Annual Report: Liberia 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Liberia 2011

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Justice system

Despite efforts to improve institutional protection of human rights in the criminal justice system and to address capacity and resource constraints, serious challenges remained. The police, judiciary, and penal sector were inadequate, corrupt, and abusive.

Law enforcement forces were reported to have unlawfully arrested and detained people and to have used torture and other ill-treatment, including during attempts to extort money on the streets. Many Liberia National Police officers were poorly equipped, poorly paid, corrupt and slow to respond to criminal activity. Conditions in police lock-ups were appalling, with juveniles and adults routinely held together. Detainees were often subject to abuse by police and other detainees.

The formal justice system often failed to deliver fair trials and due process. Lengthy pre-trial detention beyond that allowed by law was the norm, with roughly 90 per cent of prisoners being pre-trial detainees. As well as corruption and inefficiency, the system suffered from lack of transport, court facilities, lawyers and qualified judges.

Conditions in the country's 14 prison facilities were harsh. Prisons were understaffed, overcrowded, without enough food, water, sanitation or medical services. Security was inadequate, resulting in prisoner escapes and rampant inmate-on-inmate violence, including beatings and rape. Half the country's prisoners were held at Monrovia Central Prison, which typically housed between 800 and 1,000 inmates - four times its capacity. Pre-trial detainees were often mixed in with convicted prisoners.

In the parallel traditional justice system, the operation of customary courts failed to meet standards of due process, gender equality, and separation of powers. Trial by ordeal continued, whereby the guilt or innocence of the accused can be determined in an arbitrary manner involving torture and sometimes death.

Death penalty

No steps were taken to abolish the death penalty after its reintroduction in 2008 in violation of the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Liberia acceded in 2005. Several people were sentenced to death in 2010.

Women's rights

Rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls remained widespread, as did domestic violence and forced and underage marriage. The majority of reported cases of rape involved girls under the age of 16. It was difficult to estimate the number of rapes, because of stigmatization and rejection by the families and communities of the survivors.

By March, the Sexual and Gender Based Violent Crimes Unit, established in the Ministry of Justice in February 2009 to deal exclusively with issues relating to prosecutions of gender-based crimes, had conducted seven trials, four of which resulted in convictions. The cases were heard before a special court, Criminal Court E, set up as mandated by the 2008 Gender and Sexually-Based Violence Bill to deal with violent gender-based crimes, with exclusive original jurisdiction over cases of sexual assault.

Women's participation in politics and public life increased as a result of President Johnson-Sirleaf's efforts to obtain greater gender parity in ministries, on the Supreme Court and within local government.

The maternal mortality ratio remained among the highest in the world in spite of government efforts to address the problem. Women continued to die in high numbers primarily because of an acute shortage of skilled medical personnel, inadequate emergency obstetric care, inefficient referral systems, poor nutritional status of pregnant women, and extremely high numbers of teenage pregnancies.

Children's rights

Widespread child abuse, including sexual violence, continued. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was widely performed particularly in rural areas. Liberian law did not specifically prohibit FGM.

Many children lived on the streets, especially in Monrovia, including former combatants and unaccompanied internally displaced people. Orphanages faced major challenges in providing basic sanitation, adequate medical care and appropriate diet. Many orphans lived outside these institutions.