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Human rights problems in Liberia require national, international response – UN

Human rights problems in Liberia require national, international response – UN

Problems relating to juvenile justice, due process, law and order structures and violence against women and children persist in Liberia, a new United Nations human rights report on the country says, calling for national and international efforts in response while citing progress in legislating against these abuses.

Covering the period between August and October 2006, the report pays particular attention to the fact that the Rape Amendment Act is not yet adequately implemented by the national authorities charged with the investigation, prosecution and trial of suspects, despite clear legislative provisions.

“The very small number of cases indicted and tried to date is an indicator that far more needs to be done to ensure that the various institutions of justice coordinate to address rape as a crime and as a human rights violation,” it states.

The report also draws attention to continued cases of possible excessive use of force by police officers and police custody beyond the 48 hour constitutional limit. Private security guards working on rubber plantations “failed to observe the limits of their authority,” while instances of mob justice and vigilante action marked a “worrying response to the incapacity of the police to protect the community from crime.”

Concerns are also raised regarding the inability of the judiciary to uphold human rights standards, constitutional guarantees and legal procedure. At the same time, conditions in prisons and detention facilities are called “very poor.” People in State custody are put at risk by “strained food supplies and unacceptably poor hygiene.” Lengthy pre-trial detention and bad conditions reportedly led to disturbances in several counties.

The administration of juvenile justice, long a problem in Liberia, also comes under scrutiny in the report, which cites cases involving juveniles not handled in accordance with the law.

Women and girls in some areas of Liberia remain at risk of female genital mutilation, including forced submission to the practice. In addition, trial by ordeal, where suspects are tested with torment, remains a “serious threat” to the establishment of the rule of law and the enjoyment of fundamental rights.

The plight of children living in orphanages is also a matter of concern, because of their vulnerability to neglect. “Unfortunately, orphanages remained an attractive option to parents and guardians who lacked financial means to provide for their children,” the report notes.

On the positive side, human rights at rubber plantations “appear to be improving” particularly on Guthrie plantation, according to the report, but it warns that the security situation in Firestone plantation “has deteriorated and may exacerbate the human rights concerns noted in relation to the exercise of police powers by the private security guards there.”

The 43-page report cites progress in strengthening Liberia’s legal framework, including the ratification of international treaties and the passage of key legislation. It also contains a number of recommendations aimed at supporting the Government’s continuing efforts to strengthen human rights protection through the democratic rule of law.

It calls on the Government of Liberia to complete ratification of all human rights treaties which it has already signed and to ensure that the Rape Amendment Act is fully implemented. “A concerted and ongoing effort towards community education and sensitization to sexual assault issues, including broader discrimination against women, should be undertaken in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations,” the report states, calling for a number of other concrete measures to address the problem of rape.

Courts, police stations and prisons should be equipped with adequate supplies of basic equipment to allow proper management of files and recordkeeping, to protect fair trial standards, UNMIL says, calling also for the Government to review the juvenile justice system and improve conditions in detention centres and prisons.

Measures are also needed to address the situation at rubber plantations, the report says, urging the Government and its international partners to work towards carrying out past agreements on the issue.