The United States Department has reported that impunity remained a serious problem in Liberia despite intermittent and limited government attempts to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.
It said the most serious human rights abuses include deficiencies in the administration of justice, official corruption, and violence against women and children, besides police abuse, harassment, and intimidation of detainees and others.
Arbitrary arrest and detention; violence against women and children, including rape and domestic violence, human trafficking; racial and ethnic discrimination; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; mob violence; and child labor, were also captured in the report.
In its latest Human Rights Report on Liberia released over the weekend, the State Department notes that the Constitution of Liberia prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions, detailing that “Citizens continued to be arbitrarily arrested, assaulted, and detained. For example, in September the deputy director for operations of the Executive Protection Service (Darlington George) assaulted a woman after exchanging insults near a sports field in Monrovia. President Sirleaf dismissed the assailant. He was charged with aggravated assault and awaited trial at year’s end.”
The report also observes that police officers or magistrates frequently detained citizens for simply owing money to a complainant, saying “There was little distinction between trying these cases in criminal or civil courts when they were not under the purview of specialized tribunals. The government often used police as a low-level dispute mechanism to settle minor issues.”
It reminded that children under the age of 16 cannot be held criminally responsible for their conduct; however, magistrates, judges, prosecutors, police officers, and public defenders were often unaware of the law, and some juvenile offenders were prosecuted as criminals and treated as adults by the judicial system. “Juveniles were often held in prisons, commingled with adult offenders (even for nonviolent property offenses), and detained for extended periods”, the report specifically revealed.
The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report also highlights that during the period (2015) under review, the Liberia National Police or LNP’s Police Support Unit and Emergency Response Unit were better trained and equipped than the regular LNP force, and there are plans to increase strength of the ERU to 500 officers and the PSU to 2,000 officers before UNMIL withdrawal or handover by June.
“Regular LNP officers remained poorly equipped, ineffective, and slow to respond to criminal activity, although foot patrols met with some success in curbing crime in some areas”, it pointed out and added that the police had limited transportation, communication, and forensic capabilities, and they did not have the capacity to investigate adequately many crimes, including violent crimes.
The report says the lack of a crime laboratory and other investigative tools hampered police investigations and evidence gathering that, in turn, hampered prosecutors’ ability to prepare court cases, and training and assistance by international donors supported some improvements.
However, it noted that the National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported that violent police action during arrests was the most common complaint of misconduct. “In general police must have warrants to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Arrests often were made without warrants, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence.”
On the contentious issue of corruption and lack of transparency in government, the report says The law here does not provide explicit criminal penalties for official corruption, although criminal penalties exist for economic sabotage, mismanagement of funds, bribery, and other corruption-related acts, saying “Corruption persisted, and the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem in the country.”
According to the report, some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, while low pay for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability exacerbated official corruption and contributed to a culture of impunity.
“The Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) and the Ministry of Justice are responsible for exposing and combating official corruption. The LACC is empowered to prosecute any case it refers to the Ministry of Justice that the ministry declines to prosecute within 90 days. During the year the LACC received 29 allegations, of which it investigated six cases and recommended one for prosecution by year’s end. Twenty-five of these allegations involved serving officials.”
The report however noted that the government dismissed or suspended a number of officials for corruption, and specifically cited that based on a LACC investigation, President Sirleaf suspended the managing director and comptroller of the National Port Authority, while in August she dismissed a deputy minister of the Foreign Ministry over alleged misuse of grant funds from an international donor country and directed the Justice Ministry to investigate the allegations.
It also disclosed some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases, and judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases, while defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors. Corrections officers sometimes demanded payment to bring a detainee before the Magistrate Sitting Program.
The State Department says concerns remained about the transparency of the finances of state-owned enterprises and autonomous bodies, and that many of these enterprises had not been audited for several years, while government ministries and agencies often did not adhere to public procurement regulations, particularly for natural resource concessions, or to government vetting procedures when hiring ministry officials-Reporting– by Jonathan Browne