By David A. Yates and Judoemue M. Kollie
A recently released US State Department’s Human Rights Report has linked Liberia to massive human rights abuses and corrupt practices, covering the year 2020.
The human rights issues and corrupt practices highlighted in the report include arbitrary killings by police which include cases of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary detention by government officials, serious problems with the independence of the judiciary and serious restrictions on freedom of the press, and among others.
The US annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices –cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.
The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.
The report is published barely two weeks when there is speculation that the U.S government is intending to take some serious measures against officials of the Liberian government who are engaged in constant human rights violation and the misuse of public resources to the detriment of the Liberian citizens.
The report released on Tuesday, March 30, amongst other things, cites the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Abraham Tumbay by police, the flogging of fallen Liberian journalist Zenu Miller by presidential guards of President George M. Weah.
The report also captured other issues such as harsh and life-threatening prison conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. It also exposed Liberian police officers to sometimes requesting money to effect arrests for prosecuting authorities.
Regarding civil liberties, the report said while the constitution provides for freedom of speech, government officials use civil, libel, and slander laws to place limits on freedom of speech; and self-censorship is widespread. Radio stations avoided criticizing government officials due to fear of legal sanctions and potential loss of government advertising.
Additionally, according to the report, the Liberian law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
“The mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption among public officials. In March, President Weah appointed the out gone Chairman of the LACC, Ndubuisi Nwabudike, as Chairman of the National Elections Commission (NEC), ahead of the December 8 midterm senatorial elections. Amid questions surrounding Nwabudike’s Liberian nationality, the President withdrew his nomination to the NEC, but Nwabudike remained the head at the LACC,” the report added.
On June 19, the LNBA announced it had expelled the LACC chairman after establishing that he fraudulently presented himself as a Liberian to obtain membership with the LNBA.
Corruption: Following an investigation by the LACC, on June 2, a grand jury indicted Senate Secretary Nanborlor Singbeh, as well as former officials of the National Investment Commission, for defrauding two Czech investors of approximately five million dollars in a gravel production business. Singbeh was charged with economic sabotage, theft of property, forgery, and criminal conspiracy.
Singbeh allegedly used his position to obtain a government investment incentive package, which he used unlawfully to import vehicles and equipment for personal gain. On June 29, court officers of Criminal Court C arrested Singbeh. The case remained pending before the court at year’s end.
In June 2019 a grand jury indicted 10 persons, including House of Representatives Edward W. Karfiah and Josiah M. Cole, following an investigation by the LACC into corruption related to the construction of the Bong County Technical College.
According to the press release, the individuals were accused of using fraud to embezzle approximately $2.7 million in county development funds.
According to media reports, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, was listed in documents as owning 7.5 percent of the company contracted to build the college; Tyler was Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time of the alleged scheme, and funds from the national budget were allocated to the project despite a lack of visible progress.
The report also highlights harassment of newspapers and radio owners by government officials as well as individuals journalists because of their political opinions and reporting.
Regarding transparency in government, the US government said, Liberia has failed to implement laws targeting bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage. It noted that government officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Meanwhile, the government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism is expected to provide an official response on the US State Department 2020 Human Rights Report on Liberia at its regular MICAT press briefing today.