Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Liberia
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Publication Date||18 June 2009|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Liberia, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f300cc.html [accessed 25 April 2015]|
2008 witnessed some positive developments in the fight against impunity in Liberia, as cases involving Liberian officials responsible for crimes committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone were addressed in 2008 by foreign and international jurisdictions. At the end of 2008, the trial of Mr. Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, was still ongoing before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague,1 while Chuckie Taylor, Mr. Charles Taylor's son, was tried on October 30, 2008 in the United States and found guilty of torture and related crimes committed while serving as the head of the former Liberian President's Anti Terrorist Unit.
At the national level, there was also some formal progress in the fight against impunity but obstacles remained. On January 8, 2008, the public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission2 (TRC) were officially opened.3 On November 30, 2008, the TRC published a list of 198 names of individuals suspected of having perpetrated war crimes and other serious human rights violations between 1979 and 2003, and called on these individuals to appear before it to respond to the allegations.4 However, individuals holding senior positions made it publicly clear that they would not cooperate and would oppose stringent resistance to the TRC and its recommendations, thus undermining the impact of this list. Human rights organisations continued to denounce the impunity of high authorities such as senators also before domestic courts and the weakness of the judicial system.
In addition, despite the progress being made by the TRC, Liberia was still plagued by ethnic tensions that cut across many segments of the society. The prevalence of law and order incidents, including mob justice and random violence, which have become a major national security concern, underlines the tenuous state of the security situation in the country.5
In 2008, the Government continued to pursue its programme of political and constitutional reforms as well as national reconciliation including the appointment of a Governance Commission to make recommendations to the legislature. However, journalists and human rights defenders denouncing bad governance remained subject to reprisals. For instance, in Grand Gedeh county, in February 2008, Smile FM radio station was temporarily closed following an action by the Office of the County Superintendent. This action seems to be a reprisal as it followed action taken by the same Superintendent and his office only a few months earlier in October 2007 to interrupt radio broadcasting following discussions organised by civil society and aired on the radio station accusing Government officials of mismanaging funds and bad governance practices.6 In May 2008, the Parliament adopted a law for the establishment of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission following requests made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to address endemic corruption in the country. In September, the President appointed the commissioners and chairman. This decision was criticised by civil society who had been part of the process of passing the bill but was not consulted for the nomination of Commissioners. The Commission does not include members of civil society showing the lack of will to have an independent body. Civil society organisations also continued to ask for the establishment of an Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR).7
Harassment of defenders fighting against impunity and defending the rule of law
According to the UN Secretary General's report, although the human rights situation in the country continued to improve, the weakness of rule of law institutions still impeded the protection of human rights.8 Therefore, defenders engaging in the fight against impunity still faced harassment from both State and non-State actors. For instance, on October 10, 2008, Senator Kupee threatened the Director of Liberia Watch for Human Rights, Mr. Thompson Ade-Bayor, after he had attended several talk shows on radio and television and asked for justice to be made in the murder on February 11, 2008 of a young managed 15, in Zorzor district, Lofa county. Liberia Watch said it had in its possession pictures and documents linking Senator Kupee to the death. Despite the police warrant of arrest and several demonstrations asking that Senator Kupee be brought to court, the Ministry of Justice continued to protect the Senator. In a letter dated September 30, 2008, Liberia Watch reminded the Ministry that nobody was above the laws of Liberia. It also called on the President to put an end to this situation of impunity.9 On November 11, 2008, during a demonstration in Lofa county asking for justice on the occasion of the visit of the President, Senator Kupee also accused Liberia Watch of "mobilising the people". At the end of 2008, he had still not appeared before a court.
Furthermore, a number of human rights defenders who engaged in the promotion of the rule of law in different communities of the Grand Gedeh county also faced threats in 2008. As an example, on April 10, 2008 a rule of law workshop conducted by animators of the Carter Centre and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia for members of Sentrue village, Konobo district, was interrupted by one of the elders who threatened to bring the "country devil" to the session because he did not agree with the message conveyed by the animators. This resulted in all the participants fleeing the workshop. By the end of April 2008, the animators had been unable to continue their activities in the communities.10
1 See Liberia Watch for Human Rights. The Special Court for Sierra Leone is an ad hoc court established in 2002 through an agreement between the United Nations and the Sierra Leonean Government. The court's mandate is to "prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law" committed in Sierra Leone and also violations of Sierra Leonean law committed in the country. The alleged crimes committed by Mr. Taylor cover murdering and mutilating civilians, using women and girls as sex slaves, abducting adults and children, and forcing them to perform forced labour or become fighters during Sierra Leone's conflict.
2 Appointed in February 2006, the TRC is mandated to investigate gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law as well as abuses that occurred during the period from January 1979 to October 14, 2003.
3 See United Nations Mission in Liberia, Report on the Human Rights Situation in Liberia, November 2007 – June 2008.
4 See Amnesty International Press Release, December 5, 2008. So far the court has heard 84 witnesses and prosecution has indicated that there are fewer than 10 witnesses left to testify when the Court resumes work on January 12, 2009.
5 See UN Security Council, Document S/2008/553, Seventeenth progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia, August 15, 2008.
6 See United Nations Mission in Liberia, Report on the Human Rights Situation in Liberia, November 2007 – June 2008.
7 Although the act establishing the INCHR was enacted and came into force in 2005, the Commission has remained inoperative due to the continued delay in the appointment of its commissioners.
8 See UN Security Council, Document S/2008/553, Seventeenth progress report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia, August 15, 2008.
9 See Liberia Watch for Human Rights.
10 See United Nations Mission in Liberia, Report on the Human Rights Situation in Liberia, November 2007 – June 2008.