Although Liberia has gone far in the last 15 years since the end of civil war, the country is still fragile. It is crucial to consolidate inclusive and accountable governance, social cohesion, women empowerment, national dialogue and reconciliation, rule of law, decentralisation and land reform.
The 2017 peaceful electoral process and the successful handover of power in 2018 represented a major milestone for democracy in Liberia. Two by-elections have been organised in 2018 in a generally peaceful atmosphere. President Weah committed himself to maintaining the relatively positive environment for civil and political rights.
Nevertheless, lack of resources hampers the enforcement of legislation intended to protect human rights while in other areas there is a reluctance to challenge traditional practices and attitudes that violate human rights. 2018 saw progress in some areas of human rights and democracy, while in others the situation remained unchanged or even deteriorated. Democratic institutions need to be strengthened and civil society needs to be supported to ensure both the demand for accountability and good governance and the capacity to deliver it.
Concerns remain in the areas of death penalty, enforcement of legislation against child labour and exploitation, as well as access to justice, health and education, lengthy pre-trial detention, poor prison conditions and questions regarding the sound management of Liberia’s significant natural resources. Sexual and gender based violence continues to be a major challenge, and impunity for such acts remains high.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), affecting a significant part of Liberian women and girls, is not prohibited by law, and is perpetuated by secret societies through initiation rites, although President Weah mentioned that he would reintroduce the bill on ‘domestic violence against women’ to the legislature. Same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults is criminalized and there have been attempts to increase penalties.
Liberia’s Constitution protects freedom of expression and the environment for human rights defenders (HRDs) in Liberia is generally benign, although there are incidents of individual harassment and abuse of power by public officials. Groups advocating for LGBTI rights are particularly vulnerable to harassment. Recently the Liberian National Police (LNP) and other security agencies have performed well in handling a number of political rallies and protests in Monrovia, adopting a preventative approach. However, police corruption and heavy-handed behaviour continues to be reported in the context of individual interactions with citizens.
EU action – key focus areas: EU action in Liberia in the areas of human rights and democracy focussed on women’s rights, accountability of parliament, strengthening key autonomous institutions to monitor, enforce and promote good governance, strengthening the capacity of civil society, improving prison conditions and reducing pre-trial detention.
EU bilateral political engagement: The EU Human rights dialogue with Liberia is carried out as part of the EU-Liberia Article 8 Political Dialogue. Topics raised in 2018 included the recommendations of the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM), FGM and gender-based violence, abolition of the death penalty, prison conditions, freedom of the press (decriminalisation of violations of freedom of expression) and the need to deliver on anti-corruption promises.
The EU Delegation regularly participated in meetings of the National Human Rights Action Plan Steering Committee, a joint Government-CSO body responsible for overseeing implementation of Liberia’s Human Rights Action Plan. At the request of LGBTI rights defenders, the EU Delegation and Member States have offered public expressions of support as well as the provision of safe venues for meetings and activities.
In November 2018, a platform of CSOs staged a peaceful march in Monrovia and delivered a statement at the EU Delegation and other Diplomatic Missions in support of the creation of a War Crimes Court to prosecute violators of international human rights laws in Liberia during the recent civil wars. The EU Head of Delegation received the statement and stressed that justice and reconciliation must be a Liberian-led debate and decision.
In terms of public outreach, the EU Delegation and EU Member States participated in various events and activities to mark international human rights days. On 10 October, European and World Day Against the Death Penalty, the EU Delegation supported the School of Law of the University of Liberia to organize a very well attended public debate on Liberia’s legal framework on the death penalty and arguments in support of its abolition.
Official EU Statements on human rights issues were circulated to the local media. On 4 December, the EU Delegation supported a local awareness session on FGM for Traditional Practitioners as a contribution to the Campaign of “16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence”.
Recommendations issued by the EU EOM and other election observation missions deployed for the presidential elections in December 2017 have been reviewed by the National Election Commission (NEC) with a view to identifying a reform agenda for the period 2019-2023. The EU participates in the technical working group of actors providing support to the NEC.
EU financial engagement: “Good governance”, including support for the electoral process, is a focal sector for the “National Indicative Programme” which is the basis of cooperation agreed with the Government of Liberia until 2020. Practical support to address human rights concerns is provided through specific projects in areas including women’s rights, children’s rights and the justice sector.
European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) projects in Liberia in 2018 concerned work with local CSOs to promote inclusive participation of people in defending their rights, community based protection mechanisms for reducing sexual violence affecting women, girls and sexual minorities across 8 communities, work with key security and justice institutions to increase their awareness of Freedom of Information and transparency obligations, adoption and application of Freedom of Information curricula in key training institutes of the public sector, and enhancing the rule of law and the respect of the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable prisoners in Liberia.
In the framework of programmes in favour of non-state actors, three projects in 2018 supported access to land and land rights. In partnership with Sweden, the EU provided support to improving electoral institutions and processes. Other projects provided support to the decentralisation process as well as to the General Auditing Commission.
Multilateral context: Liberia has ratified the main international human rights instruments, but a number of these are yet to be integrated into domestic law. The Ministry of Justice is leading the process to follow up on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations of May 2015.
In 2018, the government continued to take steps to address its backlog of reporting on human rights instruments, supported by UNMIL/UNDP. Liberia issued its first report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 11 years overdue.
The Review Session of the ICCPR by the UN Human Rights Committee was followed in August 2018 by concluding observations raising concerns about the lack of implementation of recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, de facto discrimination of individuals belonging to certain vulnerable groups and of LGBTI persons, underrepresentation of women in public affairs, lack of legal prohibition of FGM/C as well as gender-based violence against women, failure to abolish the death penalty, arbitrary arrests and detentions beyond 48 hours, trafficking in human beings, child labour, detention conditions, backlog of court cases, as well as the existence of defamation and libel provisions in the penal code.
Credit: Smart News