US Releases 2022 Human Rights Report -As Liberia Gets Mixed Rating

MONROVIA – The United States Government yesterday issued  its 2022 Global Human Reports which also featured Liberia, covering several areas including press freedom, gender equality, access to education, corruption, rule of law, protection of people with disabilities, protection of refugees, human trafficking, existence of political prisoners, etc and showed mixed grading of the government in those areas.

In the executive summary  of the report, the document dealt outlined  what it called “Significant human rights issues”, which included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting; and the outlawing of independent trade unions or significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

While the document said there was no incident of disappearing of people by or on behalf of the government, however, the government-mandated Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported the government did not address most human rights concerns, including those linked to past unresolved disappearances, thus instilling public fear and curtailing various freedoms.

Perhaps the most encouraging news in the entire report was that there were no political prisoners or detainees during the period under review, a feat enjoyed by the government since its inception in 2018.

The report also graded the government positively on freedom of expression and noted that individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but government officials used the threat of civil defamation suits to place limits on free expression, and self-censorship was widespread as a result.

It also spoke about violence and harassment of the media and stated that Press associations reported that government officials occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners, as well as individual journalists, because of their political opinions and reporting.

“Unknown perpetrators caused extensive damage to a radio station in Lofa during an alleged April 23 arson attack.  In the period prior to the fire, the station broadcast advocacy messages against female genital mutilation and other politically sensitive topics.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on June 29, two LNP officers reportedly threatened to shoot Emmanuel Kollie, a reporter with the state-owned broadcasting system, and Amos Korzawu, a reporter for Fortune TV, when they were covering a political rally.

Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid harassment.  Some but not all media outlets avoided criticizing government officials due to fear of legal sanction and potential loss of government advertising, which, according to the Press Union, was the largest source of media revenue.  Other outlets, but not all, avoided addressing sensitive human rights topics such as female genital mutilation/cutting.  There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to cover their events.  Some media outlets and broadcasters reportedly charged fees to publish articles or to speak on radio programs”, the report said

Coming up at the time when there has been calls for justice for past wrongs done during the civil war, the report said  Impunity continued for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities during two civil wars, as multiple investigative and audit reports were ignored. It stated that the government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of abuses during the year, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity continued for government corruption.

The report commended the government on access to education for school going age students , stating the law provides for tuition-free compulsory education in public schools through grade nine and lamented that the Ministry of Education nevertheless authorized public schools to charge fees for registration, activities, identity cards, entrance and placement exams, and graduation from kindergarten and grade 12. It said there were additional fees for early childhood education and night school and that the fees prevented a significant number of poor students from attending school.

On the respect for the integrity of persons, the report said there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings adding that Killings by police are investigated by the Professional Standards Division of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and then forwarded to criminal courts for prosecution.

“On June 13, police killed Rufus Fongbeh, an unarmed civilian, in Kakata, Margibi County. Following an investigation, two LNP officers were formally stripped of duties pending further disciplinary action. On July 4, LNP officer James Togba shot and killed Orlando Broh (also reported in media as Bloh), an unarmed civilian in Monrovia. According to court records, Togba committed the killing during a botched attempt to extort money from drug addicts. After the LNP dismissed Togba from the force, he was indicted and charged with murder. Togba was awaiting trial at year’s end”, the report said.

While reporting that rape of a woman or man is a criminal offense, it however said  the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem. “The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. Conviction of first-degree rape, defined as rape of a child, rape resulting in serious bodily harm, rape using a weapon, or gang rape, is a nonbailable offense punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without aggravating circumstances, is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment”.

The report also said that the prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor medical care.

Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem, particularly at Monrovia Central Prison (MCP), which held 1,426 inmates in a facility originally built for 374.  At times, prisoners were required to sleep in shifts due to overcrowding.  The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) stated that prison overcrowding was caused mainly by prolonged pretrial detention, especially at the MCP, delay in preparing indictments for felony cases, and difficulties in transferring case files from magisterial court to circuit court.

“In large prison facilities, juveniles and adults were held in separate cell blocks, but in smaller prisons where juvenile detention was rare, they were held in the same cell blocks as adults, but in separate cells.  Due to overcrowding, pretrial detainees and convicts were in some instances held in the same cell block but in separate cells”, the report said.

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