FRIDAY 18 JULY, 2008
Monrovia-- Over the course of this 14 day visit, my ninth since 2003, I have met with Government officials, civil society, United Nations agencies and funds and the diplomatic community. The information that I have gained during these discussions are valuable inputs for my assessment of the progress towards human rights promotion, protection and fulfillment in Liberia and I will present my final report to the Human Rights Council in September this year.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave of their time to meet with me and share their assessment of the progress made to date and the pressing human rights issues facing now the country.
On the 5th anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement the Independent Expert is pleased that Liberia has enjoyed continual peace and security over the past 5 years. The installation of a new democratically elected government which took office in January 2006 has witnessed the acceleration of progress on a number of human rights and development issues including economic and social rights. Rehabilitation of some schools and hospitals and construction of new facilities in Monrovia and outside the capital, the adoption and launching of the Poverty Reduction Strategy document following a consultative process are all achievements to be proud of. Some courts have been rehabilitated and new courts constructed with the assistance of the international community.
For the first time in the history of Liberia a government led by President Johnson has actually brought governance to the people by periodically holding cabinet meetings in the counties, and I would strongly encourage further decentralization efforts.
The adoption of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Document following an extensive consultation process and which was successfully launched in Berlin is a major achievement. The strategy seeks to build a foundation for rapid inclusive and sustainable economic growth and also to ensure the rehabilitation of infrastructure and delivery of basic social services. It is important that the fundamental human rights principles of accountability and non discrimination – particularly geographic and ethnic – be respected throughout the implementation process. It is important that the international community support this process, and pledges of financial and technical support made at the Berlin Conference be honoured.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is nearing completion of its core activities with public hearings coming to a close and an extension of its mandate to December 2008 has been agreed.
Furthermore the launching of the judicial training centre, and the possible introduction of para-legals in the very near future, are also positive developments in the move to strengthen a weak judiciary.
The joint government of Liberia and UN programme to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Gender Based Violence signed in June 2008 and to be implemented over a 4 year period (2008-2012) is a very welcome initiative. The opening of safe house for victims of all forms of gender violence was a much needed supportive measure.
A number of important legislative developments have taken place since my last mission including the preparation of draft legislation, which is now with Parliament, which will allow for the establishment of the Law Reform Commission and the Independent National Commission Human Rights.
Rape and sexual violence continue to be the most frequently committed serious crime in Liberia. The very high rate of girl children dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancy is very worrisome. Information received in the course of the visit indicates that in June this year 24 girls from Guthrie elementary and senior high schools, Bomi County dropped out due to pregnancy. Out of the 24 girls 19 were reportedly children. By the time the investigation in these alleged statutory rapes the number of alleged pregnancies among the school girls increased from 24 to 32.
One of the key defining elements of an effective national human rights protection system is the existence of an effective national independent human rights commission. Following the public hearing at the Senate Human Rights Committee on 14 June 2008 on the amendments to the legislation I would urge the Senate to adopt the amendments taking into consideration the concerns expressed by civil society who participated in the hearing. This should now be followed by the establishment of the Commission which should be mandated by the enabling legislation to function in full compliance with the Paris Principles.
Serious concerns remain with regard to the rule of law. The continued increase in armed robberies and rape cases is a security issue. Therefore there is an urgent need for far reaching reforms in policing, judiciary and correction sectors. In addition action needs to be taken to ensure that protective and punitive measures are enforced in relation to the ongoing scourge of sexual violence. The Independent Expert is particularly concerned about the lack of protection for children who indeed represent the future of this nation.
The persistence of harmful traditional practices which includes the inflicting of trials by ordeal on suspected witches and other alleged offenders of the local communities, and the practice of female genital mutilation, is a major concern.
The challenges in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights which face the Government and Liberian society as a whole are enormous. The Government continues to demonstrate the political will to transform society and has strongly supported poverty reduction schemes for vulnerable groups of the population. However the need for responsive and accountable policing, an effective judiciary which applies the rule of law and a strengthened corrections sector is yet to be adequately addressed.
The primary responsibility for the protection of its citizens lies with the government and clear policy choices must be made. However support should also be forthcoming from the international community in a timely and effective manner to address capacity gaps within government structures. In particular the necessary resources for the implementation of the key Poverty Reduction Strategy must be found.