UN human rights expert urges funding for Liberia to consolidate stability

UN human rights expert urges funding for Liberia to consolidate stability

Charlotte Abaka briefs journalists
A United Nations human rights expert on Liberia today urged the international community to help the country bolster its core institutions - especially the police and the judiciary - to consolidate stability and prevent a return to chaos.

Back from a visit last month to the West African country, Charlotte Abaka, the Commission on Human Rights’ Independent Expert on Liberia, told reporters in New York that the security situation has “greatly improved” thanks to the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIL), but that "very serious concerns" persist.

"To have sustainable peace, to be able to protect civilians from human rights violations, there are certain institutions that have to be there," she said, calling for priority attention to a restructured police force - an initiative which is being "seriously constrained" from a lack of financial resources.

An effectively functioning judiciary is also "extremely important," she said, but currently only one court is operating in Liberia. "As of now, criminals who are arrested have to be let go after two days because they cannot be prosecuted by the courts, and that creates a serious insecurity situation in Liberia with the consequent human rights violations one can envisage," Ms. Abaka said.

She appealed to the international community to make good on promises made at a donor conference in February. On that occasion, countries meeting at the UN pledged $520 million to help Liberia to meet a host of reconstruction and humanitarian needs, including disarming fighters, creating jobs, rebuilding the country's infrastructure and stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The process of disarming, demobilizing, reintegrating and rehabilitating ex-soldiers is also extremely important, the expert said. "After over 10 years of conflict - there are men and women, and unfortunately also children - that have fought," she pointed out. "These former combatants have known only lives of violence."

With unemployment in Liberia at 35 per cent, she stressed the critical need to help those affected. "The real danger is if they remain idle, they can regroup not only to destabilize Liberia but the whole of the sub-region," she warned.

With Liberians scheduled to go to the polls in October 2005, she warned that "if programmes are not put in place to establish sustainable protective institutions, it will be extremely difficult to conduct free and fair elections" at that time.

In another development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reported UN agencies are working to set up a permanent presence throughout Liberia.

But in evidence of the funding problem, a $23 million budget shortfall is threatening the planned launch of the repatriation programme by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Slated to begin this October, the three-year plan aims to repatriate 100,000 Liberians in 2004, 150,000 in 2005 and some 50,000 in 2006.

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Video of press briefing [32mins]