Annual Report: Liberia 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Liberia 2011

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Head of state and government: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 4.1 million
Life expectancy: 59.1 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 144/136 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 58.1 per cent

Although the government made some institutional progress towards improving the human rights situation, levels of violent crime, including rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, remained high. There were serious problems within the criminal justice system, with allegations of police inefficiency, brutality and corruption, and long delays in the judicial system leading to overcrowded prisons full of untried detainees. After substantial delays, the Independent National Human Rights Commission was established; its Commissioners were confirmed by the Senate in September 2010.

Background

Complete impunity prevailed for perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the recent civil war. Widespread unemployment, including among former combatants, remained a threat to peace and security. Crises in neighbouring Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, with refugees, arms and fighters easily crossing the borders, contributed to fears of instability. Nearly 30,000 Ivorian refugees arrived late in the year. Mob and vigilante justice remained high, as did violent land disputes, violent crime, sexual and domestic violence, child abuse, female genital mutilation, and the worst forms of child labour. The global economic depression and depreciation of the Liberian dollar contributed to high food prices, widespread hunger and an alarming food security situation, all compounded by dire poverty.

The Access to Information Act increased freedom of the press but some restrictions remained in place. Three parliamentary bills tabled in 2007 to reform the media made no progress. Physical intimidation, deterrent lawsuits and administrative interference limited the ability of journalists to carry out their work.

The government took some steps to build the domestic institutional framework to address human rights issues. It established the Constitutional Review Task Force, the Law Reform Commission and the Land Commission. The government made institutional progress to address rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, and to improve the administration of justice.

Impunity

Crimes committed during the civil war

Little progress was made in bringing to justice people responsible for gross human rights violations during the conflict in Liberia in 1989-1996 and 1999-2003. The recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that a criminal tribunal be established to prosecute people identified as responsible for crimes under international law was not implemented, nor were most TRC recommendations on legal and other institutional reforms, accountability, and reparations.

In April, the Justice Minister publicly expressed interest in trying perpetrators of the worst crimes committed during the civil war. A committee was established, which included the Justice Minister, to review the TRC's report, which was published in December 2009, and give advice on whether prosecutions should go ahead. No individuals were tried in the domestic justice system. Some former warlords named in the TRC report maintained seats in the Senate and other positions of power.

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor continued at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. He was facing charges of war crimes, but only for his alleged involvement in the war in Sierra Leone. He was not charged with crimes under international law committed in Liberia.

Recent human rights violations

Impunity for human rights violations committed since the end of the civil war remained a serious concern. Senators, Deputy Ministers, police officials, Special Security Service agents and Liberia National Police officers were allegedly engaged in or ordered beatings, looting, arbitrary arrests, abductions, shootings, ritualistic killings and other abuses. In most cases, no investigations were carried out and no action was taken against alleged perpetrators.