Francis A. Igiriogu, a human rights officer with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has underscored the importance of legal framework in the legislative and and law reform process in Liberia.
Igiriogu made the statement on behalf of the Liberia Country Representative at the opening of a workshop on “Advancing Reconciliation through Legislative Reforms and Civil Engagement; Engagement with Law Reform Commission and Legislators for the Law Reform.”
The workshop brought together stakeholders in the legislative and law reform process in Liberia to discuss issues of law reform, which they said are “very important.”
“We are happy to assist in gathering all of you today for the issues of Law Reform in Liberia. For human rights to be realized in any country, the legal framework of that country plays an important role,” said Mr. Igiriogu.
He added, “When laws are properly made and the present realities on the ground and international human rights standards are reflected in that law, people are more likely to enjoy their rights and liberty.”
Mr. Igirogu said that it is important for relevant actors in the law reform process to meet, discuss and come out with a strategic framework for collaboration.
Said Mr. Igiriogu, “We also think that it is important for collaboration between the Law Reform Commission, and relevant stakeholders in legislative and law reform process. So, we are happy that you are here- the Law Reform Commission, legislators (Senate and House of Representatives), Ministry of Justice, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights INCHR), and Legislative Drafting Bureau.”
He further said that there is need to have strategic collaboration between the Law Reform Commission (LRC), and other stakeholders if the Commission will be able to achieve its mandate.
Mr. Igiriogu assured that “OHCHR will endeavor to support such strategic collaboration between the relevant stakeholders in the Law Reform process of Liberia”
The forum, held from May 23 thru 25, 2019 is a joint program implemented in partnership with the LRC and INCHR, supported by OHCHR with financial support from the United Nations Peace Building Fund.
In his presentation on the mandate of the INCHR and Law Reform Role, INCHR Commissioner, Wilfred Gray-Johnson- stressed the need for the lawmakers to be consulting the relevant agencies before passing bills and laws at the parliament.
Johnson spoke of the bill repealing tenured positions of several institutions, including the INCHR. He said had the INCHR been invited to explain to the lawmakers, the negative impact of the exercise, the lawmakers would not have included INCHR in the bill in the first place.
Mr. Johnson said removal of the tenure of commissioners of the INCHR will greatly undermine the international ‘A’ status the commission currently possess, and will go against the Paris Principle of 1993. The Paris Principle is a set of international standards, which frame and guide the work of National Human Rights Institutions globally. It was adopted in Paris, France by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.
“The House of Representatives passed the bill seeking to cancel tenure for INCHR Commissioners without asking us why we need to have tenure. There are five criteria in the Paris Principle, two of which are autonomy and independence. Now, when you take away the tenure, we are against the Paris Principle, which the Liberian government agreed and signed,” Mr. Johnson said.
He said INCHR reached the A status, “because its enabling Act complies to the Paris Principle due to its independence and other criteria. But if the tenure of the commissioners is removed, the Commission will lose its status during the next review process.”
According to Johnson, having ‘A’ status comes with lots of international recognition, including the INCHR forming part of investigation of human rights issues in other countries around the world.
Senator J. Gblehbo Brown of Maryland County, said the forum is “very helpful” for different actors in legislative and law reform process to know each other, and strategically collaborate to improve the system.
Representative Dorwoan T. Gleekia, of Nimba County District #6, said the issue of human rights is “very important,”: but during the past budget, he made efforts to get funding for human rights issues, but his push did not materialize.
“The issue of human rights is very important. We cannot just focus on education, health and others without looking at the rights of people, because if people rights are not respected, all these other activities will not be successful,” the lawmaker said.
Representative Mariamu Fofana, (Lofa County District #4), thanked the organizers of the program for bringing relevant actors in law reform together and also emphasized the need for collaboration among the relevant institutions.
Representative Lawrence Morris blamed the Legislature for having people, who do not have expertise relating to budget issues on the Budget Committee.
“We formulate committees based on interest, sometimes we have people on committees, who do not know about budgeting. We need to clean up our own selves, otherwise it is a joke,” the Montserrado County District #1 observed.