Liberia Without Human Rights Violations?

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The Liberian Delegation addresses the UNHRC's Univeral Periodic Review

Justice Minister Dean tells UNHRC that the country has been “calm and peaceful since 2015.

By Hannah N. Geterminah

As the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) commences review of Liberia’s human rights records, Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean has said that since 2015 Liberia continues to be “calm and peaceful with no human rights violations.” However, human rights defenders and Civil Society Organizations in Liberia have a much less rosy perspective about the statement presented by the government about the issues of human rights across the country.

Dean said every incident bordering on abuse or violation of human rights, under the laws of Liberia and international instruments to which Liberia is signatory, is routinely investigated, those responsible charged, prosecuted and punished consistent with the law.

Minster Dean, head of Liberia’s six-member delegation presenting Liberia’s third Cycle National Report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) via zoom conference in Monrovia on Monday, November 2, 2020, said since 2015, Liberia has no reports of persistent patterns of human rights violation with impunity.”

“There are no political prisoners in Liberia,” the Justice Minister said.

Minister Dean told the international community that in the implementation of the recommendations, the Government adopted a National Human Rights Action, into which it incorporated all the recommendations it accepted; and constituted a Steering Committee comprising representatives from the line ministries and agencies of Government.

One of the questions that had been posed earlier has to do with the death penalty law that the international community has been pressing on Liberia to abolish.

According to Minister Dean, “Liberia still maintains its ‘abolitionist by practice’ stance on the death penalty, which translates into a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1990 and moving toward a de jure abolition in due course, consistent with the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, signed in 2004 and ratified in 2005.”

On the issue of harmful practices against women, Minister Dean said: “Over the past several years, the Government, in close collaboration with non-state actors, has engaged in sustained public education and awareness of the harmful effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful traditional practices, with the view to laying the foundation for attitudinal change and paving the way for law reform. 

However, harmful traditional practices that border on human rights violations, such as “Trial by Ordeal” have been criminalized, Dean told the international community.

Dean disclosed that in terms of promoting free speech, the government is in compliance with the “Table Mountain Declaration,” noting that “The Government of Liberia in 2018 repealed Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978 on criminal libel against the President; Section 11.12 on Sedition and 11.14 on Criminal Malevolence, which led to the passage into law of the Kamara Abdullai Kamara (KAK) Act of 2019 for Press Freedom, to promote free speech, expression, independence and safety of the Liberian press.”

However, on many occasions in the Weah Administration journalists have been beaten with their equipment damaged. In recent days in Gbarnga, a journalist was discovered dead from what eye-witnesses consider as “Bullet wounds,” and all local radio stations in Bong County have ceased regular broadcast until Police investigate and establish the cause of death of the community radio journalist.

While Minister Dean is of the opinion that the country is calm without any human rights report, the Liberian government, after a three-day protest against increasing rape cases and sexual and gender-based violence, declared rape a “National Emergency” under pressure from the citizens.

Police brutality has also been on the increase with students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System brutalized a year ago while protesting against salary arrears owed their teachers for which they could not come to class. During the recent protest in Monrovia against rape, police again brutalized the peaceful protesters.  It can also be recalled that in Kingsville, Montserrado County last year police killed a child during a protest carried out by residents of that area due to rampant ritual killing and the arrest of a resident who the protesters claim was not given justice.  At the Temple of Justice, the police also brutalized several aggrieved workers whose salaries have not been paid for 12 months.

In a stern reaction to Minister Dean’s assertions, Adama Dempster, Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Platform of Liberia, says the report does not represent the actual picture on the ground.

“We have given interest and responsibility to improve human rights situation on the ground; we have to be honest in dealing with these issues, because the enjoyment of human rights is just not the ordinary citizens, it extends to individuals and others within the border,” Dempster added.”

He expressed disappointment that the government’s presentation did not admit to the unaccounted human rights violations that are occurring in the country ranging from questionable and secret killings of citizens in recent days.

Mrs. Gifty Asmah Lama, Mr. Albert Peters and George F. Fahnboto, three employees of the Liberia Revenue Authority, and Emmanuel Barten Nyeswua, head of the Internal Audit Agency (IAA), died mysteriously in recent times and their remains have been turned over to families for burial without proper investigations.

“So, having listened to the head of delegation, Cllr. Musa Dean, who has said that there have been no human rights violations that have occurred in Liberia, it beats my imagination and that is entirely untrue,” Dempster said.

Liberia is one of the 14 States that is being reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its session taking place from the 2nd of November to 13, 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Speaking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, Dempster, following the submission of the Liberian delegation’s report, said: “The delegation’s failure to even mention its plan or effort towards the implementation of the TRC recommendations, which among other things call for the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia, clearly indicates that the Weah-led Government has not planned to address the culture of impunity.”

He added that “these are important elements of human rights that we think the government should have addressed long since. The head of delegation did not even mention about the TRC report. But we see that under this identical administration, anything about the TRC, the government does not want to talk about it, which also indicates that the government does not have any plan for that.”

Mariam G. Deah, anti-FGM activist and Head of ‘Restore their Hope Liberia,’ lauded the government for some progress being made but called for more to be done about issues happening across the country.

She said human rights violations are still on the increase, ranging from civil and political rights, which include rights to life and to security.

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