New UN Human Rights Office to open early 2018
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said last Friday that “True peace is never possible if people feel that their desire for justice has not been met. Abominable war crimes were committed in this country, and the perpetrators of the worst crimes should now understand that justice will catch up with them,” warned Gilmour.
Mr. Gilmour was concluding a three-day visit to Liberia. The main purpose of the visit was to establish a UN Human Rights Office in the country, for which an agreement was signed with the Government for the new office to open in early 2018, a press release said yesterday.
At the end of his visit, Gilmore visited the Palava Hut Memorial for victims of the civil war, where he expressed the importance of transitional justice for national reconciliation and called for it to be a paramount concern for the new government following the October elections.
“Liberia has progressed dramatically since my last visit just after the brutal civil war,” Gilmour said at the end of his visit. “That is a tribute to the Liberian people and Government, and to the great efforts of the United Nations Mission in Liberia.”
He observed, however, that the human rights gains are “still precarious, hence the vital need for the UN to continue our support.” Gilmour expressed appreciation to Foreign Affairs Minister Marjon V. Kamara, with whom he signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the new office that will open early next year.
The office will conduct human rights monitoring and reporting, as well as providing technical assistance to state institutions, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, civil society and other partners.
Gilmour highlighted the primary role of the government in promoting and protecting human rights in Liberia. “What we have learned in country after country is that neither peace nor development can be properly sustainable unless they are firmly grounded in human rights,” he said.
The Assistant Secretary-General met with the President of Liberia, cabinet ministers, several leaders of civil society organizations, and foreign ambassadors during his visit.
He expressed serious concern about the continued prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country and urged the government to do far more within its power to discourage this and other harmful traditional practices, such as trial by ordeal, accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings. He underlined Liberia’s international human rights obligations in this regard.
Gilmour also raised the plight of lesbian, gay and transgender people who are subjected to unbearable discrimination and abuse, which must be confronted. He also raised concerns about the rights of people with disabilities. He acknowledged efforts by the government to address sexual violence but stressed that the appalling frequency of rape in Liberia, including of young girls, is partly due to widespread impunity for this crime.
After visiting Monrovia Central Prison, Gilmour praised the work of the wardens but remarked on the very serious issues of overcrowding and insufficient food. A large part of the problem, it was made clear to him, is the high number of people held in pretrial detention owing to the slowness of judicial procedures.
Gilmour also warned against what some are terming as a worrying rise in hate speech as the election season approaches.