Liberia appears for the first time before the African Commission

For the first time ever, Liberia has appeared before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to report on its human rights record.

The review of Liberia took place before the African Commission in Angola this week, says the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

It follows Liberia’s submission of a report to the Commission on its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, covering the 30-year period from 1982 to 2012.
ISHR says among the most significant developments at the review was an open invitation by the Liberian government for the African Commissioners to make a country visit and provide their human rights expertise.

Clément Voulé, ISHR’s African Commission Advocacy Manager, says the Commissioners indicated they would definitely take up such an invitation.

‘The African Commission actively seeks for States to make open invitations for country visits because they provide an opportunity for constructive input to domestic human rights initiatives,’ he said.

‘What is now important is for the Liberian government to follow up its verbal invitation with a formal one, as quickly as possible.’

However, Mr Voulé says Liberia also attracted criticism for failing to follow the Commission’s guidelines on State reporting.

Commissioner Soyata Maiga said the guidelines were developed to enable the Commissioners to assess the human rights situation in all States on an equal footing, and strongly recommended that Liberia follow these guidelines in its next report.

However, Liberia was praised by some Commissioners for the way it participated in the review, sending a high-level delegation that was able to expand on many of the issues mentioned in the report.

Mr Voulé said the African Commission was displeased by the Liberian government’s moves to increase existing penalties for consensual same-sex behaviour and to outlaw same-sex marriage.

‘Commissioners asked Liberia to refrain from adopting this law, which they saw as part of an increasing trend to undermine principles of non-discrimination and tolerance, most evident in the existing anti-homosexuality legislation in Nigeria and Uganda,’ said Mr Voulé.

‘Commissioner Lawrence Murugu Mute highlighted that the “popular view” should have no weight when it comes to respect for human rights; it is not a valid argument to excuse discrimination and violence.’

The amounts of money at stake in libel cases in Liberia was highlighted as an issue because it acts as a deterrent to freedom of expression, particularly by the media.

The 2010 case against Rodney Sieh, editor in chief of Frontpage Africa, who was fined $1.5 million in a libel case, was raised by a non-governmental organisation as one example.

Mr Voulé said the Commission’s other concerns included restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in Liberia, and a lack of progress in the area of women’s rights.

The African Commission has said it will continue to monitor Liberia’s implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Liberian government is required to update the Commission on its progress in its next report, which must be submitted in 2016.

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