Quarterly report on the human rights situation in Liberia Nov 2006 - Jan 2007


Executive summary

1. Between November 2006 and January 2007, several positive steps forward were taken at the national level in strengthen the rule of law in Liberia. These included statements by the Government that trial by ordeal using the poison sassywood was illegal, the Government's continued anti-corruption campaign and the demonstration of independence made by the Supreme Court in its handling of the dispute between the House of Representatives and its then Speaker.

2. However, despite these positive moves, human rights protection at the local level remained poor. This report focuses particularly on human rights violations caused by failure to uphold minimum detention conditions in prisons and other detention facilities around the country. By the end of January 2007, Liberia had not made adequate progress towards the implementation of international standards recognised as essential to the protection of human rights of all people in detention. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners represent minimum conditions, acknowledged internationally as being essential for the enjoyment of fundamental human rights. The prison system in Liberia faces many challenges, including the absence of adequate facilities, trained personnel and logistic support. Many of these challenges will take time to overcome. However, Liberia has set itself a target of upholding these human rights standards for all people residing within its territory, including detainees. Detainees suffered unlawful discrimination on the basis of their detention status, with denial of rights to adequate nutrition, medical treatment and standard of living. Detention facilities were often dirty and there was inadequate food and water for drinking or bathing. These unhealthy conditions were exacerbated in some facilities by overcrowding. The right of juvenile detainees to be separated from adults were not protected.

3. The Rape Amendment Act was not implemented in full and in some cases it appeared that suspects were inappropriately released on bail, including in cases of gang-rape. Delays, failure to charge suspects appropriately and the unexplained release of suspects on bail were observed. Furthermore, law enforcement officials reported that many complainants settled their cases privately.

4. Victims and suspects alike were often denied access to justice by the poor operation of the courts. Many Circuit Courts failed to make headway in dealing with the increasing backlog of cases. Some Circuit Courts did not conduct a single trial during the November Term.

5. Corruption, irregular procedures for imposing fines in at least one Magistrates' Court and problems with the payment of salaries all had an impact on the efficiency of the judicial system and the protection of fundamental human rights. While some detainees claimed to have paid money for their release, others openly paid a fine instead of being sent to prison, without suitable legal basis.

6. Trial by ordeal was still practiced with the consent of county authorities and courts appeared not to appreciate the seriousness of the offences associated with the practice. In Nimba County, eight suspects were charged with aggravated assault in relation to a trial by ordeal lasting two months and involving 37 victims, subjected to severe assault and other forms of cruelty. All eight suspects arrested were released on bail immediately.