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Amnesty International Report 2007 - Liberia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 23 May 2007
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2007 - Liberia , 23 May 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46558ed316.html [accessed 26 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.

REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA

Head of state and government: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified


There were violent incidents over land issues due to ethnic tensions in the north of the country as refugees and internally displaced people returned home. Dissatisfied demobilized former combatants contributed to the violence. Reforms of the police and army progressed, but the process for the reform of the judiciary was extremely slow. Few steps were taken to develop a mechanism to prosecute those suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict that ended in 2003. Former President Charles Taylor was handed over to Liberia in March and immediately transferred to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to face trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission started operations in June. Violence against women remained widespread. There were several incidents of journalists being harassed by the security forces.

Background

On 16 January Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman head of state in Africa, was inaugurated. All political appointments were concluded by the middle of the year, with seven women in cabinet positions. Civil society organizations expressed concern over some appointments, such as that of Kabineh Ja'neh, former political leader of the armed group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD), as an associate Justice to the Supreme Court.

The new President took a strong stand against corruption. An audit of the National Transitional Government of Liberia carried out by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) was made public in July. Several senior government officials were dismissed after being accused of corruption. The Governance Reform Commission drew up an anti-corruption policy paper which largely focussed on addressing corruption within the government. At least six former members of the National Transitional Government of Liberia were arrested and charged with theft in early December, a move by the government which was publicly condoned by members of civil society.

The government met more than half its targets under a 150-day action plan designed to address some of the most urgent needs of the population. A donors' conference in July demonstrated a commitment to long-term engagement with Liberia.

The resettlement of 314,095 internally displaced people, including 9,732 refugees, which began in March 2004, was completed in April, approximately six months earlier than expected.

In September the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was extended to March 2007. UNMIL released two public reports largely focused on failures in the administration of justice.

By September close to 39,000 former combatants still had not entered reintegration programmes. There were plans to incorporate these into projects sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Trust Fund.

The unstable security situation in Côte d'Ivoire continued to present a threat to Liberia. There were concerns about the possible movement of armed groups from Côte d'Ivoire to Liberia and the recruitment of former Liberian combatants, including children.

Sanctions

In June the government sent a letter to the UN Security Council highlighting progress made in meeting the criteria for lifting sanctions on diamonds and timber. Also in June, the UN Security Council lifted the embargo on timber, but extended the sanctions on diamonds for a further six months with a review after four months. The UN arms embargo was partially lifted.

The Minister of Justice sought to facilitate the passing of legislation to implement UN Security Council resolutions in Liberian law. Difficulties arose particularly in connection with the freezing of individuals' assets, since several members of parliament were on the asset freeze list. Edwin Snowe, who was subject to a travel ban and asset freeze, was elected as Speaker of the House. Isaac Nyanebo, a former LURD member, became interim Senate President. At the end of 2006, four members of parliament were still on the asset freeze list.

Political violence

Throughout the year demobilized army officers and former security personnel staged protests, some violent, expressing dissatisfaction with severance and pension benefits or reintegration packages. There were several violent incidents when former commanders and demobilized soldiers illegally occupied rubber plantations.

Disputes arose over land during resettlement and reintegration.

  • Violence erupted in May when residents of Ganta rioted after rumours that members of the Mandingo ethnic group were going to claim land. The government responded by establishing a presidential commission to investigate the cause of the violence.

Rubber plantations

Efforts to regain control of rubber plantations occupied since the end of the conflict by former rebel combatants made some progress. A joint Government/UNMIL task force on rubber plantations took over some plantations, including the Guthrie rubber plantation on 15 August.

In May UNMIL released a report on the rubber plantations expressing concern about an absence of state authority and the rule of law, and about illegal arrests and detentions. UNMIL increased patrolling activities in five rubber plantations, reducing the number of reported human rights abuses against civilians.

Reform process

Army restructuring activities began in January with US assistance. Recruitment activities took place throughout the year and by September approximately 500 of 7,000 people who had applied were recommended for recruitment. In mid-October civil society organizations held a forum on security sector reform to express their concerns.

By September most of the 2,400 Liberian National Police who did not succeed in reaching the second round of recruitment for the new police force had been retired and given severance pay.

Despite significant progress in reforming and restructuring the police, levels of violent crime, often committed by former combatants, remained high. In September the Ministry of Justice publicly called for residents in Monrovia, the capital, to form vigilante groups to protect themselves. This call was condemned by members of civil society who accused the government of abdicating its responsibilities and called for the police to be strengthened.

There were efforts to address the many problems confronting the justice system, including failure to uphold constitutional guarantees, the extrajudicial settlement of criminal cases and interference by the executive. A joint UNMIL/Government of Liberia Rule of Law Task Force strategy paper laying out a reform agenda for the judiciary was reportedly endorsed by the President but not made public. During 2006 UNMIL assisted in the hiring of prosecutors and public defence staff, and training of existing staff. Case load management improved, and public confidence in the justice sector increased to a certain extent. However, there were numerous reports throughout the year of violations of due process.

A Law Reform Commission was proposed to review laws to ensure they meet international standards. A Judicial Inquiry Commission, to set standards for the behaviour of judges, was also proposed.

Transitional justice

Little progress was made in setting up an Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the conflict. A selection panel to appoint commissioners, nominated by the Chief Justice in consultation with civil society, started to be appointed.

In February, seven Commissioners were inaugurated to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). After a three-month preparatory period, the TRC started work in June and in September its work plan was made public. Nearly 200 people were recruited by the end of September to take witness statements, a process which began on 10 October. However, public hearings due to take place at the end of the year were delayed. On 23 October supporters of former President Charles Taylor appealed to the Supreme Court to stop the TRC from hearing testimony against the former President, stating that it would prejudice his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (see below). Concerns were raised about the safety of witnesses, the role of civil society in the TRC process, and how the TRC should respond to public concerns.

By the end of 2006, the TRC had received approximately US$2.2 million of the estimated US$14 million required.

Charles Taylor

On 17 March President Johnson-Sirleaf made an official request to the Nigerian government for Charles Taylor to be handed over to Liberia. On 25 March the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo officially agreed to the request. Charles Taylor temporarily escaped from his place of refuge in Nigeria but was later arrested. He arrived in Liberia on 29 March, where he was arrested by UNMIL, mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1622, and immediately transferred to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Despite fears that his arrest would provoke violence, in fact there were overall expressions of relief by the Liberian public. The arrest and transfer of Charles Taylor was widely seen as an important step in addressing impunity in West Africa.

Suspected war criminals

Former associates of Charles Taylor were arrested in January and February but later released.

  • The trial of Dutch national Gus van Kowenhoven, a former associate of Charles Taylor, ended in June. He was convicted of arms trading and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. However, he was acquitted on charges of war crimes.
  • Roy Belfast Jr, also known as CharlesTaylor Jr, son of Charles Taylor, was arrested in the USA in March for passport fraud. He pleaded guilty to the charge. On 6 December, while he was awaiting sentencing, the US Federal Grand Jury indicted him for torture and conspiracy to commit torture, allegedly committed while he was head of the Anti-Terrorist Unit. He was the first person to be charged under the anti-torture statute in the USA since the law was enacted in 1994.

Women's rights

Rape of women and girls continued throughout 2006. Despite the passing of a new law on rape in December 2005, there were repeated failures to implement it. Rape suspects were regularly released on bail. Many rape cases were settled extrajudicially. Concerns that rape cases were not given priority in the courts were repeatedly highlighted by UN and women's rights groups. There was only one successful prosecution for rape during 2006.

UNMIL facilitated a one-week visit to Liberia by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to assist the government in meeting its reporting obligations under the UN Women's Convention.

Press freedom

On many occasions throughout the year, government officials, including the President, raised concerns about irresponsible press reporting. Journalists were repeatedly harassed by the Special Security Services (SSS).

  • In April journalists from two independent newspapers, the Inquirer and the Informer, were assaulted by police while covering clashes between police and street vendors in Monrovia.
  • In May George Watkins, a reporter with Radio Veritas, was assaulted by SSS agents, allegedly for reporting that the SSS had recruited a former rebel commander.
  • In June SSS agents harassed and briefly detained four local journalists at the executive mansion, while they were putting a story together about the dismissal of several senior SSS personnel.
  • In October, four policemen in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, reportedly flogged a local journalist from a community radio station for criticizing the police service.
  • In December reporter Rufus Paul of the Daily Observer was assaulted, allegedly on the orders of the Director of the National Archives. The journalist was investigating alleged misappropriation of funds at the National Archives by the Director.

AI country reports/visits

Reports

  • Liberia: Truth, Justice, and Reparation: Memorandum on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act (AI Index: AFR 34/005/2006)
  • Liberia: Submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (AI Index: AFR 34/006/2006)
  • Liberia: A brief guide to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (AI Index: AFR 34/007/2006)

Visit

AI delegates visited Liberia in May/June to carry out research.

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