Although Liberia has made significant progress since the civil war ended, precarious human rights conditions have prompted the United Nations to open an office there early next year to monitor and report on the situation.
“Liberia has progressed dramatically since my last visit just after the brutal civil war," said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour after wrapping up a three-day visit to Liberia.
After commending the efforts of the Government and the Liberian people, he noted that the human rights gains are “still precarious, hence the vital need for the UN to continue our support.”
With the main purpose of the visit to establish a UN Human Rights Office in the country, an agreement was signed with the Government for the new office to open in early 2018.
“What we have learned in country after country is that neither peace nor development can be properly sustainable unless they are firmly grounded in human rights,” said Mr. Gilmour.
He expressed his appreciation to Foreign Minister Marjon V. Kamara, with whom he signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the new office, set to open early in 2018.
This office will conduct human rights monitoring and reporting, as well as provide technical assistance to State institutions, the Independent National Commission for Human Rights, civil society and other partners.
Mr. Gilmour highlighted the primary role of the Government in promoting and protecting human rights in Liberia.
During his visit, the senior UN human rights official met with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, cabinet ministers, several leaders of civil society organizations, and foreign ambassadors.
True peace is never possible if people feel that their desire for justice has not been met
Underlining Liberia's international human rights obligations, Mr. Gilmour expressed serious concern over the continued prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) and urged the Government to do far more within its power to discourage this and other harmful traditional practices, including trial by ordeal, accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings.
He discussed the plight of lesbian, gay and transgender people, saying that their unbearable discrimination and abuse must be confronted. He also raised trepidations surrounding the rights of people with disabilities.
While acknowledging Government efforts to address sexual violence, he stressed that the appalling frequency of rape in Liberia, including of young girls, is partly due to widespread impunity for this crime.
After visiting Monrovia Central Prison, Mr. Gilmour praised the work of the wardens but remarked on the very serious overcrowding and insufficient food, which he attributed to a high number of people held in pre-trial detention owing to the slowness of judicial procedures.
Concluding his stay, Mr. Gilmour visited the Palava Hut Memorial for victims of the civil war. He expressed the importance of transitional justice for national reconciliation and called for it to be a paramount concern for the new Government following the October elections – while warning against what some term a worrying rise in hate speech as election season approaches.
“True peace is never possible if people feel that their desire for justice has not been met. Abominable war crimes were committed in this country, and the perpetrators of the worst crimes should now understand that justice will catch up with them,” stressed the Assistant Secretary-General.