Human Rights Context
Liberia, the first independent African state, went through two civil wars between 1989 and 2003. The conflict killed more than 250,000 people, mainly civilians, and led to a breakdown in the rule of law. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was deployed in 2003 after the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. It had a mandate for peacebuilding and reconciliation but took on additional roles related to emergency health. The Human Rights and Protection Section was established at the same time. UNMIL closed its operations on 30 March 2018. The UN Human Rights Office opened in April 2018. Its presence in Liberia is time-limited as the agreement with the Liberia Government ends in six years.
The process of post conflict recovery in Liberia has been ongoing for over a decade. Despite significant progress made in 14 years of UNMIL’s presence, Liberia faces serious human rights challenges many of which stem from historical social divides, discrimination and impunity. Sustained efforts to promote and protect human rights is required to effectively address challenges such as impunity, weak reconciliation mechanisms, corruption, weak institutional capacity, land disputes and concessions as these continue to be conflict/violence triggers. The promotion and protection of women’s rights arising from societal inequalities, and sexual and gender-based violence remains a fundamental challenge. A drop in prices of key export commodities, and the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in 2014 limited economic growth, impeded development gains, and negatively impacted post-war recovery. Poverty is pervasive with about 76.2% of the population living on less than US$ 1.00 per day and 52% living in abject poverty on less than US$ .50 per day. Access to basic health services is extremely low, which in turn accounts for the major causes of the country’s high infant and child mortality rates. At present, infant and under-five mortality rates stand at 134 per 1000 live births and 194 per 1000 live births, respectively. Malnutrition is widespread. Maternal mortality has increased from 578 per 100,000 prior to the war to 780 per 100,000 by 2002. It now stands at 725 while the region averages 477 per 100,000 live births. HIV/AIDS is estimated to have affected 8.2% of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 years.
The current status of the human rights sector can be broadly described as having weak national mechanisms to monitor and protect human rights, outdated legislation and weak human resource capacity to promote and protect human rights. The National Human Rights Commission was established in 2010 and is mandated to protect and promote human rights, monitor and report on human rights, receive complaints, propose policy and legislation and promote human rights education. The Commission faces operational, political, and resource capacity challenges, which have largely prevented it from fulfilling its mandate.
OHCHR’s Office in Liberia continues to address concerns of human rights promotion and protection by national actors. It focuses on several areas of human rights work, including improving support to civil society and traditional leaders on addressing human rights issues, and improving capacity of national institutions to promote, protect, fulfill and monitor human rights. These institutions include the Ministry of Justice, the National Legislature and Judiciary, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Liberian National Police, Liberia Immigration Service and the Armed Forces of Liberia. Domestic violence, and sexual violence against women and girls remains widespread. The office is working on assisting the Law Reform Commission and the National Legislature draft and enact appropriate legislations/bills to curtail domestic violence and female genital mutilation. In this regard, OHCHR Liberia recently received a grant of over USD 1 million under the UN-EU Spotlight Initiative which will strengthen activities aimed at ending violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence, and harmful practices, as well as sexual and reproductive health rights. The Office is also working with the Government on strengthening the implementation and monitoring of the National Human Rights Action Plan and other initiatives to guarantee the effective rule of law, access to justice, strengthen functionality of the judicial system to end impunity and discrimination of marginalized groups, widening the democratic space, and alignment between the United Nations Partnership Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals. In December 2018, the office carried out human rights advocacy with the Legislature on a Bill criminalizing same sex marriage. OHCHR also in 2018 intervened on behalf of victims of forced eviction and demolition of the Fendell community. The intervention was to ensure the Government address the human rights violations suffered by the community. Over one thousand five hundred houses were demolished and over five thousand residents were forcibly evicted in 2016 within the Fendell community to make way for an expanded campus of the University of Liberia. The Government has committed to finding a lasting, amicable and durable solution. On 7 February 2019, the Liberian Senate passed the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom amending Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; 11.2 on Sedition and 11.14 on criminal malevolence.
Liberia is party to 7 out of the 9 core human rights treaties1 (not yet a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families nor the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances). It also issued a standing invitation to all thematic special procedures. There was a visit by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression in 2018. Numerous requests for visits remain outstanding from the Special Rapporteurs on extreme poverty; on health; on rights to water and sanitation; on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on torture; and on independence of judges. Others include the Independent Experts on albinism, on foreign debt, and the Working Group on business and human rights.
1. The nine core international human rights treaties are: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW), and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED).