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Liberia’s human rights records remain terrible

--US State Department report suggests

The report claims that there were harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, serious problems with the independence of the judiciary, and serious restrictions on freedom of expression, among others.

Monrovia, April 24, 2024: The United States Department of State has released the Liberia 2023 Human Rights Report, which found no significant changes in the country’s human rights situation during the year.

The report says significant human rights issues included credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, and torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government.

The damaging 2023 report reflects the U.S. records of the immediate past Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)-led government which handed over power on 22 January 2024 to the ruling Unity Party (UP).

It detailed harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and serious problems with the independence of the judiciary.

The report also unveiled serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship.

It further detailed serious government corruption and extensive gender-based violence, including domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting.

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Additionally, the U.S. Department of State observed that there are laws criminalizing “consensual same-sex conduct between adults,” which were enforced.

It said the government did not take credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses. 

“There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, during the year,” it stated.

On January 20, the U.S. Department of State said an officer of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Abu Konneh, allegedly arrested and tortured. It killed Abraham Hanson Wleh after he allegedly burglarized a private residence. 

The report indicated that Konneh and several unidentified accomplices remained large at year’s end.  

It noted that there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. It acknowledged that Liberia’s Constitution and law prohibited torture and other cruel, Inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were credible reports government officials employed them. 

“The law provided criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addressed permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody.”

According to the report, there were reports government authorities physically abused peaceful civilians, including persons in custody or seeking protection. 

“There were also reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents. In February, the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency suspended Maryland County Commander Sergeant Targeddine following allegations of a sexual assault brought against him,” the report noted. 

According to a police report, Targeddine allegedly sexually assaulted a girl, age 16, in Harper, Maryland County, but the suspect remained free pending trial at year’s end. 

It said impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Liberia National Police’s (LNP) Emergency Response Unit the Police Support Unit, and the Executive Protection Service in the form of soliciting bribes, disregard for rules and regulations, abuse of authority, making physical and verbal threats against unarmed civilians, and other forms of intimidation. 

It said Prison and Detention Center Conditions Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, vermin infestation, and poor medical care that led to disease outbreaks. 

In some cases, the report said the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime. 

It continued that the use of detention as a punitive measure, failure to issue indictments promptly, lack of a functioning bail system, poor court recordkeeping, failure of judges to assign court dates, ineffective assistance of defense counsel, and a lack of resources for public defenders all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. 

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