National Human Rights Centre of Liberia Human Rights Situation Report
August 4, 2004
This first bi-annual situation report has been compiled from the striking developments, conditions, incidents and tendencies which characterized the Liberian peace process and transition, specifically during the period January - June, 2004. It highlights basic human rights issues including abuses and other acts committed by roaming armed militias especially in areas not covered by the troops of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). Responsibilities for such heinous acts were mostly attributed to armed factions to the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA). Violations of the CPA by its signatories are equally highlighted.
Basically drawn from field reports by our monitors, media and eyewitness accounts, and complaints from victims, the report also focuses on issues of socio-economic nature, including policy measures announced by the transitional administration that were marked by inadequate follow-ups and supervisions; the sour relationship between the government and the civil servants over salary arrears and pay issues which blew out of proportion with a teacher go-slow action and a concomitant student strike in solidarity with their instructors are included. The resurgence of ritualistic killings (“heart-men” activities) during the period and extra-judicial measures to right offences (in the form of mob actions) and other acts that impinged on the general human rights and security situation are also considered.
The report also looks at the status of the deployment of UNMIL troops to the rural parts of the country, the DDRR program and its initial setbacks and aftermath, as well as the rancour that ensued between the warring groups and the chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), Charles Gyude Bryant, over the implementation of the CPA.
On the whole, the security situation in Monrovia, its immediate environs as well as parts of rural Liberia can be said to have improved over the period. The deployment of an estimated 14,000 UNMIL troops in these areas coupled with the disarmament of some 40,000 combatants, which had been rather slow though, account for the level of improvement in the security situation. This improvement has impacted considerably the human rights situation. Hostilities between the belligerents which created conditions for widespread abuses by armed militias have largely ceased. Notwithstanding, the situation remains fragile as there have been outbreaks of shooting in some parts with numerous reports of armed banditry and criminal activities in most parts of the country including areas occupied by UNMIL troops. The rise in mob violence during the early part of the year and the emergence of ritualistic killings in the Monrovia area around March and April posed a new threat to security.
Although the human rights situation is perceived to have improved over the period, existing monitoring mechanisms have been grossly inadequate (and in many instances biased towards civil and political rights) to follow up this so-called improvement. The UNMIL Human Rights Office commenced the recruitment of human rights monitors in late May, although the Mission had been on ground for well over 6 months. Many parts of the hinterland, mainly the south-eastern and the northern regions where UNMIL had not yet deployed could not easily be accessed. The fate of civilians in these areas remained entirely at the mercy of rebel commanders and their armed militias, many of who were reported to be administering jungle justice.
The snail pace at which UNMIL declares re-claimed areas as safe and the failure of the NTGL to extend civil authority into areas already declared safe by UNMIL have not been good signs for the restoration of peace and the protection of the rights of local community residents.
Collapse of the criminal justice system during the war seriously undermined the administration of justice and the protection of the rights of citizens during the period. Although there have been attempts at reactivating couple of courts in the Monrovia area, many of the courts in leeward counties or hinterland remain inactive. The Supreme Court has been reconstituted with justices appointed and confirmed. Also the appointment of judges of lower courts in the Monrovia area has been ongoing. Appointed judges and other judicial officials for areas under the control of armed factions are yet to take up their assignments in these areas. Whilst Police operation in Monrovia has been marred by lack of logistics and ill-trained personnel, Police operation in rural parts have been completely lacking. The presence of a small contingent of UNMIL Civil Police (CIVPOL) in Monrovia and nearby towns seems not to be helping the situation much despite their being well equipped and adequately resourced. The UNMIL has announced plans to facilitate the training and equipping of a new police service.
The prisons continue to symbolize institutions of dehumanization rather than being correctional institutions. In addition to poor prison administration, prison facilities across the country are not fit for human habitation. A recent prison monitoring report by a local prison advocacy group revealed the deplorable conditions under which detainees are held in prisons and holding cells around the country. According to the report, prisons and holding cells are usually overcrowded, highly unsanitary and hardly have any means of ventilation. Detainees are not fed sufficiently and have no access to medication.
Protection needs for internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain a growing concern. Although the delivery of humanitarian relief to the camps is being undertaken by the UN and other international and local NGOs, the equitable distribution of relief items has been a serious problem in the camps. Sale of relief food and non food items by relief workers is prevalent, and, this has deprived a number of IDPs from their just rations. Many of the IDPs, including women and children, continue to be victims of a situation of power versus powerlessness as the ‘strong’ takes advantage of the vulnerability of the ‘weak’ to do their exploit. Instances of rape, sexual exploitation and other forms of gender-based violence by humanitarian workers, peace-keepers as well as fellow IDPs have been reported. For many of these frustrated IDPs, return to their original homes despite the lack of completion of the ongoing DDRR process remains the only option to enjoying lasting peace and stability.
Rampant corruption in the public sector accounts for the continued lack of basic social services to the citizens. As yet, safe drinking water had not been restored to Monrovia and secondary cities. Electricity and telecommunication are luxury facilities only to be enjoyed by power wielders. Many children are out of school whilst the health care delivery system remains in a state of paralysis. In the face of these, the living patterns and consumption habits of government officials say much about how the Liberian economy is being managed and explains why the transitional government finds every justification to evade the issue of payment of salary arrears to civil servants. Many rights and pro-democracy advocates have expressed fears that funds raised at the February donor conference stand the risk of being siphoned by these very ‘vultures’ if the proper monitoring mechanisms on the use of funds are not put into place.
The report recommends the following as the way to make progress:
To the National Transition Government of Liberia (NTGL)
1. That priority attention be given to restoring electricity and safe drinking water and sanitation for enhanced security and public health of the people.
2. That the NTGL initiates a proactive salary disbursement scheme which will prevent future rancour with civil servants, especially teachers of all public institutions of learning with the view of alleviating student demonstrations and hooliganism.
3. That the NTGL moves quickly to establish local civil administration across the country to halt atrocities being committed by armed factions and to create the enabling environment for the smooth implementation of the 2005 general and presidential elections.
To the UNMIL
4. That the DDRR program is intensified to reach all areas to end the terrorization of the local population by armed fighters, as well as to enhance the establishment of constitutional civil administration throughout the country;
5. That the UNMIL capacitates local human rights organizations in their efforts to investigate reports of flagrant human rights abuses and other atrocities across the country.
6. That the UNMIL considers upgrading the logistics and communication capacities of the present police force to complement the efforts of CIVPOL in securing Monrovia and its environs.
7. That UNMIL carries out house-to-house searches in Monrovia and other areas where disarmament has already taken place to curb the reported wave of armed robberies as well as to dismantle factional command structures which are still well in tact.
To the International Community
8. That international pressure be exerted on the NTGL for the establishment of an anti-corruption bureau/ commission to counter the squandering of public funds.
9. That effort be accelerated to provide alternative
employment to ex-combatants as well as redundant security and police
personnel to prevent their regrouping for harassment, armed robberies
and outright banditry.
10. That a War Crimes Tribunal be established in Liberia to prosecute all war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed during the course of the Liberian civil conflict.
To the Humanitarian Relief Community
11. That the international humanitarian community support the NTGL in the rehabilitation of roads in order to make the countryside accessible for humanitarian aid and the free and speedy movement of people and goods;
12. That due attention be given to the humanitarian needs of victims of latest atrocities committed by fighters of armed factions;
13. That appropriate mechanisms be put into place to prevent the illegal sale of relief items by NGO workers to ensure the equitable distribution of relief to those most in need.