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Excessive force, corruption, bribery

The Liberia National Police has again been indicted for random and indiscriminate arrests characterized by use of excessive force, assaults, rape and abuse, including tear gas, leading to injuries and death.

The indictment does not spare the Liberian Judiciary either. It details that police officers or magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant, and specifically recalls that in August 2016 Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ordered judges and magistrates to stop issuing criminal writs of arrest without the approval of prosecutors from the Ministry of Justice or based on case-specific police requests.

However, it notes that despite Chief Justice Korkpor’s order, some magistrates continued to order writs of arrest in exchange for payment from complainants. “This occurred in both civil cases and criminal cases”, it observes.

According to the 2017 U.S. Human Rights Report on Liberia, highlighting activities under the former Sirleaf Administration, investigators found that the former regime or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and while police officers were known to have committed murder, the Professional Standards Division of the LNP failed to report such crimes.

The report published Friday, 20 April raises significant issues on rule of law and lackadaisical manner the former administration violated basic human rights here, leaving Liberians wondering how former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the Mo Ibrahim prize when these excesses occurred under her administration.

It questions the credibility of the Mo Ibrahim prize, noting that it has now become a useless and corrupt vehicle for former African leaders.It observes that impunity remained a serious problem for individuals who committed atrocities during the Liberian civil wars, as well as for those responsible for current and continuing crimes, despite intermittent and limited government attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in government with corruption and other forms of economic crimes at all levels, undermining public trust in state institutions.

The report observes that under the Sirleaf government, the LNP and other security forces violated Sections 5.1 and 5.6 of the penal code by using excessive force to abuse, harass, and intimidate persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. “It’s reported that at least one police officer was convicted of rape of a person seeking police protection”, the report cites.

It also says in February 2017, a police officer was found guilty of statutory rape of a child in Bong County after the child requested police protection at the local police station. The officer was eventually convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

“There were incidents where officers rape female inmates and Health Ministry workers attempted to force abortion to hide the pregnancy. After an internal investigation – investigators found the officer had raped the same woman back in 2014.”

The report reveals that even United Nations officials were also implicated in cases of rape and exploitation of Liberian women.It points out that the Constitution of Liberia prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions, adding that arbitrary arrest, assault, and detention of citizens continued during the period.

“In July two LNP officers assaulted and pepper-sprayed a civilian while attempting an arrest. The victim, Mark Doe, died from his injuries. The officers were dismissed, and a criminal case remained pending”, it reminds.

It says the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption, citing uneven application of the law, unequal distribution of personnel and resources, lack of training, and a poor road network as problems plaguing the judicial system.

“Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested 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 does not highlight current issues under the Weah-led administration, but similar practices and abuses are ongoing now, including display of heavy Police force at sports stadium and suspicious murders. In previous human rights reports released by the State Department, the Government of Liberia responded with denials, and sometimes counter-accusations.

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