People living with AIDS, Ebola survivors as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex or LGBTI persons here continue to face various societal stigmas, including persistent discrimination, physical assaults and abandonment.
In Liberia, the law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, and “Voluntary sodomy” or gay practice is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment.
The 2017 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Liberia quotes LGBTI activists in the country as reporting that LGBTI persons faced difficulty in obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBTI status as a defense.
The 2017 U. S. Human Rights Report published last week, says in February, 2017 a senior LNP officer stated officers should not protect LGBTI individuals because their identity as LGBTI persons violated the law, although there is no such law.
However, the report notes that in June the same period an LGBTI individual described respectful treatment by police after she reported a violent assault by a neighbor with a history of harassing and whose family had justified the assault by calling the victim an “aggressive lesbian.”
Cases of abuse against LGBTI persons can be reported via the Ministry of Justice, National Aids Commission, and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights; however, no official action was taken, accordint to the report.
It says the the law here prohibits same-sex couples, regardless of citizenship, from adopting children, and LGBTI persons were cautious about revealing their sexual orientation or gender identities, while a few civil society groups promoted the rights of LGBTI individuals, but most groups maintained a very low profile due to fear of mistreatment.
Besides, societal stigma and fear of official reprisal prevented some victims from reporting violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The report cites as an example, that one transgender woman reported being attacked in her apartment by five men who robbed, bound, beat, and raped her.
“One of the attackers then threatened to kill all transgender individuals in the country. The victim did not report the crime to police. LGBTI persons rarely reported rapes to police due to fear and social stigma surrounding both sexual orientation and rape.”
It continues that LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education in the country, and that in November 2016 an NGO promoting LGBTI rights was denied reregistration by the Liberia Business Registry for “activity which is not allowed in Liberia”, noting that up to date, the registration request continued to be denied.
Discrimination against LGBTI persons is said to be prevalent throughout the society, and violence against the community continued to be a concern.
“There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons perceived to be LGBTI, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTI community. Hate speech was a persistent issue. In August, Senate President Pro Tempore Jallah released a statement claiming, “homosexuals and lesbians are using the dollars to ruin the sanity of young people.”
The report says later that same month, five presidential candidates contesting the October elections stated they would criminalize homosexuality if elected, while two others said they would support the LGBTI community.
On the question of the people living with HIV or AIDS, it says the law prohibits “discrimination and vilification on the basis of actual and perceived HIV status” in the workplace, school, and health facilities, with conviction of offenses punishable by a fine of no less than L$1,000 or its equivalent of US$12, by the exchange rate then.
However, the U.S. State Department observes that during the same period underreview, government ministries developed, adopted, and implemented several strategic plans to combat social stigma and discrimination based on HIV status, adding that the Ministry of Labor continued to promote a supportive environment for persons with HIV, while the Ministry of Education continued implementation of its strategic plan to destigmatize and safeguard HIV-positive persons against discrimination in its recruitment, employment, admission, and termination processes.
At the sametime quoting a 2015 UN assessment, the report says accusations of witchcraft were common and often had “devastating consequences” for those accused, including “trial by ordeal,” and in some cases, large fines for simple mistakes like inadvertently spilling food when trying to serve it, which is interpreted as a sign of witchcraft.
The Liberian government had illegalized the practice as far back as 2004 to 2005, but it is still being executed in most counties, and authorities often failed to investigate or prosecute cases involving trial by ordeal.
According to the report, trial by ordeal include crualties such as, forcing the ingestion of poison; hanging the accused from a tree by the arms or feet for extended periods of time; requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a pot of hot oil; heating a metal object until it glows red and then applying it to the accused’s skin; beatings; rubbing chili pepper and mud into the accused’s bodily orifices (including the vagina); depriving the accused of food and water; requiring the accused to sit in the sun or rain for extended periods; forcing the accused to sit on hot coals; forcing the accused to ingest food or nonfood substances to induce severe vomiting, diarrhea, and other illnesses; and forcing women to parade naked around the community, among others.
“On May 16, traditional leaders reportedly held hostage, beat, forced humiliating acts upon, and otherwise abused 13 women in Saclepea, Nimba County, after the women had been accused of witchcraft. LNP officers rescued the women during a “trial” proceeding, and arrested the traditional leaders responsible. The suspects were taken to the Nimba police detachment for investigation on aggravated assault charges, and the case remained pending.”
It says the law does not specifically prohibit Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting, although the government maintained that a 2011 law protecting children against all forms of violence also proscribes FGM/C.
“The penal code prohibits causing bodily harm with a deadly weapon. No FGM/C perpetrators, however, were fully prosecuted. In Tapita, Nimba County, a court case charging negligent homicide, criminal solicitation, and criminal conspiracy was brought against four individuals after 16-year-old Zaye Doe died after she was forced to undergo FGM/C (while being forcibly initiated into the Sande society).”
The report says the accused were arraigned, but the second hearing of the case was postponed because the prosecuting attorney was ill, and the case was later suspended.
It details that there was steady movement in prior years toward limiting or prohibiting the practice, and government officials routinely engaged traditional leaders to underscore the government’s commitment to eliminate FGM/C.
“The president, minister of internal affairs (as overseer of traditional culture), and the minister of gender, children, and social protection spoke out against the practice, and the Ministry of Justice and MoGCSP worked together in an attempt to pass anti-FGM/C legislation. The government routinely decried FGM/C in discussions of violence against women, although there remained some political resistance to passing legislation criminalizing FGM/C because of the public sensitivity of the topic and its association with particular tribes in populous counties”, the report concludes.