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Amnesty International Report 2006 - Liberia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 23 May 2006
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Liberia, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff7ae38.html [accessed 18 December 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.

Sporadic outbreaks of violence continued to threaten prospects of peace. Former rebel fighters who should have been disarmed and demobilized protested violently when they did not receive benefits. Slow progress in reforming the police, judiciary and the criminal justice system resulted in systematic violations of due process and vigilante violence against criminal suspects. Laws establishing an Independent National Commission on Human Rights and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission were adopted. Over 200,000 internally displaced people and refugees returned to their homes, although disputes over land and property appropriated during the war raised ethnic tensions. UN sanctions on the trade in diamonds and timber were renewed. Those responsible for human rights abuses during the armed conflict continued to enjoy impunity. The UN Security Council gave peacekeeping forces in Liberia powers to arrest former head of state Charles Taylor and transfer him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone if he should return from Nigeria, where he continued to receive asylum. Liberia made a commitment to abolish the death penalty. A new law on rape, which initially proposed imposition of the death penalty for gang rape, was amended to provide a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Background

Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement remained on track. The registration of 1.3 million voters was completed in May. Some members of the Mandingo community were denied registration or faced discrimination in establishing their Liberian nationality during the registration process.

In the lead-up to presidential and parliamentary elections in October, the peacekeeping forces of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) were increased in strength. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf emerged as victor in the presidential ballot, after a second round of voting in November. There were some protests at polling irregularities by supporters of a rival candidate, football star George Weah. International observers considered the elections to have been free and fair.

The International Contact Group on Liberia, a grouping of donor governments, proposed measures to address corruption. In September the transitional government signed up to a Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme, which ensures that the revenue generated from the resources of Liberia are used to impove the living standards of Liberians. The programme required checks and balances on government spending and a transparent and functioning state bureaucracy.

The UNMIL human rights and protection section focused on failures to observe due process by the police, judiciary and prisons; provided support to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and made progress in drafting a National Human Rights Action Plan to fulfil Liberia's obligations under international human rights treaties.

Among the 103 international treaties Liberia acceded to in September was the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

A new law in June provided for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations from 1979 to 2003. Five men and four women were selected as commissioners in October.

The return continued of refugees and people internally displaced by the war; the total number was estimated to be at least 300,000. However, there were complaints that the return programme was poorly organized although the situation improved later in the year. No arrangements were made for hundreds of thousands of refugees, who were not able to return in time for the elections, to vote. Liberian refugees in Ghana were reported to have been assaulted by the Ghanaian police in November and to have fled their refugee camp.

Incomplete demobilization

Incomplete demobilization and reintegration of former combatants resulted in several violent incidents.

  • Former combatants rioted several times over failures to provide reintegration benefits or resettlement allowances – in January in Bong County and on three occasions in May in Nimba County.

The fragile peace process in Côte d'Ivoire affected UNMIL efforts to stabilize Liberia. Liberian children and adults in border areas continued to be recruited by armed groups, including for continuing conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. Illegal exploitation of natural resources also continued. Former combatants occupied rubber plantations and tapped rubber, claiming it was their only means of survival. They were reportedly responsible for killings and torture, including rape, against the civilian inhabitants. UNMIL subsequently took action to remove former combatants from the plantations.

By September close to 26,000 former combatants had still not entered reintegration programmes. In September the UN Secretary-General announced a US$18.5 million shortfall in international funding for reintegration and rehabilitation. This was partially met by funding made available later in the year.

Funding shortfalls contributed to delays in restructuring the armed forces. Troops demonstrated violently in June in response to late payment of their salaries. The demobilization of both regular and irregular armed forces was scheduled for completion by the end of 2005, so that the vetting, recruiting and training of a new 2,000-strong army by DynCorp, a consultancy firm based in the USA, could begin.

Ethnic tensions

A commission of inquiry into four days of violence in and around Monrovia in October 2004, in which some 20 people died and 200 were injured, reported its findings in June. It concluded that ethnic tensions and discrimination against the Mandingo population were the primary cause of the violence. No action was taken to implement the commission's recommendations for further investigation and to bring those responsible to justice.

Ethnic tensions and disputes over land and property seized during the war remained a cause of concern for internally displaced people and refugees returning home. In Lofa and Nimba Counties, the Mandingo population said they had been driven from their homes during the war and their property taken over by members of the Lorma community.

Delayed reforms

The slow pace of reform of the criminal justice system resulted in continued failures of the police and the courts to respond effectively to crime. Communities took justice into their own hands, and criminal suspects were sometimes assaulted or killed where there were suspicions of ineffective policing or of injustice or corruption in the courts.

Police involvement was minimal in traditional matters such as ritual killings, trials by ordeal or witchcraft, or vigilante action against people suspected of being witches. Most such cases occurred in Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh and River Cess Counties. Ritual killings – killings committed in the context of religious beliefs, often in pursuit of political gain – sometimes provoked popular protests. In Bong County in July, a crowd destroyed the property of a person suspected of performing ritual killings and shots were fired. The unrest was brought under control by UNMIL forces. Ritual killings reportedly increased in the period before the elections.

During a visit to Liberia in July, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that strengthening the justice sector should be the highest priority, a recommendation subsequently endorsed by the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Liberia.

Police

By the end of 2005, 1,800 police officers should have been trained and deployed. Full deployment was not achieved, especially in remote areas, because of shortfalls in funding and lack of equipment. Training was provided by the UN Civilian Police (CIVPOL). A special police unit was set up to deal with violence against women and children.

Judiciary

Judicial officials systematically failed to uphold the rule of law. Ignorance of the law, poor court management, bribery and lack of accountability remained major concerns. In January a Circuit Court judge in Grand Gedeh County unfairly tried three men for murder and sentenced them to death. The UNMIL human rights section intervened and the case was subsequently dismissed for lack of evidence. In September judges and magistrates were deployed to courts around the country. However, a shortage of judges remained, linked closely to their poor conditions of service.

Prisons

Conditions in the majority of prisons and detention centres remained well below minimum standards. Delays in processing the cases of remand prisoners through the courts resulted in overcrowding. A UN corrections team, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Food Programme and other partners provided prisoners with meals, blankets and mattresses. By mid-2005, 28 corrections officers had gone through a vetting and training process, and were deployed throughout the country.

Juvenile justice

Standards set by the Juvenile Justice Procedure Code were not observed. The police had a poor record of investigating reports of sexual crimes against children, and irregularities were reported in the handling of cases in which children and juveniles were brought before the courts.

Violence against women

A law on rape, sponsored by women's groups, was debated in parliament in November and passed. The law broadened the definition of rape and denied bail to anyone charged with raping a minor. The law also increased sentences for the most serious offences, allowing life imprisonment to be imposed for the rape of a minor and for gang rape.

UNMIL worked with civil society groups and the UN Development Programme on a one-year campaign to end violence against women, to start in early 2006.

Independent National Commission on Human Rights

In March a law to establish an Independent National Commission on Human Rights, provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was passed by the National Assembly. Its members had been appointed by the head of state before the law was passed. The independent and effective functioning of the Commission was hampered by conflicts of interest and a lack of understanding of the Commission's mandate. Civil society groups continued to call for the reappointment of the commissioners in a transparent process.

Impunity

No progress was made in creating an adequate mechanism for prosecution before the domestic courts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. People suspected of such crimes were among those elected to the National Assembly in October.

UN sanctions

Sanctions on the trade in diamonds and timber were renewed by the UN Security Council in June to reinforce measures against government corruption. Several individuals who were subject to the travel ban and freezing of assets by the UN won seats in the parliamentary elections. They included Jewel Howard, Charles Taylor's wife, who was elected to the Senate in Bong County, and Edwin Snowe, a close associate of Charles Taylor, who was elected to the House of Representatives. The UN Sanctions Committee banned the foreign travel of five men formerly associated with warring factions for destabilizing the peace process.

Charles Taylor

In July, Liberia demanded that Nigeria provide a copy of the agreement under which Charles Taylor had been allowed to leave Liberia and seek asylum in Nigeria in August 2003. On 28 July, the leadership of the Mano River Union countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) stated that some of Charles Taylor's activities in Nigeria breached the terms of his asylum.

In November the UN Security Council authorized UNMIL to apprehend Charles Taylor and transfer him to the jurisdiction of the Special Court for Sierra Leone if he returned to Liberia.

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