Last Updated: Monday, 20 October 2014, 09:33 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Liberia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Liberia, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3610.html [accessed 20 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
LIBERIA

 

Although the first 8 months of 1995 saw a continuation of civil war, a new peace accord signed in Abuja, Nigeria on August 19 offered some hope that the 6-year conflict would end. The factions signing the Abuja Accord included: the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), two ethnic subfactions--Krahn and Mandingo--of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), and a coalition of anti-NPFL forces comprised of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), the Lofa Defense Force, and a breakaway-NPFL group called the Central Revolutionary Council. A cease-fire agreed to in the new accord went into effect August 26, and a new Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG-II, the successor to the LNTG-I) was inaugurated on September 1. A six-person Council of State--three members representing the warring factions and three representing civilians--began filling government positions in September.

Under the Abuja Accord timetable, the Economic Community of West African States Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and the U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) were to deploy into areas previously controlled by the factions, starting in October. ECOMOG's deployment was delayed, however, due to logistical problems. ECOMOG did begin further deployment in December but temporarily halted this process when its troops were attacked by rebels near Tubmanburg, Bomi county, at the end of the year.

The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) remained largely inactive, although they did man checkpoints near the Schiefflin Camp on the Monrovia-Buchanan highway. The AFL as an institution was not identified with human rights abuses, but many AFL soldiers were recruited into the LPC.

The Liberian National Police (LNP), which reports to the Ministry of Justice, together with the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Special Security Services (reporting directly to the LNTG) also have responsibility for internal security, but they lacked the resources and training to function effectively. In the spring, the LNP established a special operations department, composed of a task force and rapid response unit to combat soaring crime in Monrovia. While civilian authorities generally maintained control of these groups, there were instances in which individual members acted independently of governmental authority and committed human rights abuses.

ECOMOG was the key military force supporting the LNTG-II, as for all previous interim governments. At the end of 1995 ECOMOG was composed of approximately 7,200 troops from six West African countries; over half were Nigerian. ECOMOG is supported primarily by nations who have contributed troops. ECOMOG has in effect acted as the interim governments' security force. In addition, absent an effective central government, it assumed many police powers in areas under its control. ECOMOG also continued its humanitarian role and maintained a protective cordon around the cities of Monrovia and Buchanan where 1.2 million people (almost half of the country's population) live. There were reports that a few ECOMOG soldiers committed human rights abuses such as arbitrary detentions.

The economy, ravaged by civil war, remained in severe disarray. Prior to 1990 it was based primarily on iron ore, rubber, timber, diamond, and gold exports. Eighty to 90 percent unemployment, massive displacements of civilians, and wanton destruction and looting devastated productive capacity, despite the country's rich natural resource endowments and potential self-sufficiency in agriculture. Gross domestic product was estimated to be less than one-fifth of its prewar level.

The war has taken a horrendous toll on civilians. Of a prewar population of 2.8 million, 150,000 people have been killed, 750,000 have fled the country, and 1.2 million are internally displaced. The media, eyewitnesses, human rights monitoring groups, and international observers all reported flagrant disregard for human rights by the 40,000 to 60,000 fighters in the major factions. The factions looted and burned villages; used excessive force; engaged in arbitrary detentions and impressment, particularly of children under the age of 18; employed forced labor; committed torture, individual and gang rape, summary executions, mutilations, and cannibalism.

Massive emergency operations by the United Nations, as well as by other Western relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) brought subsistence-level humanitarian aid to people living in the ECOMOG protective-cordon around Monrovia and Buchanan. Continued fighting and attacks on civilians and humanitarian relief conveys prevented regular delivery of humanitarian assistance outside ECOMOG-controlled areas, although sometimes NGO convoys, crossing the borders from Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, or factional lines within the country, managed to deliver food and medical supplies to needy civilians upcountry.

Because of the war, citizens have not been able to elect a representative government. The judicial system continued to be hampered by inefficiency and corruption. Prison conditions were life threatening. There were some attempts to limit freedom of the press and freedom of association. Violence against women is a longstanding problem. The practice of female genital mutilation persists. No progress was made in resolving outstanding incidents of past human rights abuses.

Although the 1985 Constitution, the Penal Code, and the Labor Code remain in effect, because of the civil war the rights provided for in these documents were largely not protected in practice.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of extrajudicial killings by the AFL, LNTG-I, or LNTG-II security forces, but five members of the LNTG-II police were jailed pending internal investigation for the beating death November 18 of a Mandingo merchant.

Although they professed adherence to the rule of law, the leaders of the major warring factions condoned and in some instances seemingly appeared to encourage the murderous savagery that killed or maimed more civilians than combatants (see Section 1.g.). In the many killings committed by the factions, it was often impossible to determine whether they were politically motivated or driven by tribal hatred (see Section 5). One such example is the ritualistic mutilation, murder, and dismemberment of a University of Liberia student, a Mandingo, in Tubmanburg on August 14 by ULIMO-Krahn fighters. After beheading and cannibalizing the young man, soldiers took his body to Lofa Bridge where the Krahns were fighting the Mandingos for control of the diamond mines. The student's mangled body was found outside Tubmanburg 3 days later. ECOMOG soldiers later arrested several ULIMO-Krahn fighters.

The majority of civilian deaths took place during raids on villages (see Section 1.g). There were reports that ULIMO-Mandingo fighters harassed and executed civilians in Lofa county for religious and ethnic reasons.

In late September, during an intra-NPFL dispute, factional fighters murdered civilians in Tappeta and destroyed the town. A number of NPFL commandos were tried in Gbarnga by the NPFL for the Tappeta incidents in November and found guilty. They were released after serving three months of their 12-month sentences.

There were credible reports that George Boley, leader of the LPC faction and member of the LNTG-II, authorized the summary execution of seven of his fighters November 14 for harassment of civilians. Boley did not deny these allegations. Displaced persons reported that factions usually did not hold prisoners, but either released them or shot and killed them on the spot.

No progress was made in the investigation of the December 1994 massacre at DuPont Road on the outskirts of Monrovia in which more than 60 civilians, most of them children, were murdered (see Section 1.d).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance perpetrated by the AFL, LNTG-I or LNTG-II police or security forces, nor by ECOMOG. The major factions were responsible for many unexplained disappearances however, notably by impressment of children (see Sections 1.g., 5, and 6.d.). Many families remained divided by the war. Among those are families living in Monrovia, those located in other parts of Liberia, and those who fled the country. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a family tracing program but, because of the inaccessibility of major sectors of the country through most of the year, located only a small percentage of the missing persons brought to its attention.

Ten ECOMOG soldiers were missing after the ULIMO-Krahn attack in Tubmanburg in December. They are presumed dead.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits torture and other degrading treatment, the factions continued to perpetrate massive abuses. There were no reports of torture by the AFL, LNTG-I or LNTG-II police or security forces, nor by ECOMOG.

Although the Supreme Court ruled that "trial by ordeal" or "sassywood"--commonly, the placement of a burning metal object on a suspect's body to induce confession in a criminal investigation--is unconstitutional, the Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to have licensed agents who subjected suspects to this practice. A lawsuit brought in 1994 for injuries resulting from sassywood is pending before the Supreme Court.

A LNTG-I policeman beat a journalist; authorities did not investigate the incident. Eyewitnesses report that ECOMOG soldiers beat individuals at ECOMOG checkpoints in an effort to curb criminal activity.

All the major factions engaged in torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. After the seating of the LNTG-II Council of State in September, faction leaders and their bodyguards traveling in motor vehicle convoys in Monrovia routinely intimidated and sometimes beat civilians who did not give way fast enough to their processions. NPFL fighters stripped, beat, and tortured civilians at numerous highway checkpoints in the NPFL areas, usually in connection with extortion or other forms of intimidation. In addition, the NPFL was charged by the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) with numerous massacres of civilians (see Section 1.g.). Roving bands of ULIMO-Krahn and ULIMO-Mandingo fighters raided villages in Cape Mount and Bomi counties, pillaging, beating, raping and murdering civilians as they went. LPC fighters were widely accused of beating, torturing, and killing civilians, especially persons suspected of being NPFL sympathizers, and torching their villages. Members of all factions practiced cannibalism (see Section 1.g.). Displaced persons escaping to Buchanan in February claimed that the LPC held 6,000 persons hostage in and around Compound Number 3 and the Liberian Agricultural Company plantation, under the guise of offering them security but in reality using them for forced labor. On February 13, LPC fighters severely manhandled an expatriate NGO nurse and badly beat another NGO's local staff member. At year's end, forced labor reportedly continued in the Southeastern counties, despite George Boley's December 14 order to his LPC/Coalition fighters to prepare to report to assembly sites for disarmament. The warring factions regularly committed violence against women, including individual and gang rape, as in the case of three rapes December 14 near Sinje, Grand Cape Mount county, which were committed either by Mandingo or ULIMO-Krahn fighters.

Neither the LNTG-I nor LNTG-II addressed the life threatening conditions in government jails. There were credible reports of death among prisoners due to starvation. The interim governments did not provide prisoners with adequate food or medical care. Cells were small, crowded, and filthy.

Women, representing 5 percent of the central prison population, were held in separate cells, but there were no separate facilities for juvenile offenders. The LNTG-I and II regularly granted human rights groups access to prisoners in Monrovia, and these groups frequently obtained needed medical treatment for their clients. In a number of cases, the pro bono work of human rights groups and interested individuals resulted in the release of prisoners, many of whom were held for up to 1 year without charge.

The conditions of detention by factions were reportedly even worse. Factions held prisoners in makeshift, substandard facilities and subjected them to various forms of mistreatment, both physical and psychological--including beatings, rape, threatened executions, and "tarbeying" (tying the elbows together behind the back).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and provides for the rights of the accused, including warrants for arrests and the right of detainees to be either charged or released within 48 hours. In practice, Liberian National Police officers, who operate only in the cities of Monrovia and Buchanan, and during part of the year in Tubmanburg, often disregarded these rights and made arbitrary arrests. Many of these officers, who often do not receive their monthly salary of $5, accepted bribes to arrest persons based on unsubstantiated allegations. Approximately 90 percent of the prison population was held without charge for more than 1 year.

ECOMOG soldiers played the major role in policing the greater Monrovia area. Citizens continued to turn to ECOMOG rather than the largely unarmed police force to arrest and detain alleged criminals. ECOMOG regularly turned detainees over to civilian authorities, although the police denied in a year-end dispute that ECOMOG had turned over 11 suspects in the December 1994 Dupont Road massacre. There were unconfirmed reports that ECOMOG coerced confessions from suspects.

There were no known political detainees in the cities of Monrovia and Buchanan.

The factions arbitrarily detained numerous persons and held so-called "prisoners of war" from the AFL and other factions. The NPFL committed repeated arbitrary detentions in its territory where martial law has been in effect since the war began. NPFL fighters had almost unbridled power to make warrantless arrests. They exercised that power often and capriciously, detaining persons on spurious grounds or without charge for periods ranging from several hours to several weeks. Just prior to the seating of the LNTG-II, over 300 children from the Fatima Cottage Orphanage Mission, abducted by Taylor's NPFL forces during "Operation Octopus," were returned from Gbarnga to Monrovia.

Approximately 750,000 citizens, including former political leaders, have fled the country because of the war.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, because of the war the judiciary does not function in most areas of the country. Where it does function, it is in practice subject to political, social, familial, and financial suasion. Under the Constitution, defendants have due process rights conforming to internationally accepted norms of fair trial. Most of these rights, however, were ignored in practice.

The court structure is divided into four levels with the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the LNTG-II, at the apex. Although devastated by years of civil war, all levels of the court system, including the Supreme Court, were functioning in 1995 in Monrovia, although erratically. Corruption and incompetent handling of cases remained a recurrent problem. Although the judiciary was allocated some resources by the interim governments, little progress was made.

Customary law was also used in Monrovia. The Ministry of Internal Affairs subjected persons accused of occult practices and other crimes to "trial by ordeal," submitting defendants to physical pain to adjudicate guilt or innocence (see Section 1.c.).

In the areas controlled by the major factions, there was little pretense of due process; swift judgment was meted out by the faction leaders.

Both ECOMOG and the AFL chief of staff under the LNTG-I issued warnings to lawyers to desist from defending armed robbers.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

While the Constitution provides for these rights, in wartime Liberia LNTG-I and LNTG-II authorities sometimes ignored them. The Constitution provides that police must obtain a warrant or have a reasonable belief that a crime is in progress or is about to be committed before entering a private dwelling. In practice, the police forced entry without a warrant to carry out arrests and investigations. Members of the NSA harassed the director of a well-known human rights organization in July. The director's nephew was detained by police, NSA agents and ECOMOG soldiers July 28 and beaten when he denied knowledge of the director's whereabouts.

The warring factions committed the most egregious abuses, including confiscation, indiscriminate looting, pillaging, and destruction of property. Combatants looted villages, with ULIMO-Krahn and ULIMO-Mandingo factions in Bomi and Cape Mount counties and LPC and NPFL fighters in Southeast counties and elsewhere drawing public outrage. These forces pilfered virtually any item of value and regularly demanded scarce food and personal valuables from already impoverished residents or displaced persons, often robbing them of their clothes and physically abusing them, particularly at checkpoints. Confiscation of private homes and vehicles was common practice.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The major warring factions inflicted considerably more harm on noncombatants than on each other. They deliberately targeted, tortured, and murdered innocent civilians and regularly committed violence against women, children, and the elderly. The four militarily active factions indiscriminately ransacked villages and confiscated scant food supplies.

Displaced persons reported many incidents in which civilians died at the hands of marauding fighters. In March the Catholic

Church's human rights organization, the JPC, published a report charging the NPFL with killing or abducting 2,000 civilians, or 10 percent of the town's population, in its 6-month siege of Bong Mines and raids on neighboring areas. The JPC also accused the NPFL of a massacre over 300 civilians who were taken hostage on their way to the Heindi market near Bong Mines on March 7; the NPFL reportedly later returned to kill 200 more civilians and burn 50 houses. The JPC reported a massacre at Heindi early in the week of March 25, where 64 bodies were hastily buried in a common grave and 450 houses burned. Displaced persons who had fled fighting between the NPFL and ULIMO-Krahns in Nyehn, southwest of Kakata, in April reported that the NPFL massacred 150 persons, raped women, burned houses and mutilated babies. On April 9 in Yorsetown, 62 people, including women and children, were killed with cutlasses and knives. Survivors said the NPFL was responsible; they also reported that bodies were cannibalized. Survivors of a massacre of 74 civilians on the railroad between Bong Mines and Monrovia on May 3 said the NPFL was responsible.

In late February, ULIMO-Mandingo fighters killed 27 persons in Gbarma, Grand Cape Mount, and burned to the ground the neighboring villages of Tarkpoima and Zuo. In two separate incidents in the first 2 weeks of March, 300 ULIMO-Krahn fighters, said to be "on a rampage" in Grand Cape Mount, massacred 50 people near Madina. ULIMO-Mandingo fighters killed hundreds of civilians in Menkor Town, Grand Cape Mount, and abducted many others, whose fate is unknown. ULIMO-Mandingo fighters ambushed vehicles on the Bomi Highway, killing at least five civilians and injuring others at the end of March. ULIMO-Mandingo fighters entered Kpeneji town in Grand Cape Mount on April 4, killing three civilians and setting the town afire, including a large refugee/displaced persons camp. ULIMO-Krahn fighters, headquartered in Roysville, Grand Cape Mount, launched daily operations against nearby villages such as one early morning raid on April 15 when they raped women, flogged men and boys, and buried people up to their necks on the beach. Mandingo forces murdered 55 civilians in Guthrie in late April. During another looting raid, ULIMO-Krahn fighters killed a Baptist clergyman and injured an additional 6 civilians on May 2 in Bendu Mission, Grand Cape Mount, an incident confirmed by the Baptist Church in Monrovia. Skirmishing between the two ULIMO subfactions was continuous at the diamond-rich Lofa Bridge area in southern Lofa county. At the end of December, ULIMO-Krahn fighters attacked ECOMOG soldiers near Tubmanburg who were deploying to begin disarmament measures called for in the Abuja Accord. They killed and wounded numerous people, forcing over 15,000 civilians to flee the area.

In the southeastern counties, the NPFL and LPC vied for control. NPFL fighters in Rivercess routinely tortured women by placing hot metal between their legs and forcing men to rape women. In February NPFL fighters killed at least 10 people and wounded several others in Kabeh town. Displaced persons reported that the LPC frequently burned women between their breasts, on their thighs or their backs; burned men on their genitals and legs; and buried people alive. The rape of both old and young women was common. Displaced persons arriving at Monrovia shelters reported that LPC fighters in Greenville in March killed 55 persons who had surrendered to them.

At the end of March LPC fighters murdered a number of civilians in Sakpoh, Clark's Town, and Cheasbeh, Sinoe county. By the end of April, fighting between the NPFL and LPC reportedly resulted in the death of over 1,000 civilians in a 1-month period in these counties, with few injuries to the fighters.

There were credible reports that NPFL, ULIMO-Krahn, ULIMO-Mandingo, and LPC fighters committed acts of cannibalism (see Section 1.a.). In some instances, the fighters ate specific organs in the belief that it would make them stronger.

Relief organizations estimated 1.2 million persons have been internally displaced since the war began. Most of these are dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Faction leaders and their followers, suspicious of the possible supply of aid to the enemy, often refused to allow international and humanitarian relief agencies access beyond their checkpoints to distribute food and supplies. The U.N. and relief agencies reported regular harassment of their staffs and the looting of food and medical supplies and gasoline. In August, after the cease-fire went into effect and the humanitarian community had access upcountry for the first time, they found severe malnutrition in many areas. Throughout the year, due either to unstable conditions or sporadic skirmishes between the factions, it remained difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance outside ECOMOG-protected areas.

Credible reports indicated that members of ECOMOG facilitated the delivery of--if they did not actually deliver--weapons and ammunition to the LPC and both ULIMO subfactions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

These freedoms are provided for in the Constitution and, with some significant limitations, were generally exercised in Monrovia, although toward the end of the year the LNTG-II attempted to intimidate and restrict the press. Citizens, including journalists, usually showed restraint and self-censorship in favor of the interim governments. Due primarily to continued economic stagnation, all newspapers struggled to get their editions published. Until October there were eight privately owned newspapers in Monrovia, which published from one to five times weekly, bimonthly or, in the case of the human rights newspaper, as the situation warranted. Since mid-October, 7 new tabloid newspapers have appeared, bringing the total to 15, an indication of a vibrant press. One of the new newspapers focused solely on women's issues; another was dedicated to covering disarmament and demobilization. The press tended to be anti-NPFL, openly criticizing Taylor, a member of the LTNG-II. This too was indicative of an increasingly strong media. In August a new independent and privately owned radio station was inaugurated.

The restrictive Media Law, instituted during the Doe regime, remains in force and provides the Ministry of Information wide discretion in licensing and regulating journalists. A 1993 decree, which also remains in effect, set up guidelines for reporting on war-related issues.

On October 9, the LNTG-II Chief Justice warned the press, lawyers, and others against criticizing decisions of the Court, specifically naming the former Chairman of the LNTG-I, who had commented publicly on an appeal motion. In November and December, the Minister of Justice brought a number of questionable lawsuits against prominent opposition figures for alleged criticism of the Council of State. These cases were pending at the end of the year.

The interim governments failed to take action in several incidents in which journalists were mistreated. On April 26, Budu Kaisa, a journalist affiliated with the British Broadcasting Corporation, in search of an interview, was flogged by a police major assigned to the Labor Ministry. In May photojournalist James Momo received death threats from coalition fighters irked by his publication of a photo showing a naked NPFL fighter holding the head of his beheaded NPFL colleague. On July 30, journalist Bill Jarkloh was flogged by ULIMO-Krahn fighters.

Members of the LNTG-I and II interim governments also harassed and intimidated journalists, rationalizing their behavior by pointing to a lack of professionalism on the part of journalists and editors. In January the Information Minister, who insisted on having prior knowledge of program contents before broadcast, canceled the government radio station's public affairs program. The Council of State, however, warned the Minister to desist from such censorship. At times journalists were requested to meet privately with government officials and senior ECOMOG officers who had been offended by articles. Some journalists admitted to self-censorship in favor of the interim government. Except when fighting became too widespread, international journalists were able to visit contested zones and to write news articles for their publications with no official censorship.

After the inauguration of the LNTG-II, threats against the press increased. An October 4 front page article in the local press claimed that the new police director had instructed the owner of the printing press which publishes daily newspapers in the capital to submit copies of all issues to his office before releasing them to the public. The press united in condemning this instruction, and the police director let it drop. State councilmen and their representatives made repeated attacks on the press for publishing articles or airing comments they considered critical of members of the LNTG-II Council. Journalists responded vigorously to each threat.

On December 8, the Liberia Broadcasting System justified stopping a number of religious and political radio programs, claiming the content was inflammatory or dangerous to the peace process. In mid-December the Ministry of Information informed the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) that it would accredit journalists in the future, an activity previously carried out by PUL. No newspapers were forcibly closed during the year.

There was one pro-NPFL newspaper intermittently published in NPFL territory; none, official or private, were printed in ULIMO- or LPC-controlled areas.

The government radio station, ELBC, continued to broadcast throughout the year, using equipment donated by ECOMOG. Its news reports were favorable (at times sycophantic) to the LNTG, and while some talk shows criticized ECOMOG and the LNTG, many credible journalists alleged substantial censorship of ELBC. Two privately owned religious radio stations also broadcast from Monrovia throughout the year, but the content of their programs was noncontroversial. Since the cease-fire in August two independent stations began airing programs. The NPFL also opened a private radio station with news programs uncritically supporting the NPFL and Charles Taylor's political agenda.

Academic freedom was generally respected at the University of Liberia, which continued to operate despite some delays caused by financial problems. In November LNTG-II police and NSA officers went to the University to arrest the leader of the student union for supporting the teachers' strike. However, the officers left the campus after seeing student support for their leader.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of peaceful assembly and association. The LNTG-I and II permitted political parties and other groups to organize freely and hold public meetings in Monrovia, but ECOMOG generally discouraged large-scale parades or demonstrations for security reasons. The factions severely restricted freedom of assembly and association in areas they controlled.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution recognizes freedom of religion as a fundamental right, and Liberia has no established state religion. Although Islam is gaining adherents, as much as 40 percent of the population profess to be Christian. A significant portion of the population follows traditional animistic religions or practices a mixture of traditional religions with Christianity or Islam. Islamic leaders complained that Muslims were discriminated against (see Section 5). There was no evidence of systematic violation of religious freedom by warring factions.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement throughout the country as well as the right to leave or enter. To protect the 1.2 million people in Monrovia and Buchanan from rampant lawlessness and banditry, ECOMOG established a protective cordon around those cities and numerous checkpoints within the capital. There were reports that some ECOMOG soldiers beat individuals at checkpoints (see Section 1.c.). ECOMOG arrested numerous persons for noncompliance with the curfew and periodically meted out corporal punishment to repeat curfew violators. After the cease-fire, ECOMOG reduced the hours of the nighttime curfew.

Before the cease-fire on August 26 factional fighting prevented freedom of movement, restricting a range of activities from resettlement of displaced to ordinary commerce and travel. The warring factions impeded the movement of relief workers and supplies and extorted, humiliated, and harassed citizens throughout the country at checkpoints and makeshift barricades. When ECOMOG could not guarantee safe passage upcountry, it restricted the movement of civilians and humanitarian aid workers at various times throughout the year. Even after the seating of the LNTG-II Council of State, there were reports that beatings of international humanitarian workers and thefts of foodstuffs and humanitarian vehicles by the warring factions continued.

Since 1990 approximately 1.2 million citizens (of an estimated prewar population of 2.8 million) have been internally displaced. There are more than 750,000 Liberian refugees in neighboring West African countries, although the number of refugees fluctuated depending on the intensity and proximity of the fighting to population centers in Liberia. Many of the internally displaced went to Monrovia because of the greater security provided by ECOMOG and more reliable relief supplies.

There are approximately 120,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia. Many Sierra Leoneans were mistreated by both ULIMO factions and the NPFL as they were displaced by fighting. The interim governments cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Despite constitutional and statutory guarantees of free and fair elections, due to the civil war citizens could not exercise the right to change their government. A new interim government, the third since the war began, was installed on September 1, as a result of the signing of the Abuja Accord on August 19. The peace accord provides for national elections to take place in August 1996.

There are no restrictions on the participation of women in politics. While there is only one female cabinet minister in the LNTG-II, several women hold key positions and exert considerable influence. Overall numbers of women in the LNTG-II and the various political parties are small.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The interim governments have generally permitted domestic and international groups to operate freely. However, NSA agents harassed a prominent human rights lawyer and his family (see Section 1.e.).

The few domestic human rights organizations are underfunded and lack adequate training but made progress in improving their influence, visibility, and performance. One group has a weekly radio program; another group occasionally published a newspaper dedicated to human rights. There is a Monrovia-based consortium of NGO's monitoring human rights, consisting of the Center for Law and Human Rights Education, the Justice and Peace Commission, Liberian Human Rights Chapter, Liberian Watch on Human Rights, Association of Female Lawyers, and Association of Human Rights Promoters. One new group, the National Human Rights Monitor, was formed. Some groups visited prisoners in government jails. None of these organizations reported governmental interference with their activities.

There were no domestic human rights organizations extant outside the cities of Monrovia and Buchanan due to the warring factions' hostility to such organizations.

Although UNOMIL has responsibility for monitoring human rights, for most of the year no one carried out this function. In October one trained human rights observer was assigned to UNOMIL. No UNOMIL reports on human rights were made public.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin, or political opinion, but de facto and in some cases de jure discrimination exist.

Women

In the massive violence inflicted on civilians during the conflict, women suffered a gamut of abuses (see Sections 1.c. and 1.g.). Rape was commonplace. Even prior to the war, domestic violence against women was extensive but never seriously addressed as an issue by the Government, the courts, the media, or women's groups. Since the war began, several women's organizations were established in Monrovia and Gbarnga to advance family welfare issues, to help promote political reconciliation, and to assist in rehabilitating former combatants as well as civilian victims of war. Several NGO's in Monrovia and Buchanan have developed programs for treating abused women and girls and increasing their awareness of their human rights.

The status of women varies by region, ethnic group, and religion. Before the outbreak of the civil war, women held one-fourth the professional and technical occupations available in Monrovia. Some women currently hold skilled jobs in government, including in the judiciary. On the whole, however, the situation of women deteriorated dramatically with the onset of war, the closing of many schools, and the loss of their traditional role in production, allocation, and sale of food. In urban areas, women can inherit land and property. In rural areas, where traditional customs are stronger, a woman is normally considered the property of her husband and his clan and usually is not entitled to inherit from her husband.

Children

Denied a normal childhood, Liberian youth have been the most tragic victims of the civil war. The factions have abused children and given no attention to their welfare; education and nurturing have been completely disrupted. Many who were disabled, orphaned, abandoned, or "lost" during a military attack on their homes or villages, accepted the protection and sustenance that joining a faction brought. The NPFL, LPC, and the ULIMO-Mandingos recruited and trained children as cooks, spies, errand runners, guards, patrols, and in many instances, combatants. Faction leaders provided addictive drugs to children, thereby ensuring their compliance and continued participation in warfare. Many have been killed or wounded, have witnessed terrible atrocities, or themselves committed atrocities. There are no precise figures on the number of child soldiers, but some sources believe that 10 percent of the estimated 60,000 combatants are under 15 years of age; about 50 percent may be under 19. Children have become both victims and abusers in the conflict. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and have become addicted to drugs. Some NGO's have initiated small retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters (see Section 6.d.).

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychologically health. FGM traditionally has been performed on young girls by northern, western, and central tribes, particularly in rural areas and among traditional societies. It was difficult to confirm the extent to which this procedure was practiced in 1995 by the uprooted, displaced, and often inaccessible population. In some instances, female health professionals in the tribes participated in the practice to the extent of providing hygienic conditions and postoperative care. The most extreme form of FGM, infibulation, is not practiced.

People with Disabilities

The 6-year civil war has produced a large number of persons with permanent injuries in addition to persons disabled from other causes. There is no legal discrimination against the disabled, but in practice they do not enjoy equal access. There are no laws mandating accessibility to public buildings or services.

Religious Minorities

The law prohibits religious discrimination. Some Muslims, however, who represent a growing share of the population, believe that Liberia's secular culture gives preference to Christianity in civic ceremonies and observances, and that discrimination spills over into areas of individual opportunity and employment. Although there are some notable Muslims in top government positions, including on the Council of State, many Muslims believe that they are bypassed for the highly sought-after technical and bureaucratic jobs available in government.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the Constitution bans ethnic discrimination, it also provides that only "persons who are negroes or of negro descent" may be citizens or own land, thus denying full rights to many persons who were born or lived most of their lives in Liberia. There has been no legislative initiative to repeal this racial test, but there are reports that non-Liberians have acquired Liberian passports. The 1975 Economic "Liberianization" law prohibits foreign ownership of certain businesses, such as travel agencies, retail gasoline stations, and beer and soft-drink distributors.

The roots of the current civil conflict can be found, to a large extent, in the historical division between the Americo-Liberian minority and the 16 indigenous ethnic groups. Ethnic tensions were exacerbated during the Doe regime because of domination by his ethnic group, the Krahns. Throughout the civil war, the factions used an individual's language to identify ethnicity and often summarily executed those from groups considered hostile.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution states that workers, except military and police, have the right to associate in trade unions. The Constitution also states that unions are prohibited from partisan political activity, and this restriction has been observed in practice. Government interference in union activities, especially elections and leadership conflicts, was commonplace before the war. More than 20 trade unions, representing about 15 percent of the wage-earning work force, were registered with the Ministry of Labor before the war began in 1989. Ten national unions were members of the Liberian Federation of Labor Unions. However, the actual power the unions exercised was limited.

Like virtually all other organized activity in the country, unions disappeared as economic activity ceased at the beginning of the war. In subsequent years the ability of unions to operate was a direct function of the level of factional fighting and the effect of the war on extractive industries. Union activity practically halted with the increase of factional fighting prior to the August cease-fire. The most active organization was the Ship Workers' Union, which urged the LNTG-I and II to pressure Liberian flag vessels to employ more Liberian workers.

Liberia's status as a beneficiary of trade preferences under the United States' Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program was suspended in 1990 as a result of the Doe government's failure to take steps to provide internationally recognized worker rights. The Constitution is silent on the right to strike, but labor laws do protect this right. During the year, neither LNTG-I nor LNTG-II took discriminatory actions against organized labor, even though the LNTG-I State Council chairman threatened to fire government employees if they stayed home on March 8, a successful 1-day work "stoppage" called by civilian groups to demonstrate their discontent with the lack of progress in the peace process. No one was fired for participating. The Liberian Electric company employees, who staged a 1-week strike in September to demand back wages, were paid and returned to work. During a 3-week November teachers' strike for back pay and other benefits, the Government negotiated with the Teachers' Union and promised to pay; the teachers returned to work. In December health personnel asked for their delayed pay checks, threatening a work slowdown. Government officials were attempting to solve the problem of salary arrearages for all civil servants at year's end.

Labor unions have traditionally affiliated with international labor groups.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

With the important exception of civil servants, workers (including employees of public corporations and autonomous agencies) have the right to organize and bargain collectively. In the past, agreements were negotiated freely between workers and their employers without government interference. In 1995 these rights were largely moot because of the lack of economic enterprise, especially in Monrovia, where only a few businesses resumed operations, usually with reduced staffing.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor, but even before the civil war this prohibition was widely ignored in rural areas where farmers were pressured into providing free labor on "community projects" which often benefited only local leaders. This year the warring factions continued to use forced labor, especially for moving equipment or supplies. There were credible reports that ULIMO-Mandingo fighters also used Sierra Leonean refugees to acquire food for them.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Even before the civil war, enforcement of the law prohibiting employment of children under age 16 during school hours in the wage sector was limited. Small children continued to assist their parents as vendors in local markets and on family subsistence farms. This practice persists, particularly in those areas affected by the war, where there are no schools. Throughout the conflict, the NPFL and ULIMO-Mandingos recruited young children as soldiers. Many of these children, especially in NPFL-controlled territories, remained under arms (see Section 5).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Law provides for a minimum wage, paid leave, severance benefits, and safety standards, but with the war enforcement mechanisms collapsed. In the war-decimated economy citizens were forced to accept any work they could find, regardless of wage. A legal minimum wage of approximately $0.90 per day for agricultural workers and 3 or 4 times that amount for industrial workers remains in force, but because of the war it was not enforced.

The Labor Code provides for a 48-hour, 6-day regular workweek with a 30-minute rest period per 5 hours of work. The 6-day workweek may extend to 56 hours for service occupations and to 72 hours for miners, with overtime pay beyond 48 hours. Prior to 1990 there also were government-established health and safety standards, enforced in theory by the Ministry of Labor. Because of the war these regulations were not in fact enforced. Even under the Labor Code, workers did not have a specific right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations.

 

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