By Our Reporter
MONROVIA: The United States Government’s 2022 Human Rights Report on Liberia has highlighted, among other unlawful acts, multiple killings allegedly involving agents of the Government of Liberia including some officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
The report, released by US Secretary of State, Anthony Binken, pointed out that there were reports that members of Liberia’s Security forces committed some human rights abuses.
In Liberia, “there were significant human rights issues which included credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents,” the report said.
The report also highlighted harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary arrest or detention, serious problems with the independence of the judiciary, serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists.
The report also highlighted “serious government corruption, lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including child, early, and forced marriage, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)/cutting.”
Crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; the existence and enforcement of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the outlawing of independent trade unions or significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association are other abuses contained in the 2022 US Human Rights report on Liberia.
The US Government, in the report further disclosed that impunity continued for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities during two civil wars, as multiple investigative and audit reports were ignored.
“The government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of abuses during the year, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity continued for government corruption,” stressed the report.
Section 1 (a) of the human Rights report with focus on Respect for the Integrity of the Person highlighted Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings.
According to the report, “There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.”
“Killings by police are investigated by the Professional Standards Division of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and then forwarded to criminal courts for prosecution,” the report added.
Giving detailed accounts, the US Human Rights Report pointed out that on June 13, police killed Rufus Fongbeh, an unarmed civilian, in Kakata, Margibi County.
“Following an investigation, two LNP officers were formally stripped of duties pending further disciplinary action,” the report asserted.
On July 4, the report indicated, LNP officer James Togba shot and killed Orlando Broh (also reported in media as Bloh), an unarmed civilian in Monrovia.
According to court records, quoted by the US Government report, Togba committed the killing during a botched attempt to extort money from drug addicts.
“After the LNP dismissed Togba from the force, he was indicted and charged with murder. Togba was awaiting trial at year’s end,” the report added.
Touching on disappearance, the US Secretary of State, in the Human Rights report on Liberia asserted that “There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.”
Report: “The government-mandated Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported the government did not address most human rights concerns, including those linked to past unresolved disappearances, thus instilling public fear and curtailing various freedoms.”
Commenting on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses, the report asserted that the Liberian constitution and laws prohibit such practices, “but there were credible reports that government officials employed some of them.”
The law provides criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addresses permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody.
According to the report, an armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer non-judicial punishment.
In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the Ministries of Justice and the Ministry of Defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication.
However, the US Government report pointed out that “There were reports that government authorities physically abused peaceful civilians, including persons in custody or seeking protection.”
On January 6, a Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency officer allegedly beat a criminal suspect who had allegedly stolen the officer’s mobile telephone.
The matter was still under investigation at year’s end. On March 29, the Ministry of Justice dismissed four senior LNP officers – Deputy Commander Amos Williams, Inspector Otis Wallace, Sergeant George Wleh, and Humphrey Karhn – for allegedly beating civilians in Monrovia.
“There were also reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents. LNP Officer Lydia Garga Flomo alleged in a February 7 radio interview that she was raped by Deputy Police Commissioner Joshua During in late 2021 in his office at LNP headquarters,” said the report.
However, according to the American Human Rights report on Liberia, “After a lengthy investigation, during which officer During was suspended from duty, he was reinstated in his position.”
“ In May, the Ministry of Justice agreed to prosecute officer During after the INCHR successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to compel his prosecution. At year’s end, there was no action on the Supreme Court’s order to proceed with the case.”
Report: “Harper City Solicitor Thomas Togba Kun was arrested and charged for a May 6 sexual assault of a woman law client. His trial was pending at year’s end.
According to the report, “Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Allegations of police harassment or abuse are referred to the LNP Professional Standards Division for investigation.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which includes representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), is empowered by law to review complaints against the LNP and Immigration Service.
The US Rights report, quoting observers, stated that some security force members believed they were above the law and were aided by a judicial system that rarely convicted and punished abusive officers.
The government provided some training to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, in his 2022 Human Rights country report on Liberia also highlighted corruption and lack of transparency in the George Weah led government.
The report indicated that “The law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively.”
The annual Country report on Human Rights practices was made public on Monday, March 20, 2023, by the US Embassy in Monrovia.
Hours since the publication of the report, the government has not commented on it.
The report further highlighted the amended Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) Act by the Legislature and enacted into law on July 22, 2022 which also gives the new Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) more powers. “The new law remained under judicial review at year’s end. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity,” the report said.
Among other things the report indicated that August 15, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff Nathaniel Falo McGill, Solicitor General and Chief Prosecutor Sayma Syrenius Cephus, and National Port Authority Director Bill Twehway were sanctioned under international law for their involvement in corrupt practices while serving as government officials.
The US government 2022 Human Rights report said the three top officials subsequently resigned in September.
“This was the third consecutive year in which senior government officials were sanctioned for corruption,” the report added.
“In 2021, President Weah suspended Presidential Special Projects Coordinator Makenneh Keita for allegedly soliciting five million United States dollars from a businessman who was exploring investment opportunities. On March 22, the LNP cleared Keita of corruption charges,” the report added.
The report also zoomed in discrimination and societal abuses and other forms of violence against women girls in the country.
In October 2018, Liberian leader George Manneh Weah declared himself as “Liberia’s Feminist-In -Chief.”
By that declaration, the Executive Mansion said the President reaffirms his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of the feminist ideals that guarantee the rights and wellbeing of women.
Five years on as President, the US Human Rights report said rape of a woman or man is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem.
The US report quotes the local Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) report, as saying that perpetrators of rape enjoyed widespread impunity, in part because bureaucratic obstacles restricted the number of cases that could be heard in each judicial term, as well as institutional weaknesses of government agencies tasked with combating sexual violence.
“An inefficient justice system prevented timely prosecutions, and delays caused many survivors to cease cooperating with prosecutors. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence. Survivors’ families sometimes requested money from perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court,” the US Human Rights report said.
According to the report, government officials allegedly committed acts of sexual violence.
Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem.
The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence is six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Civil society observers suggested that lack of speedy trials led some survivors to seek redress outside the formal justice system.”