The end of the civil war in 2003 meant a new beginning for Liberians in the fulfilment of their basic human rights. Since the establishment of an elected government in 2006, Liberia has made progress towards the realization of international human rights standards.
The Human Rights and Protection Section (HRPS) of the United Nations Mission in Liberia is working together with national institutions and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, in ensuring the promotion, protection and monitoring of human rights in all fifteen counties in Liberia. Its mandate, derived from Security Council Resolution 1509 establishing UNMIL, is:
- To contribute towards international efforts to protect and promote human rights in Liberia, with particular attention to vulnerable groups including refugees, returning refugees and internally displaced persons, women, children, and demobilised child soldiers, within UNMIL’s capabilities and under acceptable security conditions, in close cooperation with other Tnited Nations agencies, related organisations, governmental organisations, and non-governmental organisations;
- to ensure an adequate human rights presence, capacity and expertise within UNMIL to carry out human rights promotion, protection and monitoring activities.1
Monitoring and reporting human rights violations contribute to the development of policies and strategies in various areas relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, especially in the field of rule of law, access to justice, transitional justice, child protection, juvenile justice, women’s rights, sexual and gender based violence, people living with disabilities, access to adequate health care, education, labour rights, harmful traditional practices, etc.
HRPS aims to prevent or address human rights violations and abuses, and to minimise the harmful impact of violations on victims. This involves intervention in individual cases as well as technical assistance for the development of national institutions, legislation and policy to support the Government in fulfilling its international human rights obligations.
Despite some progress, Liberia continues to face a number of challenges that impact on the promotion and protection of human rights especially because of weaknesses in the judicial system and rule of law. Failure to protect the human rights of all citizens and the weak, slow functioning judicial system serve to erode and undermine confidence in the rule of law. Poor infrastructure, the limited capacity level of personnel and corrupt practices result in frequent long delays of trials and, in turn, prolonged pre-trial detentions which has led to serious over-crowdedness in prisons.
Violence against women and young girls continues to be a major human rights and social issue despite the enactment of the “Rape Law” in 2006. Rape is one of the most frequently reported serious crimes in the country but the implementation of the “Rape Law” is poor. Many rape suspects are in pre-trial detention with a small percentage of rape convictions recorded countrywide since the 2006 amendments. Also, reports of domestic violence have increased in the past year. Another area of concern is harmful traditional practices, such as Female Genital Mutilation, trial by ordeal and ritual killing.
According to the international human rights laws ratified by Liberia, children are entitled to additional State protections as a result of their increased vulnerability to abuse, violence and exploitation. HRPS works closely with national authorities and the NGO community in Liberia to promote the protection of children’s rights. In this area, HRPS monitors and promotes the prosecution of cases involving sexual assault against children. Moreover, HRPS advocates for the implementation of additional protection mechanisms for juveniles and collaborates with national and international partners on policies and legislation reforms relating to adoption and orphanages.
HRPS is supporting the establishment and operation of national human rights institutions in order to promote sustainable national human rights capacity. It provided technical and advocacy support to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), both of which were among the goals of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The TRC commenced its programme of public hearings and investigations on 22 June 2006. It conducted investigations into the gross human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and 14 October 2003. Special attention was given to cases of sexual violence and the use of child soldiers. On 30 June 2009 the TRC submitted its final report on its findings with recommandations, as a step to prevent such conflict from recurring. The INCHR, which has yet to become operational, is the national human rights body responsible for promoting national implementation of, and compliance with, the international and regional human rights treaties signed by Liberia. The INCHR will receive and investigate allegations of human rights violations and will also investigate issues on its own initiative and be able to make recommendations to the Government on remedial actions that are required in individual cases or systematic reforms required where the violations are of a widespread nature.
As building the capacity of Liberian authorities and civil society is vital for sustainable human rights promotion and protection, HRPS includes capacity-building in all its activities. It also works closely with civil society to increase community awareness of human rights and supports Government efforts to implement the nation’s human rights obligations. At the national level, HRPS has integrated training on human rights for the Liberian National Police, Correction Officers and the Armed Forces of Liberia. In addition, HRPS conducts various public awareness campaigns on particular issues, and mentors a national programme of Human Rights Clubs in high schools. Further, it has developed a human rights manual for teachers and has assisted the Ministry of Education to incorporate human rights teaching in primary and secondary schools.
HRPS, through its monitoring and public reporting as well as capacity building, has been able to progressively engage government and civil society in disseminating and promoting the implementation of international human rights standards throughout Liberia.
1HRPS does not have a mandate to investigate allegations of human rights abuses committed by UNMIL staff. All cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel, including all complaints involving sexual exploitation and abuse, are investigated by an independent mechanism, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). OIOS has complete freedom of action and reports directly to UN Headquarters in New York.