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Human Rights Report Highlights Liberia’s Impunity Problem

The United States has released what it termed as 2020 Country Report on Human Rights in Liberia which identifies several actions taken by the government in upholding the rights of its citizens as well as the challenges.
There were significant human rights issues reviewed in the report which ranged from arbitrary killings by police; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by government officials and serious problems with the independence of the judiciary.
Other issues, were serious restrictions on freedom of the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; official corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women to the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults and the worst forms of child labor.
the US State Department reported that impunity has been a problem in the security forces and that the security inclusive of the Liberia National Police continued to make arbitrary arrests while occasionally, the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The report stated that impunity for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities, during the Liberian civil wars that ended in 2003, remained a serious problem; although the government cooperated with the war crimes investigations in third countries.
They observed that the government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government and that though the Constitution and law prohibit such practices; there were reports that government authorities allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in custody as well as those seeking protection.
Their report also documented the police and other security officers alleged abuse, harassment and intimidation of persons in their custody as well as those seeking their protection thereby ignoring the Penal Code that provides criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addresses permissible uses of force.
Among other things, the State Department reminded that the Constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but reported that the government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights and that arrests often were made without judicial authorization and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence while the Police sometimes requested money to effect arrests for prosecuting authorities.
The report singled out how the use of detention as a punitive measure, failure to issue indictments in a timely manner, lack of a functioning bail system, poor court recordkeeping and missing files, failure of judges to assign court dates, failure of defense counsel to file motions to dismiss, and a lack of resources for public defenders all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention.
Though the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the report said the judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption while judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases and as well defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested that defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.
The report catalogued that the Supreme Court made provision through the establishment of the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public brought few cases, but both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Judicial Inquiry Commission lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively and were perceived as nontransparent and subject to influence especially through the judges and magistrates.
The Department of State has also assured that it will shortly release an addendum to the report in mid-2021 that expands the subsection on women to include a broader range of issues related to reproductive rights.
Meanwhile, according to the report, the Constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits and that during the reporting period, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events and there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, which according to the report was a laudable action taken by the government toward upholding the rights of its citizens as the officials of government were often cooperative and responsive to their views.
Unlike in the previous year, the report observed that the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet and that there were no additional reports that the government censored online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

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