United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Liberia, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5220.html [accessed 11 December 2013]
This 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 1993 Liberia remained divided geographically and factionally into three main regions and competing political-military groups as a result of the 4-year civil war. The Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), a coalition of political parties and interest groups led by President Amos Sawyer, administered Monrovia and the expanded perimeter around it secured by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Over half of the country's current population resided within IGNU's area. The Charles Taylor-led National Patriotic Reconstruction Assembly Government (NPRAG) and its political-military arm, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), held several central and southern counties. The anti-NPFL United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), led by Alhaji Kromah, controlled the three western counties and portions of two central counties. The other important warring faction is the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the remnants of the late President Samuel Doe's army, which is nominally subordinate to IGNU but also has close ties to ULIMO. During the last quarter of the year, the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), which has ties to the AFL, initiated a military campaign against NPFL control of the southeastern counties while the Lofa Defense Force (LDF) emerged in the northwest to challenge ULIMO. The three major Liberian groups (IGNU, NPFL, ULIMO) executed a peace accord on July 25, the third such agreement since 1990, under the auspices of ECOWAS, the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The accord reestablished a cease-fire and provided for demobilization of warring factions, a unified national transitional government, and free elections by March 1994. However, there was little movement through the rest of the year in implementing the accord, primarily because of factional differences in interpreting the accord and delays in the arrival of additional peacekeepers needed to help carry out disarmament. In September the United Nations Security Council established a U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL), in accordance with the peace accord, to help ECOMOG monitor the cease-fire and disarmament. By year's end, over 270 of an expected 303 UNOMIL military observers had arrived in Liberia. The July accord helped stabilize the military situation which had been in flux since October 1992, when ECOMOG forces, assisted by AFL and ULIMO troops, successfully defended Monrovia against NPFL attacks. Subsequently, the ECOMOG extended the capital's defensive perimeter in the first months of the year, taking the port of Buchanan, Liberia's second city approximately 50 miles southeast of Monrovia, and Kakata, a key transportation hub 30 miles northeast of Monrovia. Meanwhile, ULIMO displaced the NPFL from substantial areas in northwestern and central Liberia. By April fighting subsided to sporadic low-intensity encounters along the enlarged perimeter. ECOMOG assumed most police powers in Monrovia because the IGNU police force, reconstituted in 1991, initially was unarmed and ineffective, although IGNU later formed some relatively better equipped armed special security units. NPFL and ULIMO military and police forces asserted control in their areas. There were massive human rights violations by NPFL, ULIMO, and AFL units during 1993. While ECOMOG forces generally conducted themselves well, they were also responsible for a number of serious abuses (see Sections 1.a. and 1.g.). The civil war-ravaged economy, previously based primarily on iron ore, rubber, timber, diamonds, and gold exports, continued to decline. The year's gross domestic product was projected at less than half of prewar levels. Massive emergency operations by the United Nations, as well as by American and other Western-based relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), brought subsistence-level humanitarian assistance to most Liberians. These operations continued throughout 1993 but were periodically suspended outside of Monrovia because of intermittent fighting, harassment of relief workers by combatants, and security restrictions imposed by ECOMOG. While all parties professed to honor the 1985 Liberian Constitution, roughly based on the United States model, the document's provisions were selectively ignored and unevenly applied, although less so in IGNU-controlled areas. Human rights were widely violated, particularly for civilians in territory controlled by the NPFL and ULIMO armed factions. Since 1989, an estimated 150,000 Liberians have been killed or wounded as a result of the conflict, and hundreds of thousands have fled abroad or are displaced within Liberia. On June 6, according to a U.N.-commissioned investigation, the AFL massacred over 500 displaced persons, mostly defenseless women and children, at the Firestone plantation near Harbel. Credible reports indicated that NPFL fighters killed over 130 civilians at Fassima, Lofa County, on May 15. All warring factions committed other egregious human rights violations, e.g., use of excessive force, arbitrary detentions, forced conscription, torture, and summary executions. IGNU security personnel and, to a much lesser extent, individual ECOMOG soldiers committed excesses in Monrovia during the year.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Numerous cases of extrajudicial killing were reported. Although professing adherence to the rule of law, the leaders of the warring factions condoned and, in some instances, seemingly encouraged lethal brutality (see Section 1.g.). The ECOMOG peacekeeping force maintained a commendable record and policy against unlawful behavior, but there were reported incidents of individual ECOMOG fighters killing civilians. An unconfirmed account implicated ECOMOG soldiers in the fatal January beating of a youth identified as an NPFL fighter by residents of a Monrovia suburb. In addition, ULIMO efforts to consolidate its position in Lofa County prompted credible reports of numerous political killings there during the last quarter of 1993. There were no reported cases of the factions punishing fighters for politically motivated killings. In one instance, the AFL imposed capital punishment against a soldier convicted in the criminal homicide of a Monrovia resident. Human rights observers viewed the case not as a genuine commitment to instill professional discipline but as a ploy by the AFL hierarchy to disarm criticism of its institutional behavior.
Disappearances were not believed to be common, but there were reports (of varying degrees of credibility) of young men disappearing while in the custody of AFL, NPFL, or ULIMO fighters, possibly victims of forced conscription or execution. Very little new information was available about persons missing as a result of the war. The October 1992 NPFL attack on Monrovia resulted in hundreds of missing suburban Monrovia residents. Others disappeared when fighting spread to other parts of the country. There were credible reports that many people were unwillingly moved to sites in NPFL territory. Many of those forcibly removed were feared to have been killed.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture and degrading treatment. While not descending to the same level of the 1989-90 civil war period, inhuman treatment continued to be frequent. Monrovia remained the safest area for civilians, but reliable sources claimed that IGNU police frequently beat criminal suspects in their custody. The IGNU Ministry of Internal Affairs sometimes relied on "trial by ordeal" or "sassywood" subjecting suspects to the excruciation of metal objects heated by burning wood to coerce confessions in criminal investigations. There are credible reports that ECOMOG soldiers beat criminal suspects and harassed individuals at ECOMOG checkpoints in Monrovia. Prominent Monrovia politician Peter Bonner Jallah, arrested in November 1992 for allegedly aiding the NPFL attack on Monrovia, credibly claimed he was tortured by ECOMOG and IGNU intelligence officers, as evidenced by the impaired use of his hands. NPFL soldiers were also widely accused of beating and torturing civilians, especially persons suspected of being ULIMO operatives. At numerous highway checkpoints in NPFL areas, NPFL forces beat civilians and forced them to disrobe, usually in connection with extortion or other forms of intimidation. Much of the reported NPFL inhuman treatment was centered in Grand Gedeh County, the home county of the late president Samuel Doe and his Krahn ethnic group. NPFL leader Charles Taylor publicly condemned harassment of civilians but chose to discipline offending troops only when expedient. Civilians in ULIMO-held areas fared little better. ULIMO checkpoint guards and roving bands harassed and beat civilians if they resisted extortion. For example, in June ULIMO bands raided several villages in Cape Mount County, beating and threatening villagers alleged to be NPFL accomplices. There were also numerous reports, difficult to confirm, of ULIMO'S Mandingo forces executing or generally harassing citizens of Lofa County because of religious and ethnic differences. Conditions in the nation's often makeshift jails were hazardous to life and health prior to the civil war and were more dismal in 1993. Reports were remarkably similar: prisoners denied medical care, family contacts, and adequate food; living in small, crowded, and filthy cells or rooms. It was not possible to determine whether any prisoners died because of these conditions. In Monrovia pretrial detainees were often housed with convicted criminals, but women and children appeared to be held separately. IGNU has not given prison reform a high priority, and there has been no attempt to improve the largely untrained guard force. The Monrovia-based Center for Law and Human Rights Education and other human rights advocates were finally allowed to visit the Central Prison toward the end of the year after IGNU had denied previous requests for access. The AFL continued to detain an unknown number of alleged NPFL collaborators at its stockade in Monrovia. According to a leading human rights organization, these detainees (including children) many held incommunicado suffered deplorable living conditions and experienced occasional harassment by cell guards. The conditions of detention in NPFL and ULIMO territory were even worse, according to credible sources; both factions held prisoners in makeshift, substandard facilities and subjected them to various forms of mistreatment. A prominent Monrovia journalist and another credible returnee described physical and psychological mistreatment including beatings, rape, and threatened executions of abducted civilians.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The 1985 Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrests, but in the aftermath of the war there were few functioning institutional safeguards preventing these malpractices. The Constitution provides for the rights of the accused, including warrants for arrests and the right of detainees either to be charged or to be released within 48 hours. These provisions were widely ignored, although the bail system functioned relatively well in Monrovia. IGNU President Sawyer repeatedly affirmed his administration's respect for constitutional procedural safeguards. However, administrative inefficiency, delays in appointing judges, and poorly trained criminal justice personnel resulted in detainees being held for long periods without trial or charges. In practice, police officers had wide discretion to make arrests. This authority was often abused. Arrests regularly took place without probable cause. 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. Many suspects were held incommunicado. Police occasionally coerced confessions from persons illegally detained. As ECOMOG gradually took on more police duties in response to the escalating crime rate, citizens called on ECOMOG soldiers to arrest and detain alleged criminals. However, detentions by ECOMOG peacekeepers did not always satisfy constitutional or internationally recognized standards. ECOMOG soldiers sometimes physically coerced confessions from suspects. While accurate arrest information was unavailable, charged and uncharged pretrial detainees formed a sizable portion of the total incarcerated population at year's end and likely numbered in the hundreds. It was impossible to determine the number of political detainees among this total. However, politician Peter Bonner Jallah remained confined after being detained by ECOMOG in November 1992 for allegedly abetting the NPFL attack on Monrovia. According to Jallah's attorney, ECOMOG has failed to produce evidence implicating his client or to charge him formally. Criminal law also allows for the writ of habeas corpus, but the IGNU judiciary denied a September attempt to secure a writ on behalf of Bonner Jallah. The denial was on the basis that he was a "prisoner of war" even after the July cease-fire accord provided for the release of all faction prisoners and although the term is of questionable applicability to internal armed conflicts. There was no change in the Jallah case by year's end. Arbitrary detentions were commonplace in NPFL territory where martial law has been in effect since the war began. NPFL soldiers and police officers had almost unbridled power to make warrantless arrests. They exercised that power often and capriciously, detaining hundreds of persons on spurious grounds or without charge for periods ranging from several hours to several weeks. Detainees in NPFL territory were rarely informed of their legal rights. The writ of habeas corpus remained suspended, and access to bail was basically unavailable. ULIMO's arrest and detention practices mirrored the NPFL's lack of procedural safeguards. Many Monrovia area residents abducted by NPFL fighters during the October 1992 attack on Monrovia remained in NPFL custody. The NPFL refused to relinquish custody of over 250 orphans abducted from a Monrovia suburb in 1992, despite U.N. and other humanitarian entreaties. In early 1993, the AFL detained over a dozen suspected NPFL supporters whose fate is unknown. During the year, there were no reports of Liberians being subjected to forced political exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Liberia's legal system is closely modeled on that of the United States, with the Supreme Court at its apex. Before the civil war, however, the system afforded little protection in practice for defendants, due to corruption among court officials, lack of training, and a domineering executive branch. By mid-1990, the system had completely collapsed, along with the rest of civil authority, with justice resting in the hands of the military commanders of the factions. In 1991 IGNU slowly began to reconstitute the court system in the Monrovia area. It reestablished several magistrate courts in Monrovia and swore into office new circuit court judges. In Monrovia criminal defendants, in theory and generally in practice, were entitled to a defense attorney, pretrial discovery of accusatory material, and the right to appeal. Corruption in the judiciary was a recurrent problem, often cited by human rights monitors, the press, and members of the bar. There seemed to be no overt judicial interference by the IGNU executive. However, the courts almost universally sided with IGNU in controversial cases as in the Jallah case when the criminal court denied him a writ of habeas corpus on highly questionable legal grounds. In addition to the resurrection of the modern court system, customary law was also applied in many areas. In Monrovia the Ministry of Internal Affairs often subjected persons accused of occult practices and other crimes to "trial by ordeal," i.e., submitting defendants to physical travail to adjudicate innocence or guilt (see Section 1.c.). This customary mode of justice was also used by traditional authorities in some rural courts which operated in 1993 in areas under IGNU control. There are few national institutions still working across faction lines. The ad hoc Supreme Court is one exception. Under the auspices of the ECOWAS peace process, IGNU and the NPFL agreed on the creation of a five-member ad hoc Supreme Court in September 1991. In 1992 IGNU and NPRAG agreed that the Court should have the full jurisdiction provided by the Constitution. The ad hoc Supreme Court, which has assumed the full jurisdiction of the regular Supreme Court, continued hearing a variety of civil and criminal cases in 1993 but, like the rest of the court system, tended to avoid controversial cases arising from the violation of law and human rights during the civil war. Under the July peace accord, ULIMO named a justice to fill the seat on the bench left vacant by the 1993 death of the Chief Justice. The NPFL also partially reactivated in 1991 the court system in areas under its control. In practice, legal and judicial protections were almost totally lacking as executive branch interference was pervasive and overt. ULIMO judicial practices and protections were equally suspect to the extent they existed. Given the situation in Liberia, it was not possible to determine either the number of political detainees (see Section 1.d.) or political prisoners among the many "prisoners" being held by the various factions. An illustrated news report in December, however, charged that some 800 of the 1,000 prisoners held at the substandard Monrovia Central Prison under IGNU and ECOMOG guard were ex-combatants, primarily from the failed October 1992 NPFL attack on Monrovia. Embarrassed by the situation, IGNU appointed a panel to investigate the allegations.
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 soldiers of all of the warring factions. There was no evidence of frequent surveillance of individuals. AFL soldiers committed many armed robberies in the Monrovia area. As ECOMOG expanded its defensive perimeter, AFL or ULIMO brigands followed to pillage and loot these areas, including the Firestone plantation. Virtually any valuable object was pilfered. ULIMO fighters regularly raided villages in their areas and conducted house searches for loot to sell in Monrovia. They also illegally occupied many private homes. The situation regarding interference with person or property in NPFL territory was even more abysmal. Throughout NPFL territory, NPFL soldiers regularly demanded scarce food and personal valuables from already impoverished residents or displaced persons and often robbed and physically abused travelers, particularly at checkpoints. Confiscation of private homes and vehicles was also common practice. To escape harassment, many Liberians moved their families to remote areas or out of Liberia. Occasionally ECOMOG conducted searches, without warrants, of Monrovia households for weapons caches, but there were no reported incidents of violence or theft during these searches.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
During the first half of 1993, fighting moved to western and central Liberia as the military tide turned against the NPFL after its unsuccessful attack on Monrovia in October 1992. As has been the case throughout the civil war, "fighting" was an inaccurate description, for there were few battles between opposing militaries. In fact, the warring factions inflicted considerably more harm on noncombatants than on each other. AFL, NPFL, and ULIMO fighters indiscriminately ransacked villages, abused populations, and confiscated scant food supplies. They also murdered innocent civilians and regularly committed violence against women, including rape. Although there was no credible evidence of willful ECOMOG violations of humanitarian law, there were incidents of civilian deaths and damage from ECOMOG aerial strikes. In late February, ECOMOG planes strafed near the Cote d'Ivoire border, injuring some civilians and temporarily panicking civilians and relief workers in the areas. In September Nigerian planes, based in Sierra Leone and supporting both the Sierra Leonean counterinsurrection and the ECOMOG operation, strafed a refugee settlement along the border, killing 6 and injuring nearly 40 persons. On June 6, a group of armed fighters slaughtered over 500 displaced persons, mostly women and children, at a settlement on the Firestone plantation at Harbel. A U.N. investigation team, comprised of three eminent international lawyers and human rights advocates, concluded in a September report that the AFL committed the act and cited substantial evidence supporting this finding. AFL soldiers were also caught in possession of property looted from the settlement. The Interim Government and the AFL disputed the U.N. team's finding, insisting on NPFL culpability. Three AFL soldiers whom the U.N. report identified as key participants in the massacre were initially ordered held by IGNU but were never actually detained or arrested by IGNU or AFL authorities. In another highly publicized case, several AFL soldiers in late January killed British scientist Brian Garnham at his animal research institute outside Monrovia. According to witnesses, Garnham was pleading for his life when fatally shot at close range. The assailants, without any basis, had accused Garnham of NPFL sympathies. The Interim Government established an AFL-chaired committee to investigate the incident. However, credible human rights monitors criticized the composition and the poor performance of the committee. At year's end, no suspect had been formally charged with the murder; lesser charges against one of the five soldiers implicated in the incident were dismissed by an AFL court-martial, and the cases against the others languished. The NPFL also committed unlawful killings. In early May, a broadcast reportedly intercepted by ECOMOG recorded NPFL leadership ordering fighters to target civilian populations in a "reign of terror." Shortly thereafter, a massacre of more than 130 civilians at Fassima took place. Although the massacre is believed to have been committed by NPFL fighters, the facts of the incident were not subsequently confirmed by independent investigation or prosecution. Survivors were believed to have been abducted and massively abused. In January dozens of bodies several beheaded were found in unmarked graves in Monrovia's northwestern suburbs. The killings were probably committed by NPFL fighters before retreating from the area in November and December 1992. While advancing toward Buchanan in March, ECOMOG troops found scores of civilian corpses along the roadsides. NPFL fighters apparently killed civilians who tried to flee to ECOMOG lines. NPFL fighters are also believed responsible for the massacre of over 200 civilians in separate incidents in Montserrado and Margibi counties, north of Monrovia. An unconfirmed report attributed the alleged executions of another 200 displaced persons in Camp Todee to the NPFL. Many of the most egregious NPFL offenses continued to take place in Grand Gedeh County, where Gio and Mano NPFL fighters exacted revenge against their Krahn ethnic rivals. In September fighting was reported between the NPFL and the Krahn-dominated LPC along the Grand Gedeh County-Ivoirian border. Military operations by the LPC in the southeast during the last quarter of the year resulted in many civilian deaths. There were credible reports of LPC abuses against suspected NPFL sympathizers and members of other ethnic groups. ULIMO also preyed on civilians in its area. Residents, local human rights organizations, and relief workers reported numerous ULIMO human rights abuses in Lofa County. Advancing ULIMO fighters executed several village elders for being alleged supporters or harboring the NPFL in their villages. Often the victims executed had been forced to accommodate the NPFL under threat of bodily harm. Unconfirmed reports also indicated that ULIMO might have executed several NPFL fighters attempting to surrender after the August 1 cease-fire. Intensified ULIMO operations in Lofa County after August prompted the emergence of the Lofa Defense Force, which charged Mandingo members of ULIMO with abusing local citizens. Credible sources claimed that both ULIMO and the NPFL executed innocent civilians, usually young men, on the mere suspicion that the victims belonged to the rival group. Both ULIMO and the NPFL mistreated Sierra Leonean refugees living in western Liberia. Continuing a practice begun in 1992, both ULIMO and AFL troops executed civilians in Monrovia, according to reliable sources. These reports cited AFL and ULIMO squads targeting former members of the NPFL and the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a defunct offshoot of the NPFL. Nighttime bands of AFL and ULIMO fighters occasionally roamed sections of the city searching for Gio and Mano tribe members from Nimba County, whom they would torture or kill. Both ULIMO and the NPFL exploited minors as fighters. During the first half of the year, the NPFL continued its program of involuntary conscription, including children, in Nimba County and southeastern Liberia. The NPFL beat and tortured persons who refused to join their ranks and local government officials who refused to implement the conscription program. The warring factions tried to exploit humanitarian relief efforts to their political advantage, often to the detriment of the affected populations. After intensifying its Lofa operations, ULIMO denied relief workers access to besieged areas and hijacked their vehicles and supplies on several occasions. The NPFL used relief convoys entering its area as a means of circumventing ECOWAS economic sanctions and possibly the international arms embargo. The NPFL insisted that relief must cross the international border with Cote d'Ivoire although direct shipments from Monrovia constituted the shortest route to the most needy populations in NPFL territory. In the absence of mechanisms to monitor the contents of relief convoys, ECOMOG imposed restrictions on NGO and U.N. relief operations, including cross-border deliveries. In September ECOMOG acceded to more liberal cross-border operations once its arms embargo and economic sanctions enforcement concerns were resolved by the stationing of monitors at key entry points. A number of Liberian employees of relief organizations, including the United Nations, were detained by the factions during the year; some were beaten or threatened. For example, in October the NPFL detained 10 drivers and workers of a U.N. World Food Program convoy on suspicion of spying, held them for several weeks, and mistreated some of them. A few foreign relief workers also were detained, mostly for short periods. In one case detained relief workers were forced to endure an ad hoc trial and mock execution. Occasionally, NPFL and ULIMO soldiers tried to confiscate relief supplies or relief vehicles from relief workers; fighters from all factions commonly confiscated relief food after the humanitarian groups had distributed it.
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. There were more far-reaching limitations elsewhere. Due primarily to continued economic stagnation, the number of media organs in Monrovia diminished to approximately 5 to 7 privately owned newspapers (down from 12 in 1992), 3 of which published regularly. The Interim Government newspaper, The Liberian Times, was not published in 1993. Official press censorship was not pervasive in Monrovia, nor were any newspapers forcibly closed during the year. However, the Monrovia press tended to be pro-IGNU; and some journalists admitted self-censorship. Other journalists asserted that constant public calls by IGNU officials for a "more responsible" press had a chilling effect on journalistic freedom. At times journalists were requested to meet privately with IGNU officials who had been offended by articles. In reaction to perceived NPFL military preparations along the defensive perimeter in May and June, IGNU ordered that journalists submit all "war-related" stories to the Ministries of Information and Justice for clearance on national security grounds. The Press Union of Liberia and newspaper publishers objected to the measure as a prior restraint. The Press Union and the Interim Government later compromised on guidelines for military reporting. In September IGNU repealed decree 88-a, which had been used by the former Doe regime to stifle free speech by criminalizing criticism of government on national security grounds. However, a restrictive, Doe-era media law, providing the Ministry of Information wide discretion in licensing and regulating journalists, still remained on the books. There were no official or private newspapers printed in NPFL or ULIMO territory. International journalists visited NPFL areas intermittently throughout the year, with no indications of official censorship. Because of the fighting, journalists from Monrovia were prohibited from covering events in NPFL areas, and vice versa. Residents of Liberia had to exercise care in their criticism of the various factions. Although NPFL leader Charles Taylor affirmed publicly on several occasions that his government supported free speech, citizens in his area were subject to sanctions for criticizing the NPFL. Citizens in ULIMO territory also had to exercise care. After a group of citizens published a statement that ULIMO should relinquish to IGNU control of the western counties, the ULIMO leadership exerted pressure for a retraction. IGNU supported a shortwave radio station (ELBC) and also continued radio broadcasts in 1993. News reports were favorable to IGNU, and many credible journalists allege substantial censorship by ELBC. The NPFL intermittently operated two radio stations in its area. NPFL news programs uncritically supported Charles Taylor's NPFL and offered no criticism of his political program. The University of Liberia, which closed temporarily after fighting erupted in October 1992, was open most of the year. Academic freedom was generally respected, although pro-NPFL expression was criticized by university authorities and most of the student body.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the rights of peaceful assembly and association. In Monrovia, several groups held peaceful demonstrations ranging from support of the peace process to a group celebrating late president Doe's birthday. Some of the unhindered processions were critical of IGNU, and most took place without permits. Nevertheless, authorities moved quickly to disband gatherings that they believed could incite unrest. In June ECOMOG prohibited a pro-ULIMO rally at a local sports stadium. In September ECOMOG and IGNU police peacefully dispersed demonstrations by market vendors protesting rising wholesale prices. The 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. nighttime curfew in Monrovia, imposed after the NPFL attack in 1992, continued in force. ECOMOG soldiers were ordered to enforce the measure strictly, and numerous persons were arrested for noncompliance. AFL soldiers reportedly killed or wounded a few citizens for breaking the curfew. ECOMOG periodically meted out corporal punishment to repeat curfew violators. Political parties and other groups were able to organize freely and hold public meetings in Monrovia. Freedom of assembly and association was generally more restricted in NPFL areas than in Monrovia. None of the prewar political parties was known to have held public meetings in NPFL areas. There were several anti-U.N. demonstrations in NPFL territory protesting the alleged lack of U.N. humanitarian assistance to NPFL areas and perceived pro-IGNU bias by the United Nations. These demonstrations were probably orchestrated by NPFL officials. Citizens could not independently organize public demonstrations, particularly any critical of the NPFL. In ULIMO areas, residents still felt intimidated and did not attempt demonstrations critical of ULIMO for fear of reprisal.
c. Freedom of Religion
The 1985 Constitution recognizes freedom of religion as a fundamental right, and Liberia has no established state religion. Christianity has long been the religion of the political and economic elite, while the majority of the population follows traditional religions or practices a mixture of traditional religions and Christianity or Islam. 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.
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. Freedom of movement in and out of Monrovia was generally respected by IGNU, though ECOMOG and AFL checkpoints impeded the movement of relief workers and supplies. Freedom of movement, ranging from resettlement of displaced persons to ordinary commerce and travel, was inhibited by factional fighting in the first half of 1993. Throughout the year, NPFL and ULIMO forces impeded movement by extorting and harassing citizens at checkpoints. The NPFL prohibited thousands of displaced persons from traveling to seek refuge behind ECOMOG lines. Over 700,000 Liberian refugees remained in neighboring West African countries, many out of fear of ethnic persecution. The number of refugees increased and decreased depending on the intensity and proximity of the fighting to population centers in Liberia. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that as many as 30,000 Liberian refugees may have returned spontaneously in 1993. Most of these returnees went to Monrovia, where they were well received and were provided assistance by a network consisting of the U.N. agencies, IGNU, and international and domestic nongovernmental relief groups. There are approximately 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia. Although many Sierra Leoneans were mistreated by the NPFL and ULIMO, there were no reports of such refugees being forced to leave Liberia.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Despite constitutional and statutory guarantees of free and fair elections, Liberians could not exercise the right to change their government. As fighting continued the first half of the year, there was again intense activity in the search for new political formulas to restore unity under a popularly elected leadership. Under joint U.N., OAU, and ECOWAS auspices, leaders of IGNU, the NPFL, and ULIMO hammered out a peace accord in late July after negotiations in Geneva and Cotonou, Benin. The agreement called for demobilization of the warring factions and the institution of a unified transitional government to organize elections for February-March 1994. Pursuant to the accord, the rival IGNU, NPRAG, and ULIMO administrations would dissolve as rival administrations upon the installation of the transitional government. The peace accord was welcomed by the overwhelming majority of Liberians. Its implementation, however, lagged behind schedule at year's end because of lack of agreement among the factions about the timetable for disarmament, demobilization, and the seating of the transitional government, and because of delays in the arrival of the additional ECOMOG forces needed to help accomplish these objectives. IGNU is a coalition government comprised of the major prewar political parties and interest groups. Power in IGNU mainly resides in the executive branch, led by President Amos Sawyer, not in the legislature or the judiciary. NPRAG also has three separate branches of government. But unlike the coalition-based IGNU, Charles Taylor remained the NPRAG's supreme leader. Unlike IGNU and NPRAG, ULIMO did not establish formal legislative, executive, or judiciary structures in its area. Decisions are made by senior level ULIMO political and military officials, with ULIMO leader Alhaji Kromah the primary decisionmaker. Neither the legislature in Monrovia nor that in Gbarnga was truly representative. However, the interim legislature in Monrovia at times asserted its role as a separate branch of government, both confirming and rejecting important IGNU appointees following public confirmation hearings. There are no restrictions in law on the participation of women in politics; but, in practice, only a few women hold Cabinet-level positions in the IGNU and NPRAG governments, none in significant decisionmaking positions. Overall numbers of women in the two governments and the various political parties are small.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The few domestic human rights organizations are relatively new and underfunded but made progress improving their influence, visibility, and performance in 1993. Two groups occasionally published newspapers dedicated to human rights. None of the organizations reported any major IGNU interference with their activities, although IGNU authorities sometimes criticized the organizations, and, in the case of The Center for Human Rights Education, prevented its members from monitoring conditions at Monrovia's Central Prison. The attitude of NPRAG toward the human rights organizations was less clearly enunciated, and its conduct to date has not been encouraging. Some Monrovia-based activists feared for their personal safety, claiming that the NPFL had previously accused them of being IGNU agents. There was one human rights organization based in NPFL territory, but it did not appear to be active or effective. ULIMO officials insisted on monitoring the activities of human rights groups visiting its area. In August a three-member U.N. team visited Liberia to investigate the June 6 Harbel massacre of over 500 innocent displaced persons. Both NPFL and IGNU officials cooperated with the panel. There were no apparent signs of interference with the panel's work, though IGNU publicly criticized the panel's September report, which concluded that the AFL perpetrated the atrocity. A representative of the U.S. human rights monitoring organization Africa Watch visited Liberia early in the year and did not experience interference by IGNU authorities in Monrovia. However, ULIMO refused to allow the Africa Watch representative to visit its area without an ULIMO escort.
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 de facto and in some cases de jure.
The status of women in Liberian society varies by region, ethnic group, and religion. Some women currently hold skilled jobs, including in government and business. In the past 2 years, 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. In urban areas and along the coast, 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. Women in most rural areas are responsible for much of the farm labor and have only limited access to education. According to a recent U.N. study, females in Liberia, on average, receive only about 28 percent of the schooling given to males. 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 never seriously addressed as an issue by the Government, women's groups, the courts, or the media.
In the civil war, the various sides have given almost no attention to the welfare of children, and the education and nurturing of children has been seriously disrupted. The NPFL and ULIMO recruited and employed children as combatants. As a result, children have become both victims and abusers in the conflict. Some NGO's have initiated small retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters. At year's end, the United Nations and NGO's were discussing plans within the overall peace process for special counseling and training of the bulk of young combatants once they demobilize (see also Sections 1.g. and 6.d.). Female genital mutilation (circumcision), which international health experts have condemned as physically and psychologically damaging, is widely practiced at an early age, particularly in isolated 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 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. Neither Monrovia's Interim Government nor Gbarnga's NPRAG has considered repealing this racial test. In July IGNU reaffirmed a 1975 economic "Liberianization" law, which prohibited foreign ownership in certain business sectors. The law resulted in the closure or sale of several foreign-owned businesses. The roots of the civil conflict can be found in the historical division between the Americo-Liberian minority, who 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 1980 coup mounted by Sergeant Doe and other AFL noncommissioned officers was seen by some as a revolution, with indigenous groups taking power from the Americo-Liberian elite. However, Doe's authoritarian military-based regime 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. At the height of the civil war, an individual's language was used to identify that person's ethnicity. Those from groups considered hostile often were summarily executed. The cease-fire in late 1990 stopped many of these abuses. However, the NPFL reprisals against Krahns, particularly in Grand Gedeh County, and against Mandingos throughout NPFL territory continued to occur. Harassment of rival ethnic groups by predominately Krahn AFL troops in Monrovia and Krahn and Mandingo ULIMO fighters continued during the year (see Section 1.g.).
While religious discrimination is legally prohibited, there were claims of discrimination in practice. Muslims, who represent a sizable portion of the population, asserted they were subjected to discrimination during the year. Alleged mistreatment ranged from unequal access to official radio stations for religious programs to bias in government employment practices. On the other hand, many residents in ULIMO areas complained that ULIMO officials discriminated against non-Muslims by exacting higher checkpoint tariffs and business fees. Muslim representation in senior positions in both IGNU and NPRAG was disproportionately low. Muslims also asserted that equal sanction and acknowledgment was not conferred on Islamic holidays and practices as on Christian ones.
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 was no de jure discrimination against the disabled. However, in practice the disabled did not enjoy equal access to education, employment, and already scant social services. Cultural norms also adversely affected attitudes toward the disabled population. None of the rival administrations places a high priority on care for the disabled, and there are no accessibility laws on the books. Some NGO and U.N. programs in Monrovia were dedicated to rehabilitating and assisting war-wounded and otherwise disabled persons.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution states that workers 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. Over 20 trade unions, representing about 15 percent of the wage-earning work force, were registered with the Ministry of Labor before 1989. Approximately 10 national unions were members of the Liberian Federation of Labor Unions (LFLU). However, the actual power the unions exercised was always slight. Like virtually all other organized activity in the country, unions disappeared during the height of the 1989-90 war. As some large-scale operations involving rubber and other extractive industries began operating in NPFL areas in 1991 and 1992, union activity associated with these industries resumed. Economic sanctions and renewed fighting after October 1992 stopped these operations and associated union activity in NPFL territory, but with the signing of the July peace accord, many industries planned to resume and affected unions began reorganizing and attempting to locate members. In Monrovia union activity focused on internal leadership questions, internal financing, and locating suitable employment for members. One of the most active organizations was the Ship Workers' Union, which urged the Interim Government to pressure Liberian flag vessels to employ more Liberian workers. However, contending with an 80-percent unemployment rate in Monrovia, this and other unions faced an uphill struggle. 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. For example, the Doe regime did not recognize the right of civil servants or employees of public corporations to unionize or strike. During 1993, attempts languished in the IGNU legislature to enact an amended labor code removing the prohibition against unionization of government workers. The 1985 Constitution is silent on the right to strike. While the labor practices laws of Liberia do protect this right, the Doe government issued a decree in 1980 prohibiting strikes. Neither IGNU nor NPRAG officially repealed or affirmed the no-strike decree, but it was not challenged in 1993 as there were no significant strikes. During the year, neither IGNU nor NPRAG took any discriminatory actions against organized labor. Labor unions traditionally were affiliated with international labor groups before the war, and unions attempted to restore many of these ties in 1993.
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. However, in 1993 these rights were significantly constrained by the institutional breakdown of unions caused by the war and the low level of economic activity. With high unemployment and dismissals being fundamental concerns, several unions negotiated with employers severance payments for union members. Generally, wage and severance pay agreements are negotiated freely between labor and their employers without government interference, but with occasional input from the IGNU or the NPRAG Ministries of Labor. Although the interim legislature deliberated over the merits of a revised labor code, neither the Interim Government nor NPRAG took steps to correct flaws highlighted by the 1990 report of the International Labor Organization (ILO). That report stated that existing labor laws failed to provide workers adequate protection against discrimination and reprisals for union activity, failed to protect workers' organizations against outside interference, and did not give eligible workers in the public sector the opportunity to bargain collectively. Labor laws have the same force in Liberia's one export processing zone as in the rest of the country.
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. Forced labor was used by some or all of the warring factions during the civil war, especially for moving equipment and supplies. This practice persisted in 1993. NPFL forced labor camps and farms in Grand Gedeh County were not reported to have closed. According to several sources, the NPFL reportedly used forced labor in western Liberia to move supplies in the wake of clashes with ULIMO. When it captured portions of Lofa and Bong Counties, ULIMO reportedly forced inhabitants to carry property that had been confiscated as spoils of war. The AFL also forced civilians to carry its stolen goods.
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. Enforcement by the Ministry of Labor, however, was limited. Even before the civil war, small children continued to assist their parents as vendors in local markets and on family subsistence farms. This practice persisted in 1993, particularly in those areas where schools had been closed because of the war. During the conflict, the NPFL recruited young children as soldiers; many of them had been orphaned, and some were less than 12 years of age. Many of these children, especially in the NPFL, remained under arms in 1993. (Indeed, the NPFL has a unit named the "small boys unit.")
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The labor law 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. Most turned to subsistence farming. The minimum wage was not always been enforced adequately by the Labor Ministry. The Liberian 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. In view of the low level of economic activity during 1993, most employers ignored these various regulations, and there was very little attempt at enforcement in Monrovia or in NPFL territory. Prior to 1990, there also had been government-established health and safety standards, enforced in theory by the Ministry of Labor. Workers did not have a specifically protected right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations.