UN human rights chief says dysfunctional judiciary impeding Liberia's rights progress

Replacing Liberia's "dysfunctional judicial system" is of the highest priority in creating a good environment for human rights, establishing the rule of law, fighting corruption and building a durable peace in the West African country emerging from years of civil war, the United Nations human rights chief said today.

The country had seen the total collapse of its state institutions and now institution-building and attitudinal changes were the biggest challenges, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Louise Arbour said at the end of a four-day visit, before she left for Sierra Leone.

The issue of corruption was raised at virtually every meeting she had with Government, national and international stakeholders in Liberia, she said.

"Parallel to combating corruption and displacing the culture of impunity, I think it is also very important to ensure that there are incentives to support integrity ... to reinforce the view that power is about responsibility, not about personal rewards," she added. "Fighting impunity and rewarding integrity is, therefore, key to reconstruction and to building donors' confidence."

The weakest link in the process of fighting impunity was a dysfunctional justice sector, she emphasized. "Human rights and the rule of law are a precondition to peace and security," she said.

Ms. Arbour said some of the credit for the progress made since peace was established in 2003 went to the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), "but for the most part I think it goes to Liberians themselves who have demonstrated enormous resilience in their determination to live in peace."

She commended the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights.

During her visit Ms. Arbour met with the National Transitional Government of Liberia's Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant, the Minister of Justice, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Chairman of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights and senior UNMIL officials, among others.

She also met with ex-combatants occupying a rubber plantation and visited the detention centre in Tubmanburg, Bomi County.