Liberia’s judiciary must be strengthened to stamp out rape and other crimes: UN expert
Warning that rape remains “one of the greatest challenges” to human rights in Liberia, an independent United Nations expert has said the country’s judiciary must be strengthened to protect against this and other crimes, as she also decried the lack of progress made with the nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its human rights body.
Charlotte Abaka, the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Liberia, recently completed an 11-day visit, during which she met with a wide cross section of officials and civil society and, while noting “significant” human rights progress, she also said much remains to be done in the country after 14 years of civil war.
“I commend the Government for its adoption in January of the Act amending the Penal Law in relation to the definition and penalties for rape… However, I am saddened to learn that there has been as yet little noticeable impact on the prevalence of rape in Liberia, including rape of very young children,” Ms. Abaka said in a press release.
“Rape is one of the greatest challenges to human rights enjoyment of Liberia’s women and girl children and I call on the Government, civil society and the international community to make all efforts to ensure the law is enforced,” she said, emphasizing that the judiciary must be strengthened if human rights are to be protected.
Ms. Abaka also said she was “very concerned” over serious problems affecting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR). The TRC is not yet operating fully despite starting its public activities five months ago, while INCHR commissioners have still not been appointed more than three years after the body was included in Liberia’s peace deal.
“Liberia is thus losing valuable time… I urge the Independent Panel of Experts appointed 10 months ago to prepare the shortlist of candidates, and the Government and Chief Justice to take all necessary steps to ensure that competent and credible Commissioners are appointed without further delay,” she said.
Despite these problems however, Ms. Abaka also highlighted several positive steps Liberia has made in protecting human rights as it works to rebuild, chief among these being the recent developments in the education sector, the reassertion of State control over the Guthrie rubber plantation and improvement of human rights on several of the larger plantations.
In a related development, the top UN envoy to Liberia yesterday urged a visiting Swedish donor mission to help strengthen the rule of law in the country, including assisting with the ongoing restructuring and retraining of the national police force.
“The rule of law is a critical aspect of post-conflict peacebuilding. This includes the training and equipping of the Liberia National Police, developing the justice sector and ensuring all Liberians enjoy their human rights,” said Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Alan Doss.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency currently supports Liberia with around $14 million per year channelled through UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).