Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October 2014, 14:31 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Liberia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Liberia, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4414.html [accessed 30 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.
 

 

In 1994 Liberia remained a country increasingly divided factionally and geographically, even though warring factions did conclude an agreement in late December on ending the country's civil war. The Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG) was seated after much delay in March as the successor to the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), which along with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) signed the July 1993 Cotonou Peace Agreement under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity. The Cotonou Accord did not, however, resolve the basic factional differences over political power or lead to the projected demobilization of the warring factions, or to planned free elections. In fact, the three groups that signed the Accord mushroomed to seven competing political-military groups which renewed factional fighting, thereby preventing the LNTG from extending its authority outside greater Monrovia and the corridor to Buchanan (see Sections 1.g. and 3). Throughout much of the year, the shifting factional military action served to keep Charles Taylor's NPFL forces, which almost captured Monrovia in late 1992, on the defensive.

In the confusing Liberian mosaic of political/military forces, an eighth group, composed of civilian political parties and other interest groups, convened a National Conference in August to pressure the armed factions to disarm and implement other Cotonou Accord provisions. The Conference strongly opposed a new agreement reached on September 12 in Akosombo, Ghana, by the Cotonou signatories, including the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) replacing the dissolved IGNU, under the auspices of ECOWAS Chairman Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings. The Conference participants insisted that the new accord excessively favored warring-faction interests. While fighting raged in Liberia between followers of the faction leaders meeting in Ghana, Rawlings continued to consult with the various Liberian parties, including the National Conference. Their leaders signed the Akosombo Clarification Agreement (three parties) and the Agreement of Acceptance and Accession (five parties, including the National Conference) on December 21 in Accra. The Accra Accords provided for a cease-fire on December 28 and established a 5-member ruling council to be inaugurated in early 1995 to govern the country, including conduct the November 1995 elections, until an elected government takes over in January 1996.

The key military force supporting the LNTG remained the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). At year's end, ECOMOG was composed of 6,000-8,000 troops--down from 12,000 in July--from six West African and two East African countries, although over half of the force was Nigerian. Initially a peacekeeping force, ECOMOG increasingly became the interim Government's de facto army and, in addition, assumed many police powers within the Monrovia perimeter. ECOMOG was effective in its military role in maintaining relative calm within the Monrovia-Buchanan perimeter and for promptly putting down a September 15 coup attempt by a general from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), who deserted in 1990, and dissident AFL supporters. Some ECOMOG soldiers have, however, also earned an unenviable reputation for a variety of illegal activities. ECOMOG reassigned several officers who were believed by outside observers to be engaged in activities detrimental to the peace process. Despite continuing criticism of ECOMOG behavior by human rights monitors, the majority of ECOMOG forces conducted themselves well during the year.

The civil war-ravaged economy, previously based primarily on iron ore, rubber, timber, diamond, and gold exports, remained stagnant. Continued disruption of economic activity, 80 to 90 percent unemployment across all sectors except government, massive displacements of civilians, wanton destruction, and looting have all devastated the productive capacity of Liberia despite its rich natural endowments and potential self-sufficiency in agriculture. Massive emergency operations by the United Nations, as well as by American and other Western-based relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) continued throughout the year in ECOMOG-controlled areas. However, they were periodically suspended in other parts of the country because of fighting, harassment, and detention of relief personnel; looting of relief agency supplies and vehicles; and occasional seemingly arbitrary security restrictions imposed by ECOMOG.

The number of human rights abuses unquestionably rose with the increased level of conflict across the country, including the massacre of over 65 civilians by inconclusively identified attackers in a Monrovia suburb on December 15. There were many credible charges that all factions flagrantly disregarded fundamental humanitarian values. Human rights monitors also criticized ECOMOG for incidents of human rights abuse. Since 1989, when Liberia's population was recorded at 2.4 million, an estimated 300,000 persons, most of them civilians, have been killed or wounded as a result of the conflict, and close to 800,000 have taken refuge in neighboring countries. An estimated 1.1 million people have been displaced within Liberia since the war began. Approximately 130,000 Sierra Leonean refugees were also displaced repeatedly throughout the year, some landing finally within the safe haven of Monrovia. In all combat arenas, fleeing displaced persons reported villages looted and burned; use of excessive force; arbitrary detentions; impressment, particularly of children under the age of 18 into the NPFL and ULIMO-Mandingo forces; torture; individual and gang rape; summary executions; mutilations and cannibalism. In the absence of progress on disarmament and demobilization, the U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) began drawing down its 443-member staff in August. The fighting and looting became so ferocious in September that all humanitarian assistance outside the Tubmanburg-Monrovia- Buchanan perimeter was halted, although several NGO's resumed modest food deliveries into the interior in November and December. No progress was made in resolving outstanding incidents of past human rights abuses. Although obeisance was paid to the 1985 Constitution, the Penal Code, and the Labor Code, because of the violent conditions obtaining up country and the overcrowding and destitute conditions for a large percentage of people living in and near Monrovia, the rights provided by these documents were largely moot.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Indiscriminate killings increased sharply from the previous year. Although professing adherence to the rule of law, the leaders of the warring factions condoned and, in some instances, seemingly encouraged the murderous savagery that affected the civilian population more than the combatants (see Section 1.g.). Despite claims to be the national army, the AFL acted as a warring faction, and AFL troops frequently engaged in a variety of human rights abuses, including alleged extrajudicial killings.

Individual ECOMOG soldiers, serving a dual role as peacekeepers and peace enforcers, committed several extrajudicial killings, such as the shooting death of a university professor on November 1 for running a checkpoint. The soldier was awaiting trial at year's end. In another case, ECOMOG court-martialed a soldier for killing a civilian and reportedly executed him. In contrast to the leaders of the warring factions, the ECOMOG high command was committed to bringing soldiers involved in crimes against civilians to justice. There were no reports of ECOMOG soldiers committing political killings.

On March 21, a Turkish citizen convicted of murder reportedly died of starvation in the Monrovia central prison. There was a cursory investigation undertaken by the LNTG's National Security Agency, but the authorities took no action to punish those responsible for the prisoner's death. Inmates credibly accused the guards of stealing the food provided for prisoners.

In the many killings committed by the warring factions, it was often impossible to sort out whether they were politically motivated or driven by tribal hatred. However, the savage killing of a judge of Lofa County in January by the ULIMO-Mandingo faction appeared to have clear political intent (see Section 1.g.). There were also unconfirmed but credible reports of Muslim ULIMO-Mandingo fighters executing civilians in Lofa County for religious and ethnic reasons (see Section 5).

There were no reports that factions punished fighters for politically motivated killings, but combatants of all factions were routinely executed for offenses in the eyes of their commanders, as in the case of Nixon Gaye, field commander of the largest NPFL unit. He was shot August 27 in his reported mutiny attempt against Charles Taylor and died of his injuries along with an unreported number of his supporters. Dissident NPFL cabinet ministers claimed Gaye was tortured to death after being wounded. Charles Taylor admitted on December 23 ordering the executions of several of his senior military commanders because of alleged connivance in the September loss of Gbarnga.

b. Disappearance

In the area under LNTG/ECOMOG control, there were no known disappearances. NPFL and ULIMO-Mandingo forces were responsible for many unexplained disappearances, notably by impressment of children (see Sections 5 and 6.d.). Many families remained divided among those living in Monrovia, those located in other parts of Liberia, and those who fled the country and have not yet returned. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a family tracing program but, because of the inaccessibility of major sectors of the country throughout the year, located only a small percentage of the missing persons brought to its attention. In the wake of fighting in Bong and Maryland counties in September and October, a new wave of approximately 200,000 refugees flooded into Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Many of these refugees were unable to contact family members.

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

While the 1985 Constitution prohibits torture and other degrading treatment, inhuman treatment continued to be frequent. In the greater Monrovia area under ECOMOG control, with a better educated populace, a freer press, the presence of national and international human rights and humanitarian aid groups, there were fewer reports of torture than in the past (see Section 1.d.). Although the Supreme Court ruled that "trial by ordeal" or "sassywood"--commonly, the placement of a hot metal object on a suspect's body to induce confession in a criminal investigation--is unconstitutional, the Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to employ licensed agents who subjected suspects to this practice. A leading Monrovia-based human rights group brought suit in March seeking compensatory damages for injuries sustained by victims of the continuing practice of sassywood. Tribal courts, which use this traditional mode of justice, did not function because of the disruptions of the civil war.

Eyewitnesses report that ECOMOG soldiers beat and humiliated persons at ECOMOG checkpoints in Monrovia, often for curfew violations. After ECOMOG detained prominent businessman and Unity Party stalwart Peter Bonner Jallah in November 1992 for allegedly abetting the NPFL surprise attack against Monrovia, it released him in May. Jallah credibly claimed that ECOMOG and the preceding government's intelligence officers had beaten him in the head with a gun butt, administered electrical charges to his body, burned him about the genitals with gasoline, and handcuffed him so tightly that he now suffers nerve damage in his hands (see Section 1.d.).

NPFL fighters stripped, beat, and tortured civilians at numerous highway checkpoints in NPFL areas, usually in connection with extortion or other forms of intimidation. The NPFL reportedly detained and tortured two traditional chiefs who went to NPFL headquarters in Gbarnga in August to convince Charles Taylor to send representatives to the National Conference in Monrovia.

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. There are similar documented reports of primarily Liberian Peace Council (LPC) depredations in the southeastern counties. On June 28, ULIMO-Krahn fighters attacked the UNOMIL regional headquarters in Tubmanburg, beat and tortured six U.N. observers, and completely looted the headquarters.

All warring factions regularly committed various forms of torture and mistreatment of civilians, including individual and gang rape and other violence against women.

Conditions in government jails continued to be life-threatening. Officials frequently denied prisoners medical care, family contacts, and adequate food; cells remained small, crowded, and filthy. Female prisoners were held in separate cells in the central prison, but there were no separate facilities for juvenile offenders. In 1994, however, the LNTG and ECOMOG 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, especially those whose cases were pending "further examination."The conditions of detention outside Monrovia were even worse. When detained, prisoners were held in makeshift, substandard facilities and subjected to various forms of mistreatment, both physical and psychological--including beatings, rape, and threatened executions. More often, however, displaced persons reported that "authorities" either let prisoners go or shot them on the spot.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The 1985 Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and provides for the rights of the accused, including warrants for arrests and the right of detainees either to be charged or released within 48 hours. In practice, police officers often disregarded these rights and made arbitrary arrests. Many police officers accepted bribes to arrest persons based on unsubstantiated allegations. At times they failed to inform detainees of the charges against them, and often charges went unrecorded. The LNTG Ministry of Justice moved to protect citizens' rights by issuing new procedural guidelines to the Bureau of Corrections, limiting the persons authorized to commit suspects to jail, and filing writs of dismissal for detainees who were not processed correctly.

ECOMOG soldiers played the major role in policing the greater Monrovia area, and citizens continued to turn to ECOMOG soldiers rather than the unarmed police force to arrest and detain alleged criminals. Detentions by ECOMOG peacekeepers frequently did not satisfy internationally recognized standards, and there were unconfirmed reports that ECOMOG coerced confessions from suspects. ECOMOG did, however, regularly allow NGO's access to prisoners in its various detention centers. As a result of politician Peter Bonner Jallah's 18-month detention without charge, the Center for Law and Human Rights Education filed a writ with the Supreme Court calling for a definition of ECOMOG's arrest and detention powers. In its controversial September decision, the Supreme Court stated that ECOMOG "as a peacekeeping force has no legal right to arrest and detain any citizen." Toward year's end, ECOMOG and various Liberian security and law enforcement agencies established a "joint task force" intended to appropriately apportion responsibilities and overall security duties.

Although the AFL claims to be the national army, ill-disciplined AFL troops frequently committed some of the most serious human rights abuses (see Sections 1.a. and 1.g.). For example, on June 24, AFL soldiers entered the UNOMIL Demobilization Center at Schiefflin and detained the staff for 3 days after which they looted the Center. On September 15, under the direction of a U.S.-domiciled former AFL general, some AFL soldiers attempted a coup against the Government, seizing the executive mansion. ECOMOG forces swiftly put down the attempted coup and captured leader Charles Julue, 78 AFL supporters, and 5 civilians. After a 3-week probe, ECOMOG released 40 soldiers and detained 38 for court-martial. It turned the five civilians over to the civilian judiciary. The trial of the five began on October 14 but was suspended as of year's end because of procedural and security issues. The AFL court-martial of Julue, three other generals, and others began on November 16 but suffered repeated delays due to security concerns caused by dissident AFL soldiers.

While accurate arrest information was unavailable, charged and uncharged pretrial detainees in the Monrovia area formed a sizable portion of the total incarcerated population. Human rights groups reported that approximately one-third to one-half of the prisoners (average 75) at any given moment at the Monrovia central prison compound had not been tried. Modest reforms within the court system, such as limiting the time frame for argument, reduced somewhat the backlog of judicial cases. Except for the September coup suspects, there were no known political/security detainees in the Monrovia area under LNTG jurisdiction, but it was impossible to determine the number of such detainees elsewhere in the country.

On April 5, ECOMOG released 800 NPFL fighters who had been held for over a year following their capture during the NPFL's October 1992 "Operation Octopus" attack on Monrovia. UNOMIL, which had been charged under the 1993 Cotonou Peace Accord with supervising a demobilization program, included the 800 in its initial demobilization figure of 3,500.

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 arrests without warrants. They exercised that power often and capriciously, detaining persons, including U.N. military observers, on spurious grounds or without charge for periods ranging from several hours to several weeks, as in the case in May of an AFL colonel held for 1 month. The NPFL held 350 orphans, whom the NPFL abducted from Fatimah Cottage in October 1992, at Cuttington University College until the fighting reached Gbarnga in September. At the height of the fighting, the children fled, with most of them joining the 150,000 displaced persons still held by the NPFL at year's end near Totota. UNOMIL was able to evacuate 58 of the orphans by helicopter before the security situation made flights impossible.

There were no reports of Liberians being subjected to forced political exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court structure is divided into four levels with the Supreme Court at its apex. Under the 1985 Constitution, defendants have the due process rights conforming to internationally accepted norms of fair trial. Most of these rights, however, were ignored in practice.

By 1994 all levels of the court system, which had been devastated by the years of civil war, were functioning in Monrovia, although erratically. While corruption and incompetent handling of cases remained a recurrent problem, some progress was made in addressing problems in the judiciary, including requiring that circuit court judges be law school graduates. The 1994 LNTG budget included the judiciary for the first time in 4 years, which resulted in judges being given office facilities and vehicles. The Supreme Court, composed of justices nominated by the warring factions, continued to operate.

In addition to the resurrection of the modern court system, customary law was also applied 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 case of two AFL soldiers whom a military court found guilty of murder, a leading human rights organization on their behalf appealed the death sentence to the Supreme Court. The AFL, claiming no appeal was permitted from a court-martial judgment, initially threatened to execute the prisoners but subsequently delayed action after the Supreme Court issued a restraining order. By year's end, the Ministry of Defense had not constituted an appeal board.

Although in 1991 the NPFL also partially reactivated the court system in areas under its control, legal and judicial protections have been almost totally lacking since then. In the areas controlled by the other factions, there was little pretense of due process; swift judgment was meted out by the faction leaders. Given the continuing war, it was not possible to determine the total number of political/security detainees (see Section 1.d.) or political prisoners among the prisoners held by the factions.

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

While the Constitution provides for these rights, there were many serious abuses of privacy and home--including confiscation of property and failure to obtain required warrants--by the police and fighters of all the warring factions. According to the Constitution, the police must have a warrant or a reasonable belief that a crime is in progress, or is about to be committed, before entering a private dwelling. In practice, the police engaged in forced entry without a warrant to carry out arrests and investigations.

Combatants of all the warring factions looted villages during the year, with ULIMO-Krahn and ULIMO-Mandingo factions in Bomi and Cape Mount counties and LPC and NPFL fighters in southeastern counties and elsewhere drawing considerable 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.

These factions also used forced entry for purposes of intimidation. For example, AFL soldiers made two raids on the Monrovia residence of a legislative representative to harass the representative for his support of the new police director. In one instance, an AFL soldier shot the representative's guard in the leg. The representative sent a formal letter to the Transitional Legislative Assembly accusing four members of the AFL high command of attempted murder.

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

In 1994 the warring factions inflicted considerably more harm on noncombatants than on each other. All factions indiscriminately ransacked villages and confiscated scant food supplies. They deliberately targeted, tortured, and murdered innocent civilians and regularly committed violence against women, children, and the elderly.

The number and complexity of warring forces increased in 1994. In addition to Charles Taylor's NPFL in the central counties, the anti-NPFL ULIMO split in March into its two ethnic components, the ULIMO-Mandingo faction and the ULIMO-Krahn faction. While there was intra-ULIMO fighting in the western counties, both ULIMO wings joined other groups, including the AFL, in fighting NPFL-Taylor forces in central Liberia. Made up of remnants of late President Samuel Doe's army, the AFL controlled pockets of terrain along the road to Buchanan and a few areas in and around the Firestone Plantation. The LPC, a predominantly Krahn group drawing major support from active and former AFL combatants, emerged in late 1993 and made serious inroads in 1994 against the NPFL in the south and eastern coastal region. Krahn ethnic loyalties closely linked the ULIMO-Krahn, the AFL, and the LPC. The Lofa Defense Force (LDF) provided sporadic challenge to ULIMO-Mandingo control of the northwest.

The NPFL also suffered a schism. In August a trio of dissident NPFL ministers, who took their LNTG cabinet seats in April, declared Charles Taylor unseated as Chairman of the NPFL's Central Revolutionary Committee. They joined other splinter groups in an anti-Taylor coalition which participated with ULIMO-Mandingo forces in a successful September attack on Taylor's Gbarnga headquarters which he reoccupied in December (see Section 1.a.).

There were many incidents throughout the year in which civilians died. On June 9, LDF fighters reportedly massacred or summarily shot 75 civilians at Russie village near Zorzor in Lofa county. On June 22, ULIMO-Mandingos massacred nine civilians, including women and children, in Brewerville, Montserrado county. Witnesses confirmed that ULIMO troops questioned the victims about their tribal backgrounds and then killed or tortured them and threw their bodies into a well. In late August, ULIMO-Krahn fighters massacred between 20 and 30 persons in Gbesseh town, Cape Mount county. In September there were numerous reports of a "massacre" by ULIMO-Mandingo fighters who attacked Phebe Hospital near Gbarnga, looting it and killing an unknown number of civilians, including several Phebe staff members. Subsequently, NPFL leader Charles Taylor implied the killings of civilians at Phebe had been committed by members of the NPFL. In mid-December, fighters of undetermined affiliation attacked the Paynesville suburb of Monrovia, shooting, hacking, and burning 66 civilians to death.

Credible reports indicated that NPFL, ULIMO-Krahn, ULIMO-Mandingo, and LPC fighters committed acts of cannibalism. In some instances, the fighters ate specific organs in the belief that it would make the fighter stronger. Human rights groups estimated that 3 to 6 percent of combatants participated. Displaced persons reported seeing severed extremities and extracted body parts, such as the heart of a Lofa county judge displayed in the streets of Voinjama after he was murdered by ULIMO-Mandingo forces. Often, it was impossible to know where the victim came from or what had happened; on September 21, a diplomat came upon an unidentified, naked and tortured corpse (pieces of rope on the deceased's wrist) along the main road through a Monrovia suburb.

The NPFL took credit for mining the Bong Mine-Kakata Road, the feeder roads to the Monrovia-Buchanan Highway, and threatened to mine the Totota-Kakata Highway if anyone attempted to save the 150,000 displaced persons in Totota. Three mine explosions elsewhere killed several civilians and two ECOMOG soldiers.

Relief organizations estimated that 1.1 million persons have been internally displaced since the war began. Most of these are dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Upper Lofa county, for instance, where a $1 million staging base in Vahun had been gutted by ULIMO brigands in December 1993, remained bereft of relief operations throughout the year because the security situation was too unstable to allow relief workers to return. Fierce fighting in other sectors of the country hampered humanitarian work. 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. U.N. and relief agencies reported continuous harassment and detention of their staffs, confiscation of vehicles, and looting of foodstuffs, medical supplies, and gasoline.

In September interfactional warfare erupted in central Liberia with such renewed brutality that over 200,000 Liberians fled their homes, some to the bush and others into Guinea and the Ivory Coast. U.N. agencies and NGO's withdrew their up-country staffs after the NPFL took 43 U.N. observers hostage in various sectors of NPFL territory and after millions of dollars of U.N. and humanitarian assistance supplies and equipment had been stolen. Assistance outside the Monrovia and Buchanan areas ground to a halt in September but resumed to a few locations at greatly reduced levels late in the year.

Various factions attacked ECOMOG peacekeeping forces throughout the year and on a number of occasions took ECOMOG soldiers hostage. At least eight ECOMOG soldiers lost their lives, and many were wounded. Similarly, the warring factions detained UNOMIL staff members and at times tortured them.

ECOMOG soldiers also inflicted suffering on the civilian population. Individual soldiers committed a number of serious illegal activities, including systematic looting not only of small, easily transportable goods but also the stripping of entire buildings for scrap to be sold abroad. Credible reports indicated that members of ECOMOG facilitated the delivery of--if not delivering--weapons and ammunition to the AFL, LPC, and ULIMO combatants fighting to dislodge Taylor's NPFL. Allegedly, some ECOMOG soldiers engaged in the illegal drug trade (heroin and cocaine) and used Liberia as a transit point for drugs coming in from Nigeria and Ghana for onward shipment. ECOMOG soldiers were also accused of using children as young as 8 years of age as prostitutes.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

These freedoms are provided for in the 1985 Constitution and, with some significant limitations, citizens generally exercised these rights in Monrovia. Liberians are free to criticize the LNTG and ECOMOG, although they usually show restraint and self-censorship in favor of the temporary Governments.

Due primarily to continued economic stagnation, the number of publications in Monrovia fluctuated from month to month. At year's end, there were eight privately owned newspapers in Monrovia. While a restrictive, Doe-era media law providing the Ministry of Information wide discretion in licensing and regulating journalists remained on the books, official press censorship was not pervasive in Monrovia. Also, there were no newspapers forcibly closed during the year. Reflecting local opinion, most of the Monrovia press tended to be anti-NPFL; and some journalists admitted to self-censorship in favor of the interim governments.

Other journalists asserted that public calls by IGNU and subsequently LNTG officials for a "more responsible" press had a chilling effect on journalistic freedom. At times, government officials and senior ECOMOG officers, offended by articles, insisted on meeting privately with journalists. Perhaps most chilling were the reported threats to individual journalists by persons claiming to represent one or another of the warring factions. After a group of citizens from ULIMO territory published a statement in Monrovia that ULIMO should relinquish control of the western counties to the LNTG, the ULIMO leadership threatened physical harm to journalists who published articles making such suggestions.

There was no overt general attempt to censor the press, such as the mid-1993 directive from IGNU that journalists submit all "war-related" stories to the Ministries of Information and Justice for clearance on national security grounds. At that time, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and newspaper publishers objected to the measure as a prior restraint, but the PUL and IGNU later compromised on guidelines for military reporting. Those guidelines continued in effect and undoubtedly constituted part of the basis for self-censorship. Except when fighting became too widespread, international journalists were able to visit contested zones and to file reports without official censorship. Because of the fighting, journalists from Monrovia cannot report on events in NPFL areas, and vice versa.

Outside Monrovia, residents of Liberia exercised extreme care in their criticism of the various factions. Although NPFL leader Charles Taylor affirmed publicly on several occasions his support of free speech, citizens in his area were subject to sanctions for criticizing the NPFL. There were two pro-NPFL newspapers intermittently published in NPFL territory, but no newspapers were printed in ULIMO- or LPC-controlled areas. Both NPFL papers were initially denied permission to circulate in Monrovia by the LNTG because they were not legally "registered." LNTG officials seized copies of one of the papers on at least one occasion.

ECOMOG, IGNU, and subsequently the LNTG supported a radio station (ELBC) which broadcast progovernment (and at times sycophantic) programming throughout 1994. Many credible journalists alleged substantial censorship of ELBC. A privately owned radio station began broadcasting from Monrovia in October 1993 but limited its news and commentary in order to avoid possible governmental interference. The NPFL continued to operate intermittently at least one radio station, which uncritically supported Charles Taylor.

The University of Liberia functioned throughout 1994 despite some delays caused by financial problems. Academic freedom was generally respected, although the university authorities and most of the student body criticized pro-NPFL expression.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of peaceful assembly and association. ECOMOG, apparently with full IGNU agreement, imposed a nighttime curfew in Monrovia from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. after the NPFL attack in 1992; the curfew continued in force. ECOMOG soldiers enforced the measure strictly and arrested numerous persons for noncompliance. ECOMOG periodically meted out corporal punishment to repeat curfew violators.

The LNTG and ECOMOG permitted political parties and other groups to organize freely and hold public meetings in Monrovia, but ECOMOG did prohibit an outdoor peace rally in July and generally discouraged parades or demonstrations for security reasons. The NPFL and ULIMO-Mandingo forces severely restricted freedom of assembly and association in their areas. In other factions' areas, residents felt intimidated and did not attempt demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The 1985 Constitution recognizes freedom of religion as a fundamental right, and Liberia has no established state religion. There was no evidence of systematic violation of religious freedom by warring factions, but there were isolated and sometimes violent incidents of religious repression by local fighters, especially by Muslim ULIMO-Mandingo forces (see Section 1.a.).

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement throughout Liberia as well as the right to leave or enter the country at will. ECOMOG monitored freedom of movement at checkpoints within Monrovia and around its perimeter.

Factional fighting interfered with freedom of movement, ranging from resettlement of displaced persons to ordinary commerce and travel. ECOMOG restricted the movement of civilians, humanitarian aid and staffers at various times throughout the year. All factions impeded the movement of relief workers and supplies and extorted, humiliated, and harassed citizens at checkpoints and makeshift barricades.

Of a total estimated population of almost 2.7 million at the end of 1994, approximately 1.1 million Liberians have been internally displaced since 1990, and 776,000 were refugees in neighboring west African countries, many out of fear of ethnic persecution. The number of refugees fluctuated depending on the intensity and proximity of the fighting to population centers. Many of the displaced went to Monrovia, including the 6,000 former refugees who returned to Liberia, reportedly because of the security and more reliable relief supplies.

There were approximately 130,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia as the civil war spilled over into Sierra Leone. Many Sierra Leoneans suffered mistreatment by both ULIMO factions and the NPFL as they were displaced from camps in western counties and made their way to camps in Lofa county, where approximately 70,000 reside, and camps in and around Monrovia.

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

Despite constitutional and statutory provisions for free and fair elections, Liberians could not exercise the right to change their government. Implementation of the July 1993 Cotonou Accord and followup September 1994 Akosombo Agreement lagged as the factions continued to argue at year's end over the detailed arrangements and timetable for seating a new transitional government, disarmament, and demobilization. The December Akosombo Clarification Agreement postponed elections until November 1995 and the installation of an elected government until January 1996.

The LNTG installed in March 1994 is a weak transition Government comprised of representatives of the signatories to the Cotonou Accord--IGNU, NPFL, and ULIMO. There is a 5-person Council of State appointed by the signatory factions, a 35-member Transitional Legislative Assembly (TLA) also appointed by the factions, and the judiciary. At the end of the year, it remained to be seen whether the factions could implement the new LNTG called for in the December 21 Accra agreements. There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in politics; in practice, two women hold cabinet-level positions in the LNTG, and a few hold positions in the legislature and judiciary. Overall numbers of women in the LNTG 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 permitted domestic and international groups to operate freely. The few domestic human rights organizations are relatively new and underfunded but made progress improving their influence, visibility, and performance.

There were no domestic human rights organizations extant outside the ECOMOG-controlled areas due to the warring factions' hostility to such organizations.

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

The 1985 Constitution prohibits discrimination based on ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin, or political opinion, but discrimination exists in fact and in some cases in law.

Women

The status of women varies by region, ethnic group, and religion. Before the outbreak of the civil war, women held one-quarter of the professional and technical occupations available in Monrovia. Some women currently hold skilled jobs in government, including in the Cabinet, legislature, and judiciary. On the whole, however, the lot of women deteriorated dramatically with the onset of war, the closing of many schools, and the loss of their traditional role in production, distribution, and sale of foodstuffs. In the past 3 years, several women's organizations formed 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. In urban areas, women can inherit land and property. In rural areas, where traditional customs are stronger, a wife is normally considered the property of her husband and his clan and usually is not entitled to inherit from her husband.

Women in most rural areas do much of the farm labor and have only limited access to education. In the massive violence inflicted on civilians during the conflict, women suffered the gamut of abuses (see especially Sections 1.c. and 1.g.). Even prior to the war, domestic violence against women was extensive, but the Government, the courts, the media, and women's groups never seriously addressed the issue. There are several NGO's in Monrovia and Buchanan which have developed programs for treating abused women and girls and increasing their awareness of their human rights.

Children

In the civil war, the various sides have given almost no attention to the welfare of children, whose education and nurturing have been seriously disrupted. Many who were disabled, orphaned, abandoned, or "lost" during a military attack on their homes or villages, reportedly accepted the protection and sustenance that joining a faction brought. Both the NPFL and the ULIMO-Mandingos recruited and trained children as cooks, spies, errand runners, guards, and in many instances combatants. There were no precise figures on the number of child soldiers, but some sources estimated that 10 percent of the 40,000 to 60,000 combatants are under 15 years of age. Many children are substance abusers and depend upon the factions for supply. As a result, children have become both victims and abusers in the conflict. Many suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. Some NGO's have initiated small retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters (see Section 6.d.).

International health experts have condemned female genital mutilation (FGM), including clitoridectomy, as physically and psychologically damaging to the girls and young women on whom the operation is performed. In some instances, female health professionals in the tribes have successfully participated in the ceremony to the extent of providing hygienic conditions and postoperative care. FGM is practiced primarily on young girls by northern, western, and central tribes, particularly in rural areas and among traditional societies. According to an independent expert in the field, the percentage of Liberian females who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 60 percent. Although there was one newspaper report of a failed attempt to force a girl in Monrovia to undergo the procedure, it was difficult to confirm the extent to which this procedure was practiced in 1994 by Liberia's uprooted, displaced, and often inaccessible population. The most extreme form of FGM, infibulation, is not practiced in Liberia.

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 who were born or lived most of their lives in Liberia. There has been no legislative initiative to repeal this racial test. The 1975 Economic "Liberianization" Law prohibits foreign ownership of certain businesses, such as travel agencies, retail gasoline stations, and beer and soft drink distributors. This law resulted in the rejection of several foreign-owned business proposals.

The roots of the civil conflict can be found in the historical division between the Americo-Liberian minority, who, despite representing less than 5 percent of the population, for over 150 years dominated the political, economic, and cultural life of the country, and the indigenous ethnic groups. The latter frequently complained of government discrimination in many areas, such as access to education and civil service jobs and to infrastructure development.

The authoritarian military-based regime established after the 1980 coup mounted by Sergeant Doe and other AFL noncomissioned officers progressively exacerbated ethnic tensions while subverting the democratic reforms embodied in the 1985 Constitution. During the Doe regime, resentment grew over domination of government by Doe's ethnic group, the Krahns, which represent approximately 4 percent of the population. Throughout the civil war, the factions have used an individual's language to identify ethnicity and often summarily executed those from groups considered hostile. The ULIMO faction split in March along Krahn-Mandingo lines and fought each other and the NPFL. The NPFL, supported by the Gio and Mano groups, waged war against four preponderantly ethnically constituted factions, three of them Krahn: The predominately Krahn AFL troops in and around Monrovia, the Krahn LPC along the southern coast and north into (Krahn) Grand Gedeh county, and the ULIMO-Krahns in Bong county. The ULIMO-Mandingos made incursions against the NPFL in Bong county and from early September until December held control of Gbarnga, the NPFL stronghold (see Section 1.g.).

Religious Minorities

While the law prohibits religious discrimination, there were claims of discrimination in practice. Some Muslims, who represent a growing share of the population, believe that Liberia's secular culture gives preference to Christianity in civic ceremony and observances, and that discrimination spills over into areas of individual opportunity and employment. The Muslim education system stresses religious as opposed to skills-based learning. As a result, the authorities frequently by-passed Muslims for the highly sought-after technical and bureaucratic jobs available in government. In addition, many Liberian Muslims believe that their access to jobs and roles in public life is restricted by an anti-Muslim bias in many sectors of Liberian society with a predominately Christian orientation.

People with Disabilities

The protracted 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 to education, employment, and scant social services. There are no laws mandating accessibility to public buildings or services.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1985 Constitution states that workers, except military and police, have the right to associate in trade unions (see also Section 6.b.). However, as with virtually all other organized activity in the country, unions disappeared during the height of the 1989-90 war. With the signing of the July 1993 Cotonou Peace Accord, many industries planned to resume, and affected unions began reorganizing and attempting to locate members. However, union efforts to reorganize generally faltered in 1994 as factional fighting increased. The most active organization was the Ship Workers' Union.

The 1985 Constitution is silent on the right to strike. While the Labor Code provides for this right, the Doe government issued a no-strike decree in 1980. Governments up to 1990 intimidated labor officials, assuring a generally docile work force and labor environment. Neither of the subsequent IGNU and LNTG legislative assemblies repealed or affirmed the no-strike decree, which was not challenged in 1994 as there were no strikes. During the year, the LNTG took no discriminatory actions against organized labor.

In 1990 the U.S. Government suspended Liberia's eligibility for trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences because of its violations of worker rights.

Labor unions have traditionally affiliated freely 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, labor and employers negotiated agreements freely without government interference. In 1994 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. There were no formal mechanisms in place for resolving complaints of discrimination against union workers.

There was no activity in Liberia's one export processing zone (EPZ) which has been inoperative since 1990 when fighting reached the free port of Monrovia. When operational, labor laws have the same force in the EPZ as elsewhere in the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor, but even before the civil war local authorities widely ignored this prohibition in rural areas where farmers were pressured into providing free labor on "community projects," which often benefited only local leaders. The warring factions used forced labor during the fighting, especially for moving equipment or supplies. According to credible reports, ULIMO-Mandingo fighters also used Sierra Leonean refugees to acquire food for them, occasioning the flight and repatriation of approximately 5,000 Sierra Leoneans from Vahun, Lofa county.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Under the Doe government, the law prohibited employment of children under age 16 during school hours in the wage sector. This law is still technically in effect, but there is no enforcement. Even earlier, enforcement by the Ministry of Labor was limited, and small children continued to assist their parents as vendors in local markets and on family subsistence farms. This practice persisted in 1994, particularly in those areas where school had been closed because of the war. During the conflict, the NPFL and ULIMO-Mandingos recruited young children as soldiers, many of whom had been orphaned; some were less than 12 years of age. Many of these children, especially in the NPFL, remained under arms in 1994 (see Section 5).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code provides for a minimum wage, paid leave, severance benefits, and safety standards. Before the economy collapsed, the legal minimum wage varied according to profession but did not generally provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. (The minimum wage for agricultural workers was approximately 90 cents per day, with industrial workers receiving three or four times that amount.) Often workers were forced to supplement their incomes through other activities to maintain a minimal standard of living. Those not displaced turned to subsistence farming. The minimum wage was not enforced adequately by the Ministry of Labor.

The Labor Code provides for a 48-hour, 6-day regular workweek with a 30-minute rest period for every 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. In view of the low level of economic activity during 1994, most employers ignored these various regulations, and there was very little attempt at enforcement in the country.

Prior to 1990, there also had been government-established health and safety standards, enforced in principle by the Ministry of Labor. Workers did not have a legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations.

Corrected 1/31/95

 

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