The U.S. State Department released its 2017 Human Rights Report on Liberia last week Friday, 20 April as usual, counting damning excesses such as random and indiscriminate arrests, use of excessive force, assaults, rape and abuse by the Liberia National Police, leading to injuries and death.
The report similarly highlights corruption and bribery in the Judiciary, specifically noting that despite Chief Justice Francis Korkpor’s order to 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, some magistrates continued to order writs of arrest in exchange for payment from complainants in both civil and criminal cases.
It cites persistent corruption in the legal system with judges accepting bribes to award damages in civil cases, while others sometimes solicit bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases, and defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggest defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.
Over the past several years, the State Department has consistently but critically taken a close look at the operation of the Judiciary in Liberia, paint pointing fundamental human rights abuses and graft that continuous to seriously undermine the delivery of justice and protection.
The U.S. has every right to keep an eagle’s eye on the operation of the Justice System in Liberia, because it had committed and continues to commit its taxpayers’ money to security sector and judicial reforms here aimed at strengthening our entire security sector. But perhaps out of greed and some other selfish motives, unethical conducts continue to permeate the entire sector, beginning with the police up to the court.
Unethical practices among lawyers and judges have led to the Supreme Court of Liberia suspending licenses of some top legal practitioners in the country. Recently, it led to President George Manneh Weah withdrawing the nomination of his first Justice Minister-designate, Cllr. Charles Gibson, following serious public pressure.
Though the report specifically focuses on the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf under whose authority these excesses were committed, we believe it should sound a clarion to the Weah-led government to put its feet down strongly against unorthodox practices and behaviors in the Justice System.
We believe these practices are so endemic in our system that they would not just automatically go away by the transition of power from one President to another. Rather, it is the system that should be cleaned up to restore credibility and public confidence in the governing process.
But cleaning up the mess in our country’s security force and judiciary is the responsibility of every Liberian, and not government along. We are fully aware that there are party litigants who are ever prepared and willing to bribe the Police, judges, jurors and other court officials to twist justice in their favors. To avoiding compromise here and there, we must allow the system to work without fear or favor.
The 2017 Human Rights Report released by the State Department is a mirror of the Liberian society. We must see ourselves in it – both government and the citizenry. Is this the oath we want to continue on as a country? We believe we can do better by sincerely facing the facts outline in the report and mustering courage to reverse this trend by cleaning up the mess not only in the Police and the Judiciary, but other public sectors of our country to maintain confidence of our partners and respect for ourselves.