Worsening Human Rights Report on Liberia -US Gov’t Cites Arbitrary Killings, Police Brutality…

The United States Government through its Department of State has identified significant human rights issues in Liberia to include arbitrary killings by police; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

The US State Department’s Situation report 2021 on Liberia also identified “arbitrary detention by government officials; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on freedom of the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; official corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor” as other human rights issues in the country .

The State Department maintained that “Impunity for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities, during the Liberian civil wars that ended in 2003, remained a serious problem, although the government cooperated with war crimes investigations in third countries.”

The report however noted that the Liberian government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

Announcing that the US Government will release an addendum to this report in mid-2021 that expands the subsection on Women in Section 6 to include a broader range of issues related to reproductive rights, the report release recognized that Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly and a democratically elected government.

The country, the US State Department pointed out, held presidential and legislative elections in 2017, which domestic and international observers deemed generally free and fair. The report also alluded to the December 2020 midterm senatorial elections which observers deemed largely peaceful, although there were some reported instances of vote tampering, intimidation, harassment of female candidates, and election violence, adding that opposition candidates won 11 of the 15 Senate seats contested, according to election results announced by the National Election Commission on December 21.”

Commenting on respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings, the report said there were occasional reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

“On January 26, bodyguards of President George Weah assaulted Zenu Koboi Miller, a local broadcast journalist, as he was leaving the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sport Stadium in Monrovia, a case the report indicated was on January 27, highlighted in a statement by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), an independent organization for media professionals, and later by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Miller wrote in a Facebook post that he had seen a doctor and was suffering from pains in his legs and chest after the “brutal attack.” Miller filed a complaint with the PUL, which met with police leadership on January 30 and called for a transparent investigation, according to a PUL statement.

The State Department report quoted local news reports as saying that Journalists Miller died in a local hospital on February 15, after complaining of numbness in his left arm and legs, according to local. “While a direct link between the assault and death was never established, since an autopsy was not conducted, the family issued a statement saying Miller had died of hypertension and stroke,” the United States Situation r eport indicated.

It also made several other references when it said. “On March 8, off-duty Liberia National Police (LNP) Sergeant Sensee Kowo, who was also the deputy commander of LNP Ganta City Detachment in Nimba County, allegedly flogged and choked 18-year-old motorcyclist Samuel Selleh after an argument; Selleh died shortly thereafter. Authorities fired Kowo and opened an investigation into the death. One account of the events suggested Selleh died as a result of stones thrown by friends who came to his defense.”

The report pointed out that Sergeant Kowo (who originally fled the scene) was arrested and charged with murder. At the first hearing of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, during the August Term of Court, the former sergeant’s plea for a change of venue was granted, and the case was pending transfer to Grand Bassa County at year’s end.

In June the Civilian Complaints Review Board, the US Human Rights Situation report recounted, an independent body mandated by law to investigate police acts of violence against innocent persons, began an investigation into circumstances that resulted in the death of a three-year-old child, Francis Mensah, in the Township of West Point who reportedly died on April 20, 2020 as a result of an injury he sustained after six LNP officers allegedly kicked over a pot of hot water that fell on him.

According to a press release issued by the review board chairman, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, the officers were suspended. An LNP investigation found the death was not caused intentionally, but some LNP officers involved received suspensions due to irregularities in reporting the event.

Another development cited in the report was the June 2019 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Abraham Tumay by police officers during a protest demanding justice for the mysterious killing of two minors in May 2019 to which the report said there is no new development, even though four police officers were charged with negligent homicide, aggravated assault, and criminal facilitation in connection with Tumay’s death.

“The officers allegedly fired live ammunition into the air in an attempt to disperse protesters, striking Tumay. The four officers were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison awaiting trial,” the US Human Right reports said.

It also mentioned reports of government authorities’ allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in custody as well as those seeking protection, disclosed, harsh prison conditions including gross overcrowding which the report said continued to be a problem.”

The report noted how on April 23, Mohammed Komara, a man reportedly suffering from mental illness, who breached the perimeter of the president’s private residence in Paynesville, outside Monrovia was kicked by LNP officers and agents of the Executive Protection Service who used sticks to prod the individual while he lay prostrate, shirtless, and handcuffed, according to a widely circulated video of the incident, adding that the Office of the President announced the launch of an investigation into the case, but mentioned no outcome.

The United States Government through the report spoke of impunity was a problem in the security forces. Police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. The penal code provides criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addresses permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody.

An armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer non-judicial punishment. As of August the disciplinary board had three active cases. In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the Ministries of Justice and Defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication, the report said.

The report also address conditions of  prison and detention center conditions, which according to them were at times harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor medical care.

“The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported the prison population in the country’s 16 facilities was almost twice the planned capacity. Approximately one-half of the country’s 2,572 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison, which was originally built for 374 detainees but as of December held 1,230. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Fellowship Liberia reported that overcrowding in Block D of the Monrovia Central Prison required prisoners to sleep in shifts. The majority of juveniles were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. In some cases men and women were held together, and juveniles were held with adults,” the report divulged.

According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from January through September, there were 23 prison deaths in the country, including 13 deaths at the Monrovia Central Prison, four deaths each at the Gbarnga Central Prison and the Harper Central Prison, and one death each at the Tubmanburg Central Prison and the Buchanan Central Prison.

The reports also quoted the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation by saying none of the deaths in prisons during the year resulted from prison violence or mistreatment of prisoners. The bureau attributed the deaths to medical reasons–other than COVID-19–including anemia, heart conditions, and infectious diseases. According to Prison Fellowship Liberia, however, Ministry of Health officials working in the prisons did not test the bodies of deceased prisoners for signs of COVID-19 infection.

Access to food and medical care was inadequate, according to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that “[e]very prisoner shall be provided by the prison administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served,” but improved, relative to the preceding year amongst others.

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