or unlawful killing, the death of a man at a police checkpoint near the ELWA Junction, the alleged beating, abuse, harassment and intimidation of citizens by police and other officers are recorded against the government in the report.
    The report further notes that the Liberian Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrests and detentions, however, it is alleged that government did not always observe these prohibitions.

    Citizens continued to be arbitrarily arrested, assaulted, and detained, the report indicated, citing the example of a lawmaker who assaulted a public relations officer of a county superintendent at the Capitol Building during a personal quarrel.

    Media practitioners are reported to have been targeted for political reasons while mob violence continued to be widespread, partly because many citizens lack confidence in the justice system.

    Regarding discrepancy in the Liberia National Police (LNP), the 2014 report noted with emphasis that the Police Support Unit (PSU) and the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) are preferentially treated with some level of dignity while the ordinary LNP officers remain poor with the least support from government.

    “The Constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, however, judges and magistrates were subject to influence and corruption. Uneven application of the law and unequal distribution of personnel and resources remained problems throughout the judicial system,” the report said.

    On the conduct of the media, the report noted that newspapers commonly accepted fees to publish press releases or other favorable articles and those wishing to suppress information also made payments to newspapers not to print stories on particular topics.

    The report also noted that media outlets rarely checked the accuracy of articles.

    The report also underscored that violence and harassment were occasionally perpetrated against newspaper and radio station owners. It cited the National Chronicle newspaper as an example for the alleged beating of its staff and the paper’s subsequent closure.

    Meanwhile, the report further indicated that despite interventions of international community to empower the Ministry of Gender and Children Protection, rape, gender based violence, child labor, amongst others, remain serious challenges in the Liberian society.

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