US Human Rights Report-2023 Out -Catalogues Cases of Abuse, Impunity, Corruption

MONROVIA: The State department of the United States Government on April 22, Monday released the 48th annual 2023 Human Rights Report on Liberia’s Human Rights Practices covering internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreement.

It says “The government did not take credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.

The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.

The 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Liberia captured issued by US Secretary of State, stating that there were no significant changes in the human rights situation in Liberia during the year 2023.

The report unveiled significant human rights issues including what it called credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government were committed in the country.

The report also highlighted harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in the country; noted serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship.

Also captured in the report by the State Department is serious government corruption; extensive gender-based violence, including domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults, which were enforced, and further spoke of crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and systematic restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

In its Section one which deals with the issue “Respect for the Integrity of the Person” sub section (A) on Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings, the US Human Rights report on Liberia asserts that there were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, during the year 2023.

“On January 20, an officer of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Abu Konneh, allegedly arrested, tortured, and killed Abraham Hanson Wleh after he allegedly burglarized a private residence. Konneh, along with several unidentified accomplices, remained at large at year’s end,” the report which is basically on the performance of the coalition government of Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) said.

Concerning “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses” Under Subsection (C), the State Department Human Rights report flagged that the constitution and law prohibited such practices, but there were credible reports that government officials employed them.

The law provided criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addressed permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody.

The report noted that that there were reports that government authorities physically abused peaceful civilians, including persons in custody or seeking protection and maintained that there were also reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents.

“In February, the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency suspended Maryland County Commander Sergeant Targeddine following allegations of a sexual assault brought against him. According to a police report, Targeddine allegedly sexually assaulted a girl, age 16, in Harper, Maryland County. Targeddine remained free pending trial at year’s end,” the report indicated.

According to the State Department, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the Liberia National Police’s (LNP) Emergency Response Unit and the Public Support Unit, and the Executive Protection Service in the form of soliciting bribes, disregard for rules and regulations, abuse of authority, making physical and verbal threats against unarmed civilians, and other forms of intimidation.”

Reporting on Prison and Detention Center Conditions, the report notes that the harsh and life-threatening prison conditions due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, vermin infestation, and poor medical care that led to disease outbreaks.

The Human Rights Report notes “Abusive Physical Conditions such as gross overcrowding which it said was a problem, in that the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation stated prison overcrowding was caused mainly by prolonged pretrial detention, delay in preparing indictments for felony cases, and difficulties in transferring case files from magisterial court to circuit court.

The Department of State also reported that there were significant reports regarding prison and detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns such as allegations of employee misconduct when executing administrative actions, including possible illegal suspensions, adding that authorities reported they investigated allegations of misconduct.

Concerning “Independent Monitoring”, the report pointed out that the government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the government-mandated Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the United Nations, diplomatic personnel, and media throughout the year, including both scheduled and ad hoc visits.

It also noted that to ease prison overcrowding, and as part of executive clemency issued by President Weah, the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation released 127 inmates, including those convicted of armed robbery or sexual assault, pointing at that the availability of medical supplies and medication available in the prisons improved.

“The Ministry of Health assigned medical personnel to six out of the 16 prisons in the country and lobbied for medical training for correction officers in each of the prisons,” the report said adding, “Major renovations of the F building roof in Monrovia Central Prison were completed.”

It spoke about arbitrary arrest or detention, which the report indicated the constitution and law prohibited when they provided for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court but asserted to the contrary that the government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights.

In general, the law required police to have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests and the law allowed for arrests without a warrant if the necessary paperwork was filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority, nonetheless, arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence, the report noted among others abuse.

It further said that the law required authorities to arraign or release detainees within 48 hours. Detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest but were not always brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours.

The law, the report said, also provided that, once arraigned, a criminal defendant had to be indicted no later than the next succeeding term of court after arrest. “If the indicted defendant was not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause was given, the law prescribed the case against the defendant be dismissed”.

Nevertheless, the report noticed that cases were rarely dismissed on either ground, making this one of the most frequent abuses of the law. “Approximately 60 percent of pretrial detainees, especially those held for felony offenses, were detained for more than two terms of court without a hearing, the State Department reported.

According to the INCHR, the report furthered, a detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court or available transportation in the area. The report further quoted the INCHR further stating that some jurisdictions occasionally lacked both a prosecutor and a public defender, and the magistrate judge proceeded without them. Additionally, some magistrates solicited money from complainants to transport the accused or convicted to detention, the report indicated amongst other abuses. .

The report was also critical of the bail system, which it said, was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. “The INCHR and other civil rights observers reported judges misused the bail system, viewing it as punitive rather than a way to regulate appearance in court. Some judges reportedly used the possibility of bail to solicit bribes.”

In section  4. In the report which deals with Corruption in Government,  it said the law provided criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

Pointing to an instance of corruption, the report cited the September 5th edition of the FrontPage Africa newspaper which reported that the government issued a batch of diplomatic passports to British, Kenyan, Turkish, and Croatian nationals in August. Sources familiar with these issuances disclosed to the newspaper certain officials and lawmakers of the ruling CDC party collaborated with senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and various other government ministries and agencies, to facilitate the issuance of diplomatic passports to foreign individuals in exchange for payments ranging from $200,000 to $350,000 per passport,” the report said.

The State Department in the report recorded that the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) was established by law in 2008 with a mandate to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption, as well as to educate the public regarding the ills of corruption and added that in July 2022, an amended law gave a new anti-corruption commission more powers and established an open and competitive process for selecting commissioners.

It explained how the former Executive Director of the LACC, Edwin Kla Martin, challenged the legislature’s constitutional power to make and alter laws without limitation, saying that in January, the Supreme Court ruled against Martin and in September, the senate confirmed seven individuals nominated by President Weah to serve as commissioners.

Accordingly the State Department Human Rights Report directed readers to the Department of State’s Investment Climate Statement for the country and the Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which includes information on financial crimes for additional information regarding corruption in the country.  Read for detail of the State Department Human Rights Report on Liberia

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