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Independent National Commission on Human Rights of Liberia (INCHR)

2014 Annual Report

 

 

Executive Summary

The 2014 Annual Report comprises among other things, letters from the Chairperson addressed to the three branches of Government and a message to the public, a vision and a mission statements of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR).

This report is prepared pursuant to INCHR Act especially Article IV (16,17) which mandates the Commission to prepare Quarterly and Annual Report on the national human rights situation and submit to the heads of the three branches of Government of Liberia. The Report covers the period January 1, 2014 to December 31 2014- The contents of the Report are primarily firsthand information gathered from INCHR field monitors, complaints received and investigated by the Commission.  Some information contained in this report is secondary in cases where the Commission relied on information provided by collaborating partners in civil society and international organizations.  As far as possible, the Commission verified secondary information to ensure a balanced and objective position with keen emphasis on the respect for the dignity of all persons or institutions concerned.  

The INCHR was created by an Act of legislature in 2005, out of the need to address human rights abuses and violations in Liberia. The INCHR began operation in September 2010. The INCHR is endowed with the mandate and power to protect, promote, and monitor human rights in the Republic of Liberia. The core functions of the Commission include receipt of complaints, probing and recommending remedies to appropriate authorities. In addition, the INCHR ensures ratification of international instruments and contributes to the preparation of reports that the Republic of Liberia is required to submit to the United Nations bodies and Committees, as well as regional organizations pursuant to the State’s treaty obligations. It acts as a source of human rights information for the government and people of Liberia. Its operational method entails proactive measures such as: stakeholders’ consultation, establishment of working groups, addressing public opinion and hearing human rights violations and abuses without referral.

Institutionally, the Commission’s structure consists of a Board of Commissioners, chaired by a Chairperson assisted by a Vice Chairperson and five other Commissioners. The Commission Secretariat is headed by an Executive Director who is also assisted by five other Directors. According to the Act, the Commission should be adequately funded by the Government of the Republic of Liberia. But this has not been the case. Meanwhile, as an independent national institution, the Commission also can source funding from individuals as well as other institutions to fund its programs and activities.

Programmatically, the Commission undertook projects and activities ranging from capacity building of its human resource, deployment of human rights monitors in the counties, human rights awareness activities nationwide, organizing and commemorating human rights events, with help from the United Nations, workshops, seminars, conferences and investigations, with commissioners serving as investigators and performing clerical duties.

Challenges the Commission encountered in its promotion and protection of human rights during this period included among others; inadequate government funding which impeded the recruitment of critical staff much needed to fulfill the Commission’s effective monitoring and investigation roles.

The report highlights key human rights situations including violations such as: lack of meaningful participation and ownership of communities in concession agreements which have led to agitation and disorderly conducts and public mob actions in some concession areas, and excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies (WestPoint incident). The Lack of access to quality education, health care services, and increase in the frequency of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) especially against little girls with little, and in some cases, no arrest of the perpetrators; prolonged pretrial detentions in facilities that fall far below minimum standards; harmful traditional practices including Female Genital Mutilation, accusation of witchcraft and trial by ordeal remain prevalent across Liberia with little or no action against perpetrators. Of most concern is the new wave of forceful conscription into the traditional secret societies (Sande, Poro) even for non-adherent tribes and law enforcement personnel.  In terms of Government’s international human rights obligations.

The Commission has made several recommendations to the Government of the Republic of Liberia, the public, the human rights defenders in Liberia, the Liberia National Police, other law enforcement agencies, and the Judiciary. Key recommendations include the need for Liberia to fulfill and uphold international and regional treaty obligations, the imperative for Liberia to ensure speedy trial of accused persons, addressing human rights issues associated with cultural practices, addressing sexual gender-based violence, adequate public information as well as prosecution of perpetrators of human rights offenses; ensuring that Liberian enjoy economic, social and cultural rights including access to quality healthcare, education, and improvement of places of detentions among others.            

  1. The Commission: It’s Powers, Functions, Method of Operation and mandates
    1. 1Background

The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) was created out of the need to address human rights abuses and violations in Liberia after 14 years of chaos.  In 1997, the Liberia Commission on Human Rights was established and placed under the Executive Branch of Government. As a result it could not function as required by the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions.

In 2003, the Accra Peace Conference to end the second phase of the Liberian civil war culminated into the establishment of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Article XIII of this agreement called for the establishment of an Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR).

In partial compliance with the CPA, the Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, commissioned seven persons to serve as commissioners of the INCHR. Civil Society and other guarantors of the CPA criticized the constitution of the Commission for lack of legitimacy because the Commission then had no prior legislative framework defining its mandates, powers, and functions. In order to remedy the problem, the Legislature enacted in August 2005, this Act repealing the 1997 Human Rights Act. However, the INCHR did not become operational until September 2010. It was then the President nominated and the Senate confirmed seven persons to serve as Commissioners. The INCHR was launched and commenced official operation in October 2010 but has since been challenged with budget underfunding leading to internal capacity gaps. Consequently, the Commission has not been financially empowered to render the kind of services that are mandated by the Act.

The INCHR is currently chaired by Her Honor; Justice Gladys K. Johnson retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, who was appointed in February 2014, Co-chaired by Atty. Boakai Dukuly. The five other Commissioners have oversight responsibilities for the five main departments of the INCHR. The Commissioners and their departments are as follows: 

  1. Commissioner Ruby Johnson Morris, The Department of Administration and Budget-Vacated post in June 2014;
  2. Commissioner James Torh, Department of Planning, Internal Monitoring and Evaluation;
  3. Commissioner Macdilla Howard, Department of Complaint, Investigation and Monitoring;
  4. Commissioner Sundaiway N. Amagashie, Department of Legislative Assistance, Treaty Matters and Law- Vacated post in  
  5. Commissioner Thomas Bureh,  Department of Education, Training and Information;

These departments are yet to be fully functional because of the lack of budgetary allocation which has made it impracticable to attract critical professional staff. However, the commissioners carried out some of the functions as much as possible, in spite of the lack of some key staff.

  1. 2INCHR’s Powers and Functions Under the 2005 Legislative Act:

According to Article III of the INCHR (2005) Act titled Powers of the Commission, the INCHR has general and special competence to protect, promote and monitor human rights in the Republic of Liberia, to monitor Liberia’s adherence and commitment to the international conventions and protocols, write reports and make recommendations to the government.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Act, Section 47 recommended that the INCHR ensures the implementation of its recommendations (findings), as an addition to the INCHR’s functions

In view of the fundamental role played by the non-governmental organizations in expanding the work of the national institutions, the INCHR has the mandate to develop relations with the non-governmental organizations devoted to protecting and promoting human rights, to economic and social development, to combating ethnic discrimination and sectionalism, to protecting particularly vulnerable groups such as children, women, refugees, and physically and mentally impaired persons.

  1. 3Finance of the Commission
  2. Funding, Accountability and Transparency

The Government of Liberia is primarily responsible to provide adequate funding for the operations of the Commission. Additionally, all resources provided to the Commission are managed consistent with GoL financial management procedures and the Commission has personnel who have requisite skills to manage its financial and procurement functions.

During the last two fiscal years the Government of Liberia has failed to provide anywhere near adequate funding to first of all establish the Commission as mandated by law and to enhance its operational efficiency and independence. Despite persuasive pleas with both the Executive and Legislative  branches of Government, Government’s neglect to provide funding for the enhancement of INCHR’s proper establishment and operational efficiency and independence remains consistent. The INCHR has baffled and struggled with frustration especially when public perception is that the Commission is a sleeping dog, a “do nothing” entity. 

For instance, in 2014/2015 the Commission needed and requested in its budget $3,138,805.00 but received only $937,536.00. This figure is clearly inadequate and inconsistent with the below listed provisions of the INCHR Act which the Government is under oath to uphold. With this nominal funding the Commission is hindered in its efforts to perform as required by the Act.

  1. Government's financial obligation

Article XIX, sections 1 & 2 clearly defines the financial obligations of the Government to the Commission as follow:

“In order to enhance the operational efficiency and independence of the Commission, the Government of the Republic of Liberia shall ensure its adequate resources to the Commission following consultations with the Legislature, Director General of the Budget, and the Commission.”(Section 1)

“The Commission, to exist and function as a fully autonomous body with respect to its administration and finances, shall have financial autonomy and its budgetary allocations shall not in any way be connected to or placed within the budget of any other agency, ministry or institution of Government”.( section 2)

INCHR encourages and strongly advocates with the legislative and executive branch of the Government to provide adequate funding to make the Commission fully functional.

  1. Projects and Activities Undertaken
    1. 1The Palava Hut –Funded solely by the UN Peace building Fund

The INCHR is tasked with leading the implementation of the National Palava Hut Program, a form of justice and accountability mechanism with a traditional orientation to foster national healing and reconciliation at the community level thus creating the opportunity for dialogue and peacebuilding as recommended by the TRC.

The pilot phase of the project was launched in January 2014 with financial support from the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) supervised by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

-         The activities carried out and level of progress achieved for the period under review includes the following:

-         Project Management Unit (PMU) was established and staffed with seven personnel;

-         Eight persons of the INCHR/PMU acquired new knowledge and skills from Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA) in M&E, result-based reporting, project development and management

-         Two persons attended Community building and restorative justice, peacebuilding& conflict resolution, procurement and human resource managements training in the Summer Peace Building Institute, USA

USA

-         (In March 2014) The PBF donated two vehicles, four motorbikes, computers, other equipment and furniture including office desks and chairs.

-         TOR for institutional assessment was developed and UNDP  recruited an  international consultant who conducted the assessment;

-          TORs for ethnographic forums, mapping of war-related violations and development of Palava Hut Study Forums as well as guidelines were developed.  UNDP has recruited two consultants to conduct the ethnographic study;

-         TOR for study tour to Rwanda and Sierra Leone was developed and submitted to UNDP; relevant persons in Rwanda and Sierra Leone have been contacted in furtherance of this tour. The process was halted because of the Ebola outbreak.

-         A mass grave site on Duport Road has been earmarked for the erection of a memorial  in honor  of persons massacred and buried in a mass grave at this cite during the Liberian war; survey of land to be used is underway;

-         Four war-affected districts (Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County; Tubmanburg , Bomi County; Gbarnga, Bong County; and Brewerville, Montserrado County) were identified and consultations held with local stakeholders to conduct ethnographic study forums.

-         Four forums on clarification of INCHR mandate related to the implementation of the TRC recommendations were held in four counties in July 2014 (Lofa, Bong, Margibi and, Grand Bassa) which attracted 192 participants. Ebola invasion interrupted the tour.

The Palava Hut Program did not commence on time primarily because an ethnographic study, a perquisite for an informed Palava Hut process could not be conducted in timely manner because there was little or no local expertise available to conduct the study.

  1. 1Human Rights Monitoring in the Justice and Security Hubs

The Justice and Security Program (JSP) was approved by the Peace Building Fund and the Joint Steering Committee in 2012 with several projects. Under this program, the INCHR is responsible for fielding the Human Rights monitors in the Security Hubs. The human rights component was factored in the hubs to ensure effective human rights oversight in the hub regions.

INCHR deployed 14 Monitors in Hubs 1, 2 &3 (Lofa, Bong, Nimba, Grand Geddeh, River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru and Sinoe)

During the first quarter of 2014, the INCHR Human Rights Monitors in the hubs conducted regular monitoring of prison facilities, Health facilities, schools and Police cells and also monitored court hearings to determine whether the proceedings were in line with human rights standards: the right to access to justice, fair trial, proper representation, etc. and submitted human rights reports to the Commission and the JSP Coordinator at the Ministry of Justice.

According to Human Rights monitors’ reports submitted from these Hubs, conditions in all prison centers visited, generally, were below minimum standard. For instance, in River Gee, Grand Kru and Bong Counties, private homes, unsuitable for detention facility are used as police holding cells where detainees are held with little or no care. Poor preparation of prisoners’ meal, inadequate food and irregular food services, coupled with complete lack of medical care, were the concerns raised by the inmates visited. Prolonged detentions without trial and the restriction of access by family members to these facilities were among lapses discovered.

With the above assessment and findings, the Commission immediately liaised with the appropriate institutions and was able to secure the release of 67 pretrial detainees from some of these holding cells.

Initial financial support for the deployment of monitors was provided by the UN Peace Building Fund until June 2014.With the expiration of the initial seed money, INCHR mobilized its resources to extend the monitors contracts but was again constrained to discontinue their services in September because of lack of financial resources could not retain them and their services were discontinued.  INCHR field presence is obviously critical to the counties - it does not only support a human rights oversight, but most importantly, it provides the opportunity for inhabitants of various counties to gain direct access to the Commission.

  1. 2International Human Rights Day Events

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The INCHR, in collaboration with the National Civil Society Council of Liberia and the UNMIL Human Rights and Protection Section celebrated the 66th International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2014 in Monrovia. The events of the day were characterized by presentations by prominent and professional citizens of Liberia on the topics, The Right to Health, Education and access to Justice among others were highlighted. Papers along with recommendations were presented by experts and the program was concluded by the reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a presentation on Fundamental Rights as enshrined in the Liberian Constitution.

  1. 12014 Elections Monitoring

Consistent with the provisions of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), Article 25(b) of the Liberian Constitution states that every citizen shall have the right and opportunity, "to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” The INCHR monitored the Special Senatorial Elections in Montserrado County on 20th December, 2014. To be able to monitor, Commissioners assigned themselves and took turns to observe the election process due to the serious lack of monitors in Montserrado County.

On that day the INCHR visited thirty-one (31) voting precincts in Montserrado County and made the following observations:

-         There were no substantial restrictions on the movement, assembly, association, and expression of the people;

-         No political party or group was subjected to arbitrary or unnecessary restrictions to access the media to communicate its views;

-         Although required by the elections law of Liberia for a full and thorough voter civic education, the voter civic education carried out was  minimal, as a result, voters turn-out was low;

-         There was an incident of clashes between supporters of candidate Mr. George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Independent Candidate Mr. Robert Sirleaf in the PHP and the Lakpazee communities, but it was soon quelled by the parties themselves before police intervention.

-         Several polling centers visited in Monrovia opened at least one hour later than the 8:00 a.m. required time by the elections law.

-         The vote casting exercise was done in the presence of representatives of political parties, independent candidates and international elections observers including observers from the Economic Community of West African States, United Nations Mission in Liberia, United States Agency for International Development, United Nations Development Program and the US Embassy, as well as the representatives of the Swedish Embassy, and the INCHR.

-         Most polling centers made special provisions for pregnant women, the elderly, persons with children below the age of five (5), and physically challenged persons that allowed them to quickly cast their votes and retire.

Overall the INCHR observed that the 2014 bi-elections held in Montserrado County were relatively free and fair.

  1. 2INCHR’s Engagement with the Constitutional Reform Processes:

The INCHR has been an integral part of the Constitutional Review Committee's nationwide constitutional review processes in its quest to ensure that fundamental rights are well articulated in the coming constitution. The Commission participated in public meetings organized by the CRC on thematic issues such as citizenship, women rights, natural resources among others and provided inputs. The Commission also organized a forum for civil society to solicit their views on integration of human rights in the proposed amendments.

Considering also views of civil society organizations, the  Commission made several submissions including the following: an inclusion of a Bill of Rights; the addition of the LACC and INCHR to the list of critical Autonomous Public Commissions consistent with constitutional provision, Chapter 10 Article 89; the abolition of the death penalty; the setting of  reasonable limits to punish the tort of defamation (libel , slander); the right to speedy trial, that no criminal trial should last longer than a year  after commencement of trial neither shall a case remain on the Supreme Court docket for two terms; the establishment of an Independent National Judiciary Commission to investigate the unethical conducts of justices of the Supreme Court, judges of subordinate courts as well as magistrates; the removal of all impunity clauses in the Constitution including Article 97;

Other recommendations were an inclusion of gender affirmative action which prohibits any sex holding more than 60% of appointed positions; the inclusion of a gender neutral language (he, she) when referring to Government positions including the presidency; the rights of persons with disabilities be consistent with provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); the rights to a healthy environment –an environment that will not be harmful to the population; an advocacy for access to adequate housing for all Liberians;  adherence to the nondiscrimination principle to right to work and  just benefits; equal access and equitable distribution of proceeds from natural resources; child rights to parental support, care and guidance to compel parents to fully care for their children or face prosecution; constitutional prohibition or denial from public office of persons who have meted violence against the population; and constitutional prohibition of spousal abuses. See Appendix

  1. 3Trainings and Conferences (national and international)

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The INCHR undertook the following capacity building activities, locally and internationally, for several staff in furtherance of achieving its mandated responsibilities:

-         In March, 2014, the Commission enrolled five (5) employees at the Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA) for two months intensive training in Monitoring and Evaluation, Human Resource Management, Internal Audit and Control, Project Planning, Management and Procurement.

-         In May, 2014, two employees were enrolled at the Eastern Mennonite Summer Peace Building Institute (SPI) in the United States of America to study reconciliation, peace building, community engagement and restorative justice.

 

-         In May 2014, the Board of Commissioners and UNMIL Human Rights and Protection Section trained eleven (11) Human Rights Monitors in human rights monitoring, investigation, and reporting as well as community engagement. They were deployed in Hubs 1, 2&3.

-         In June, 2014, four staff of the Project Management Unit participated in the National Implementation Modality (NIM) training organized by the PBO and UNDP. The training objective was the effective implementation of the (NIM) on cash transfer.

-          In October, 2014, 30 staff, including human rights monitors were trained in human rights monitoring, documentation and reporting by UNMIL Human Rights and Protection Section.

-         In February 2014, the Chairperson participated in an UNHCR sponsored Conference in Senegal in preparation for the conference to be held in 2015 in La Cote’ d’voire to discuss Statelessness in the ECOWAS Region and to urge state parties to eliminate all discriminatory provisions from their constitutions to allow all persons to have the right to a nationality.

  1. 1Monitoring and Investigation of Human Rights in 2014
  2. Human Rights Monitoring and Investigation:

During the reporting year, the Commission deployed its monitors in eight counties in Hubs I, 2, and 3. The monitors’ presence in the counties was not only important for the Commission’s visibility; it was also an opportunity for the monitors to engage with local authorities such as the police, corrections officers, traditional leaders and community-based organizations to promote human rights values.  Their presence was also important to gather factual information in their assigned counties. Based on the monitors’ regular interactions with their assigned communities, they produced required internal monitoring reports that succinctly captured recurrent human rights developments; engaged in advocacy to ameliorate the human rights problems identified. The Commission conducted human rights monitoring and investigation during the EVD crisis which included an investigation of human rights violation that occurred in the West Point community and made recommendations to the Government.

However, the Commission was absent in seven counties. Thus it could not provide services to those counties. In counties where the Commission was present, various challenges were commonplace including the lack of mobility, office space, supplies, office equipment.

  1. Complaint Handling:

Article III (3a), of the INCHR Act vests in the commission the powers to inquire or investigate, suomotu or on a complaint presented to it by a victim; while Article IV (2) lists one of the functions of the Commission:’’ to hear and consider complaints and petitions concerning human rights violations brought before it by victims; their representatives, third parties, non-governmental organizations, associations of trade unions or any representative organizations’’

 Based on established admissibility criteria, the Commission received and investigated thirty nine complaints; made appropriate recommendations to concerned GoL ministries or agencies; and in cases where the Commission deemed it necessary not to investigate a given complaint because there were remedies available to the complainant(s), said complainants were informed about existing remedies. Please see the Commission’s full admissibility criteria found in the Appendix Section of this Report. The absence of adequate funds has grossly undermined the Commission’s quest to deploy monitors and investigators throughout the country, consequently, commissioners who ideally have an oversight role now have to play the role of monitors or investigators oftentimes during the reporting period

  1. Complaints received in 2014

 

During the period in review, a total of 42 cases were received, investigated, and findings along with recommendations were forwarded by the INCHR to the relevant ministries and agencies for remedial actions. The complaints are categorized as follows:

Nature of complaints Frequency
Police brutality 8
Refusal of the Police to investigate ritualistic killing 1
Complaint against the National Security Agency (NSA) 1
Complaints from inmates at the Central Prison in Bomi County

22

Complaints against non-payment of salaries 2
Complaint against a Concession 2
West Point Shooting  (1)
Complaint against Ministry of Defense 1

Complaint Against the Ministry of Justice

1
Complaint Against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

1

 

Complaint Against UNICEF 1
Complaint Against Chico (Chinese Construction Company) 1
Total 42
  1. Challenges faced by the INCHR in the Complaints Handling Process

 

In 2014, the INCHR faced challenges in handling complaints of human rights violations which include: inadequate number of monitors and investigators (especially in Montserrado County which has the highest frequency of complaints) to conduct investigations in timely manner; lack of cooperation from respondents - Government ministries and agencies, have affected timely resolution of complaints.

 

  1. The Human Rights Situation in Liberia
    1. 1Ebola and Human Rights
    2. State of Emergency (SoE), curfew and excessive use of force

On August 6, 2014, the President declared a three moths SoE and a nationwide curfew from 2100 hrs to 0600 hours.  The SoE empowered the President to suspend the fundamental rights

including right to procure certain labor or services, (Article 12), limit freedom of movement article 13, impose restrictions on certain religious practices (article 14), and assembly (article 17)

However Government did not fulfill its obligation under the ICCPR to inform State Parties of the provision from which it had derogated and of the reason by which it was actuated. INCHR observed Government did not adequately sensitize the population on how to conduct themselves during the enforcement SoE and curfew.  As a consequence, several violations of the curfew were reported and attempts to enforce measures were resisted in some communities.

On 20 August 2014, a serious human rights violation that resulted in the death of a civilian and two seriously wounded, occurred in West Point community, one of Monrovia’s shanty neighbor hoods.  INHR launched an investigation on the matter and released a report on 28 October 2014. The Report revealed that security forces including, AFL and LNP had used excessive force including live bullets on the crowd against the international norms for the use of force especially on civilians. It was found that civilians were brutalized even in their private homes. The proximate cause of the death of the victim was lack of immediate medical care. INCHR recommended that government should identify the shooter, strip them of their immunities and prosecute them in a court of law.  The government took some disciplinary action against some AFL officers but non was prosecuted.  

  1. Human rights concerns of quarantined communities

The Commission received complaints of human rights violations associated with quarantining.  At the early stages of the EVD outbreak, the Government did not have a strategy to provide information to the population about government’s measures to address the EVD, to ensure communities had access to basic necessities including food and medical support. This caused panic, frustration and anger resulting in clashes with security forces at check points.  The total absence  of any functional medical facility even for grave emergencies such as catering for pregnant women who were in labor led to high frequency of deaths even for preventable medical problems. The government agencies implementing quarantining were overwhelmed with the sudden emergency resulting in poor coordination and often unaware of their roles. Some discriminatory practices were also noted.

  1. Right to education:

As a measure to control the fast spread of EVD, nearly 5,181 schools throughout Liberia were closed for 8 months affecting 1.5 million children’s right to education.  Also noticeable during this period, was the absence of effective programmes to engage those children in informal learning activities via radio and other mediums.     

  1. Rights of Ebola survivors, their families and communities, health workers and burial teams

The Commission received several reports of stigmatization and discrimination against this vulnerable group. Although with no empirical scientific evidence that EBOLA survivors or their families pose any health risks to communities, they/survivors and their families were discriminated in several instances including refusal to housing, health facilities, and participation in community activities. The Commission has learned that women faced greater scale of discrimination than men survivors.

  1. The INCHR’s Response to EVD

The Commission constantly monitored EBOLA human rights concerns, made radio broadcasts appealing to the public to cooperate and follow the rules for preventing the decease, advising the military and police to combat the Ebola and not the people, the Government to monitor the Ebola funds and materials donated by the international governments, consulted and engaged GoL ministries and agencies to raise awareness about the overall EVD human rights challenges in furtherance of mitigating the harmful consequences on survivors and their families and trained the INCHR Monitors in the Hubs to do Ebola awareness.

  1. 2Freedom of Speech and Press

The media landscape in Liberia:

There are several privately owned radio stations, newspapers, as well as television stations operating in Liberia which cover a myriad of programs ranging from news, live call shows, regular editorials, and commentaries.

Judging by this scenario alone, the media in Liberia may be described as largely free. But it is also important to note that there are several media institutions in Liberia which are owned or associated with some interests ranging from political actors to powerful business firms. Hence, oftentimes they produce contents that reflect the views of their patrons rather than an objective and balanced reporting consistent with the journalism profession. Hate speech is also commonplace in the media.

While it is true that the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia provides for freedom of speech and press, the Commission took notice of some instances of police arresting and detaining journalists inconsistent with law. Arbitrary arrests usually have a corresponding sense of censorship which undermines the growth and development of a free press in a democratic society that Liberia ascribes to. Two of those instances were:

  • On 14 August, five days before the introduction of the Ebola curfew, police raided the offices of a local newspaper; broke down its front door, discharged teargas in the offices, seized two computers and arrested three of its journalists without a warrant. They were released the following day after an intervention by their legal counsel.  There was no clear reason given for the arrests.
  • Police detained a local newspaper editor on 30 August based on a story the paper published earlier which accused the police of impropriety. The police interrogated the editor for several hours and later released the editor without any charge.

Such press freedom violations have human rights implications and are therefore viewed unacceptable, we reckon. It must however be noted that freedom of speech is not a license to be abusive and to castigate and tarnish the reputation of others.  INCHR encourages objective reporting consistent with the highest standards of the journalism profession.

Liberia was ranked 89th out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

  1. 3Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution of the Republic of Liberia provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association. During the reporting period, the Government generally respected these fundamental guarantees, with a caveat though that permit must be obtained from the Ministry of Justice before exercising this right. Because of this requirement several attempts to “assemble and consult” were not implemented by the planners, they failed to obtain the required permits.

  1. 4Freedom of Movement

The Constitution of the Republic of Liberia provides for freedom of movement. The Government of Liberia in 2014 somehow restricted this right based on a genuine public emergency, the Ebola invasion. However, the Government was initially slow in responding to the basic needs of the population in the affected counties thereby creating human rights concerns such as the right of quarantined persons to have access to food and health care.  There were reports that Ebola patients under quarantine in Cape Mount did not receive food supplies soon enough.  In the case of the woman and daughter in Cape Mount, Tewor District, who were quarantined in their house died from hunger and thirst because no one dared venture near their hut and they were not allowed to move. There were reports of such incidents occurring in other places also.  

On December 6, 2014, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued an Executive Order No. 65 that outlawed all concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia. The deadline for the order was 30 days after the Mid-term Elections.

Executive Order No. 65 provided as justification for issuance of the order, that existing policy requiring persons desiring to march or demonstrate, to obtain prior permits from the Ministry of Justice had proven ineffective to address rallies, parades and concerted mass movements on the streets of Monrovia and its environs especially in view of the Ebola invasion.

It further stated that the Government had noted with concern the increasing numbers of incidents of concerted mass movements of people on the streets of Monrovia and its environs, including in particular, rallies, demonstrations, and parades, which have led to persistent and frequent violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Liberia, obstruction of the free flow of traffic and the movement of peaceful citizens,

On this, the INCHR in its opinion saw the Executive Order No.65 as a constitutional breach and a violation of human rights, the right to free movement of persons as the CCPR mandates and especially since the Order was issued after the Emergence Power had been lifted and it was during the election period, a time when voters needed to have access to political party headquarters to assemble, and to free movement. The timing for the Order was not appropriate given the prevailing situation. The Executive order occasioned unfavorable public scrutiny such that it was not implemented. 

  1. 5Respect for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Chapter II of the Liberian Constitution outlines general social, cultural and economic principles to “be fundamental in the governance of the Republic and shall serve as guidelines in the formulation of legislative, executive and administrative directives, policy-making and their execution (Article 4). Among these principles are provision of “equal access to educational opportunities and facilities for all citizens to the extent of available resources, and without discrimination, opportunities for employment and livelihood under just and humane conditions, and towards promoting safety, health and welfare facilities in employment” (Article 8).  Additionally, Liberia is Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). All States Party to the ICESCR undertake to take positive steps to accord certain rights to their citizens, including the right to education and the right to health, etc.

  1. 6Right to Education

Article 6 of the Liberian Constitution states: “The Republic shall …provide equal access to educational opportunities and facilities for all citizens to the extent of available resources”.  Further, Liberia Education Law 2002 states that “primary education shall be made available and become free and compulsory starting in the year 2003 for all children within the framework of universal primary education” (Charter 2.3).

INCHR is concerned about the overall low standard of the nation’s educational system. For example, in the last two academic years, a high number of secondary school students failed the West African examinations Council (WAEC) exams and about 25,000 students failed the University of Liberia Entrance Exams.

Government’s inadequate investment in education, evidenced by the low budgetary appropriation for instructional materials, is indicative of its failure to consider education as one of its top priorities.  For instance, in the budget year 2013/2014, about ninety- eight million dollars (US$98,000,000) was allocated to the Ministry of Education. However, only two percent or a little over one million dollars of this amount was appropriated for goods and services, which accounts for all instructional materials for Government funded schools in Liberia. See remarks by Dr. Gongar – Appendix

On December 10, 2013, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) ended its year-long campaign against child rape in Liberia. On that date, the incoming Chairperson of INCHR Justice Gladys K. Johnson launched another campaign to raise awareness about the crippling impact of child labor on the future of the Country.

The 2014 child labor campaign was intended to prick the collective conscience of Liberians and their entire leadership to pay attention to the plight of the many Liberian children who, during school hours, precariously run among moving vehicles on the streets of Liberia selling cold water, food and other items to motorists and their passengers. Concomitantly, the Commission had hoped that its anti-child labor effort would have captured the attention of relevant national leaders on the enforcement of the Government’s statutory obligations on compulsory primary education. 

Immediately following the launch of the campaign, the Chairperson met in January and February 2014, with relevant authorities at the Ministries of Education and Labor to acquaint them with the details of the campaign, and to solicit their full support. Both ministries pledged their support to prevent child labor in Liberia, and to curb the presence of school age children roaming our streets as petit traders. Unfortunately, much progress was not made due to the outbreak of the EVD.As was the case in all walks of life in Liberia, the right to education was one of the casualties of the EVD outbreak. On 30 July 2014, President Sirleaf, responding to the gravity of the situation, announced the closure of all the 5,181 schools in Liberia.  The measure affected nearly 1.5 million of school age children without access to education.  The time children spent without attending schools had negative impact on children’s wellbeing.   Girls were more vulnerable to recruitment in cultural societies during the period.  Many girls were more exposed to become victims of arranged child marriages and teenage pregnancies. As for the boys, the period spent outside the schools made them vulnerable to negative peer pressures, child labor and engagement in commission of minor offences.

 In addition to the Ebola interruption there were other obstacles: for instance, what were the alternatives, no playgrounds or after school programs, who will support those who sell for daily sustenance, etc. These concerns have to be addressed before the police can move in to enforce any such policy.

  1. 7Right to Health

 

34.       The EVD crisis seriously undermined the right to health essential to attaining a standard of life conducive to living in dignity. It aggravated the weakness of an already under resourced health system in the country. As the disease spread health facilities were overwhelmed and by August 2014, most health workers began to desert health facilities as they became increasingly vulnerable to contracting the EVD. This resulted in the closure of most health facilities in the country.  The few that remained partially operational denied services to people with emergency health problems of any kind.  As most health services were generally perceived to be epicenter for EVD transfer, patients avoided going to hospitals. The fear became mutual with health workers shunning patients and the latter avoiding the former

The outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the Mano River Basin created a challenge to the Liberian substandard and inadequate health services. The entire system collapsed. According to a data published on 2 February 2015 by the Ministry of Health, total cumulated cases of EVD stood at 8712 with cumulative deaths of 3768.  Nearly all Counties in Liberia were affected by this pandemic. It is hard to quantify the number of deaths that resulted from lack of access to health care in non – Ebola cases.

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The INCHR  convened meetings with the MOJ, UNMIL-CAU, Prison Fellowship and civil society organizations to discuss prison crowdedness and the problems caused by a high number of prolonged pretrial detainees in the face of the EVD outbreak.  After playing a catalytic role and hosting a series of meetings, the venue of these meetings were transferred to the MOJ and continued by the other participants. As a result of these discussions the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the judiciary affected the release of pretrial detainees from holding cells and prisons around the country.

During the period under review, the MOJ, INCHR, CSOs and UNMIL, along with other stakeholders, organized the Protection Clusters Coordinating mechanism to highlight and prevent discrimination and stigmatization arising out of the EVD crisis. Presently the program is spearheaded by the Ministry of Justice Human Rights Division and not the INCHR.

 

  1. Human Rights and natural resources

Liberia is endowed with several natural resources including timber, fertile land, minerals such as diamonds, gold and iron ore among others. Historically, those resources have sustained political elites and their likes with very little contributions for communities from which those resources originate. Over recent years, some initiatives have been undertaken to encourage community participations, but these initiatives are by no means substantial to allow full community participation. Oftentimes, concessions are signed and ratified in Monrovia by the Executive and Legislative branches of Government respectively without direct community participation.

Additionally, social benefits meant for communities are managed by county officials from the Legislature and the Executive. Such anomalies have bred contentions between the concessionaires and the communities resulting in some instances to violence meted against the concessionaires’ assets.

INCHR during its regular monitoring of concession areas has gathered that communities have limited information about concessions operating in their areas; scanty or no participation in concession agreement formulation and Government has limited monitoring framework to ensure that concessionaires are in full compliance with their corporate social responsibilities.

  1. 2Sexual and Gender Based Violence

The INCHR in its network and collaboration for solidarity actions with relevant CSOs including the National Civil Society Council of Liberia and Journalists against SGBV in Liberia has made it possible to access and exchange information in timely manners, increase our ability to follow through and work with other stakeholders in the fight against SGBV. Our monitors in the hubs and in the counties in association with UNMIL human rights officers collaborate in some cases.

An overview of SGBV cases in 2014 across the entire country as was recorded by our human rights monitors put figures at over 1,000 cases of which 24% accounted for rape cases; 74% constitutes domestic violence cases, and that child rape was the most prevalent.

Overall, the frequency of sexual gender-based violence remains alarmingly high across Liberia during the reporting period despite funding to a select agency from Government and its partners aimed at reducing SGBV incidents. While there could be several causes for  this persistent high frequency, the Commission reckons that societal perceptions about SGBV crimes (rape, domestic violence such as the practice of wife beating are easily purged and compromised by the chiefs; victims’ families and police easily waive charges with little or no concern for the wellbeing or rehabilitation of the victims) , lack of specialized equipment to preserve evidence coupled with the police inability or lack of training to conduct  thorough investigations  much needed to gather prima facie evidence such that perpetrators are successfully prosecuted; the tendency of families to settle SGBV cases out of court also contributes to  the high prevalence of this scourge.  This scenario has not only contributed to impunity for SGBV offenses, but most worrisomely, it is contributing to SGBV persistent occurrences in Liberia such that SGBV is becoming an acceptable way of life.

  1. Rape:

During the reporting period, the frequency of rape including gang rapes was alarmingly high especially for adolescent girls. Over a thousand two hundred cases were reported, affecting women, girls and even infants. The rate of successful prosecution was less than 3% of all reported rapes notwithstanding the presence of a specialized court to try rape offenses.

  1. Domestic violence:

Like other SGBV crimes, domestic violence is widespread across Liberia and it negatively affects the wellbeing of women. The real challenge for curbing domestic violence is its near acceptance by almost every ethnic group irrespective of social status or class. While rural women suffer most from incidents of domestic violence, there are instances of urban educated women also experiencing a high prevalence of domestic violence as well. 

  1. Trafficking in Persons

The number of reported trafficking cases has been spiraling upwards primarily because of poor enforcement of immigration regulations at border points and domestic adoption lapses The epic center of most reported trafficking incidents is the Middle East and Gulf States where unsuspecting Liberian women in pursuit of good jobs to enable them eke decent lives for themselves and their families are unfortunately trafficked. The trafficked victims are not only exploited, but they encounter myriads of degrading and inhumane treatments including being forced to engage in involuntary  prostitution, working for far below the minimum wage and beyond required working hours, their inability to access any recourse to justice for any physical violence, and their inability to seek basic health services are commonplace. There is such a case on-going in Liberia momentarily.

Six women from Morocco who were trafficked in Liberia have also been reported; the case of these Moroccans revealed that the women were promised jobs in Liberia but only to be forced into prostitution upon arrival is the case in point. Additionally, the case also highlights the leniency of the Liberian legal system towards traffickers because the traffickers received lenient sanctions from the law. Also, cases of internal trafficking are also reported: children from rural Liberia who are promised better education are also preys to trafficking as they languish in urban towns; oftentimes they are used as petty street peddlers or are forced to engage in prostitution as well and servitude.

The Government is yet to engage in any sustained education initiatives such that the population better understand the dangers of trafficking and how the population can take positive steps to prevent the occurrence or frequency of trafficking.

  1. 3Cultural practices and Human Rights
  2. Female Genital Mutilation and Forceful Initiations in Secret Societies

Liberia is endowed with several rich traditional customs just as it is also troubled with some unfavorable ones.  FGM widely practiced by nearly half the tribes of Liberia remains a vexing problem which previous governments and even the current one have failed to eradicate.  The primary reason for this failure has been the Government’s unwillingness to lose political support with tribes who practice FGM.  Although with full awareness about the harmful consequences of FGM both local and national leaders are timid to address this practice.  Local politicians who wish to fare well in the polls blindly support the practice not because of its significance (most educated elites of FGM practicing tribes do not initiate their children in the Sande Schools), but because they benefit from a populist platform, they never openly criticize the practice.

During the reporting period both voluntary and forceful initiation of girls were reported in Lofa, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, and Margibi Counties. Even during the peak of the Ebola outbreak, when the Ministry of Internal Affairs which regulates traditional practices was constrained to issue a directive aimed at restricting the operation of Sande Schools, FGM remained undisturbed notwithstanding the restriction.  In instances where the MIA did order temporary suspension of the Sande Schools, the traditional leaders ignored the MIA’s instruction; hence, the schools remain operational.  The practices of Sande and Poro have undermined the rule of law:   a police officer was forcibly initiated in the Poro in Gbarpolu County while several members of the Poro gang-raped a woman in Grand Cape Mount County and escaped arrest. To date, most of the rapists remain at large. There is very little likelihood that they (alleged rapists) will ever face justice consistent with the law. The most that was done on government was to have arrested the leader of the Poro and have him and detained without trial up to the period of this report.

  1. Accusation of witchcraft and Trial by Ordeal:

During the reporting period, INCHR continued to receive reports that several persons have been accused of witchcraft. The victims are usually poor persons (elderly persons, children, disabled and deserted persons). Their guilt is oftentimes established by ordeals which subject them to severe mental and physical pain notwithstanding statutory  provisions that ban all practices of gathering evidence by ordeal. Perpetrators of these crimes are rarely investigated or prosecuted because traditional leaders most of the times prevent the police to investigate the perpetrators.

  1. Ritualistic Murder:

During the reporting period the Commission also received a complaint of an alleged ritualistic murder that occurred in Margibi County that the police declined to investigate. Historically, Liberia has a sad history of thoroughly investigating ritual murders primarily due to non-cooperation of communities and most disturbingly the involvement of powerful elites in the commission of ritual murders. The perception that body parts extracted from victims can be used to enhance a person powers or elevation has contributed to the perpetuation of ritual murders.

  1. Cultural Practices and the Spread of EVD:

It was highly believed that cultural beliefs and practices played a cardinal role in the spread of the EVD. Long inherited practices, overnight, became the fastest medium of contamination. For instance, the practice of preparing the dead for decent burial, including washing the body widely practiced by Liberians based on their customs and faiths became a principal source of the EVD spread.  Government attempted to place a ban on such practices under the SoE but this was not readily adhered to.

  1. 4Assessment of Conditions in Places of Detention

The INCHR monitored several prisons/detention facilities across Liberia during the period under review to assess conditions in those places. The objective of the monitoring was to ensure that all persons deprived of their liberties were treated with humility and respect for the inherent dignity of the person. From our assessment, generally most places monitored did not meet minimum standards and there were high numbers of pretrial detainees. A high percentage of prisoners or inmates interviewed informed that they did not have basic needs such as adequate food or medical care, and very poor sleeping facilities. In short, they were sleeping on floors without mattresses.

International covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article (14) recognizes and protects the right to justice and a fair trial; it also requires that Prisons be focused on reform and rehabilitation rather than punishment.

The INCHR succeeded in securing the release of one hundred and forty six (146) illegally detained persons from further detention in Sanniquellie Central Prison during this period.  

During INCHR monitoring visit in Nimba County, the authorities at the Sanniquellie Central prison lamented the poor prison condition. They feared that the present poor prison condition has rendered the Center vulnerable to outsiders and possible prisoner escape. They also stressed that at night, the Compound is entirely in darkness and that the fencing is incomplete. Some unknown person had stolen the solar light that provided the facility with light.

In Bong County, prolonged detention of pre-trial detainees persists. The daily operation of the Magisterial Court is irregular due to the frequent absence of the Stipendiary Magistrates. This has also caused the overcrowdedness of prisons and prolonged pre-trial detentions in the County.

Between the Months of June and July of 2014, thirty pre-trial detainees were held in the Gbarnga Central Prison beyond the Statutory Period without trial.

At the Monrovia Central Prison, the problem of overcrowding is paramount. The prison was built to house 327 inmates. The same space today is home to 947 inmates. This overcrowding is additional punishment, a condition that is affecting the health of some of the prisoners. Despite the decongestion exercise during the Ebola invasion, overcrowding remains a major problem in addition to lack of toilet and bathroom facility, and feeding without adequate nutritious value.

  1. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention (Pretrial detention status)

In the period under review, the INCHR observed that some state security arrests were carried out without warrants, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Chapter three of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia Article 21 (f) states that “every person arrested or detained shall be formerly charged and presented before a court of competent Jurisdiction within forty-eight hours.” ICCPR also makes provisions that persons detained be treated with dignity and respect.

Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pre-trial and pre-arraignment detentions remained a serious problem in the period under review.

An estimated 70% of prisoners were pre-trial detainees as of October 3, 2014 despite the large number of detainees released by the Magistrate Sitting Program (MSP) in the period under review to reduce EVD transmission in overcrowded prisons.


The INCHR also observed that citizens were frequently detained by Police officers or magistrates for debt, in violation of section 44.1 of the Liberia Civil Procedure Law which prohibits the arrest and imprisonment of a person for disobedience of a money judgment except in some special cases which cases do not fall under the jurisdiction of those magistrate courts.

  1. 6Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for enforcing laws and maintaining order within the country, including overseeing the Liberia National Police (LNP) and other law enforcement agencies in the security sector.

There is limited trust in the Liberia National Police (LNP), particularly among the rural poor and urban slum dwellers including women, children and the youth. The abuse and violation of human rights by some police officers is widespread and occurs with impunity. Mob violence continues to be widespread, partly because of the lack of citizens’ confidence in the Liberia National Police and the judicial system to render justice.

Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems observed in the period under review.

  1. 7Arrest and Treatment of Detainees

Police must make arrest based on probable cause. However, INCHR Human Rights Monitor reported that police sometimes made arrests without probable cause and as a result they did not proceed to trial because of lack of evidence. The law provides that persons arrested by the police must either be charged or released within 48 hours. But, INCHR Human Rights Monitors reported that police routinely detained individuals without charge beyond 48 hours. The law also provides for bail for some criminal offenses, although it severely limits bail for individuals charged with felonies. However, the INCHR human Rights monitors observed that the courts frequently did not respect these rights, especially in cases of defendants appearing in magisterial courts.

Another salient concern associated with detentions is the absence of child-friendly facilities in most detention places. Children in conflict with the law even for minor offenses have been found to be held in detention for protracted period along with adults, particularly at the Monrovia and Voinjama Central Prisons contrary to the Code of Juvenile Procedure provided in the Judiciary Law.

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