Captures Weak Justice System, Use of Excessive Force, Harmful Traditional Practices, Torture as Issues Confronting Liberia
Rescue Alternatives Liberia (RAL) has released its 2020 Human Rights Situation Report (HRSR) as part of its efforts to update the citizens of Liberia and the international community on the human rights landscape of Liberia.
The report was released in Monrovia on Tuesday April 6, 2021. During the year under review, RAL says it intensified monitoring and documentation of human rights abuses and violations in the country prior to the spreading of the COVID-19 which devastated all sectors.
RAL is a registered and recognized criminal justice system reform; death penalty abolition and anti-torture advocacy group established in 1994. The group is a member of several national, regional and international networks/coalitions, including Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG); Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (LICHRD); West Africa Human Rights Defenders Networks (WAHRDN); Pan African Human Rights Defenders Networks (PAHRDN); The World Coalition against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture (IRCT).
The organization says it coordinated and collaborated with community members, prison authorities, security actors and other relevant institutions to collect information on human rights implication of the pandemic.
Throughout the exercise, RAL added that its monitors monitored print and electronic media and follow-up issues raised in the media to ascertain the authenticity of the media reports.
The report catalogued and documented cases of human rights abuses and violations in the country including torture, death penalty, rape, security excessive use of force, corruption in the courtrooms, mob justice amongst others.
The report also captured the lack of political will of the government to honor its regional and international treaty obligations. Liberia has since signed, ratified and accepted regional and international human rights instruments to be domesticated into national laws for the promotion and protection of human rights in Liberia.
One of the major challenges confronting Liberia’s recovery and development era is the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice apparatuses according to Rescue Alternatives Liberia. RAL reminded Liberia and partners that the criminal justice system is set up to be the platform to peacefully resolve conflicts. But the report says it has become a “no go zone” for residents, especially indigent persons to seek redress.
“The system is corrupt to favoring the prominent (in power) and worthy, and not community-friendly given the rise in violence. The most serious human rights abuses are those tied to a lack of justice; judicial inefficiency and corruption; lengthy pretrial detention; denial of due process and harsh prison conditions. All prisons are deplorable, while Correction Officers are overwhelmed with prolonged pre-trial detainees and prison overcrowdings, making their job very difficult,” RAL said in the report.
The report also said the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation (BCR), has huge funding challenges with prison operations. The BCR is working in partnership with donor agents, including the UNDP and other institutions that are buttressing government’s efforts in providing services to inmates in order to meet minimum standard.
“Prison Health has challenges of limited and delay in supply of drugs from the Ministry of Health, which has the responsibility to provide healthcare to inmates. Out of the 16 prisons in the country, 6 prisons have clinics; except for the Monrovia Central Prison that has assigned personnel, the rest are receiving commuting health personnel,” the report added.
The report says despite the training acquired by security personnel through the support of government, regional and international partners, some of them in the country are yet to graduate from the use of excessive force when executing their duties.
During the year under review, RAL said many persons became victims of security use of excessive force especially, during the COVID-19 period at which time government declared State of Emergency (SOE) to contain the virus.
At the same time, the report says the court system is corrupt to favoring the prominent (in power) and worthy, and not community-friendly given the rise in violence. RAL says the alleged corruption in the court rooms is highly contributing to lack of justice; judicial inefficiency and denial of due process, coupled with prolonged pre-trial detention and prison overcrowdings.
It says harmful traditional practices are on the increase in Liberia despite the country signing and ratifying regional and international treaties and protocols. Some of the practices monitored during the year under review include forced and early marriage; female genital mutilation; administration of justice through ordeal. RAL said these practices led to untold story for victims.
Another major challenge face by Liberia is the increase in sexual and gender-based violence. From January to May 2020, the country recorded 900 cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
The fight against the use of narcotic drug in Liberia according to the organization is far from achieving due to the alleged unwillingness of the appropriate security agencies to arrest and prosecute drug dealers.
The organization has captured that the practice of torture is common. It alleged that the practice is usually carried out by state security, private security guards, traditional groups and concession companies among others.
RAL says mob violence is widely practice in Liberia. And this is a result of the sour relationship between the citizens, law enforcement officers and the courts. The citizens prefer mob violence than taking an accused to the police station and subsequently the court because, they feel that taking an accused to the police station or the court is waste of money and time as they regard the police and the court corrupt.
Meanwhile, the organization is recommending that law enforcement officers be paid attractive salaries and incentives and be provided with more logistics for smooth operation. Rescue Alternatives Liberia also wants more engagements with citizens and criminal justice actors to be carried out by the Ministry of Justice and civil society actors for the protection of lives and properties and human rights.
“That the Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation be given an autonomous status to better the conditions of prisons and detainees. That government should legally punish officers who will compromise the issue of narcotic drugs in the country. That National Legislature pass a legislation that criminalizes the use of ordeal which is a form of torture. That government honors its regional and international obligations by criminalizing torture and abolishing death penalty in the country,” Rescue Alternatives Liberia recommended.