• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Liberia 2011

June 28, 2011

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.


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.


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.

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.

Although the law prohibited the employment of children under the age of 16 during school hours, child labour was widespread, including the worst forms of child labour, such as hazardous labour in the alluvial diamond industry, rock breaking for construction, and child prostitution and trafficking. The Ministry of Labour’s Child Labour Commission responsible for enforcing child labour laws and policies was largely ineffective.

Cases of children in conflict with the law continued to be addressed inappropriately due to the absence of a functional juvenile justice system.

Resettlement and land disputes

A large number of internally displaced people and refugees were in need of adequate resettlement. Between 2004 and late 2010, more than 168,000 Liberians returned home out of a total registered refugee population of 233,264. Unofficial returns were uncounted. The arrival of close to 30,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia created a crisis, putting added pressure on strained and impoverished communities. Ivorian and other refugees in Liberia were often in desperate straits, with little access to food, water, shelter, jobs, education, or much-needed medical care.

Many former Liberian refugees who returned home faced destitution, with scarce job opportunities, lack of access to land, shelter and water in addition to lack of basic services, such as health care and education. Some returned refugees became internally displaced because their property had been appropriated by others. Violent land disputes often arose between returning land owners who fled the war and internally displaced people who took over their land; these conflicts were often exacerbated by unclear land titles and the lack of government action to address the problem. Land disputes heightened ethnic tensions between the Krahn and the Sarpo, between the Krahn and the Gio, between the Mandingo and Gio/Mano, and between the Kissi and the Gbandi.

Inter-ethnic and religious violence

Despite frequent interaction between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority, some tensions existed, occasionally leading to killings, burning, looting, and damaging of Catholic and Muslim religious edifices by rival ethnic and religious groups. One particularly serious instance of mass inter-ethnic, religious violence occurred in Voinjama and Konia, in Lofa County in February.