Home Foreign News To Judge Cases: Judges, Lawyers Beg For Bribes … US 2023 Human Rights Report On Liberia Reveals; As Sex For Grades, Sex for School Fees, Others Under Spotlight

To Judge Cases: Judges, Lawyers Beg For Bribes … US 2023 Human Rights Report On Liberia Reveals; As Sex For Grades, Sex for School Fees, Others Under Spotlight

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By: Linda Gbartie

MONROVIA: The United States Government’s 2023 Human Rights Report on Liberia has revealed that Judges in Liberia solicit bribes to judge cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, and acquit defendants in criminal cases.

The report also disclosed that although the constitution of Liberia and laws provide for an independent judiciary, but the Government of Liberia “generally did not respect judicial independence and impartiality.”

The American 2023 Human rights report on Liberia was released on Monday, April 22, 2024, by U.S Secretary of State, Blinken.

It is an annual report on a country. It covers internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.

The U.S. Department of State submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the U.S. Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974.

Regarding Liberia, Section one, (e) of the Report stated that defense attorneys and prosecutors direct defendants to pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.

The Report added that some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were “politically connected or socially prominent.”

However, on trial procedures, the report mentioned that the constitution of Liberia and law have provided citizens the right to a fair and public trial and the responsibility of the judiciary generally is to enforce this right.

According to the 2023 U.S. Human Rights Report, defendants had the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense but often those rights were not observed.

“Defendants were generally presumed innocent under the law, and they had the right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. These rights were sometimes not observed,” the report mentioned.

According to the Report, in 2023, there were no significant changes in the human rights situation in Liberia during the year.

The report highlighted that significant human rights issues included credible reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government.

It also highlighted harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, serious problems with the independence of the judiciary, serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship.

It also pointed out serious government corruption, extensive gender-based violence, including domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and female genital mutilation.

Accordingly, the report indicated that laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults were enforced as well as crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons, and systematic restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

“The government did not take credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses,” the report noted.

Commenting on arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings, the report stated that during the year (2023), there were several reports of the government or its agents on committing arbitrary, unlawful and extrajudicial killings.

It stated that on January 20, 2023, an officer of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Abu Konneh, allegedly arrested, tortured, and killed one Abraham Hanson Wleh after he allegedly burglarized a private residence but Konneh along with several unidentified accomplices, remained on the run until the end of the year and are yet to be apprehended.

On torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatments, and other related abuses, the report maintained that the constitution and law prohibited such practices, but there were credible reports government officials employed them.

The law provided criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addressed permissible uses of force during arrest and while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. Government authorities physically abused peaceful civilians, including persons in custody seeking protection as well as reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents.

In February, the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency suspended Maryland County Commander, Sergeant Targeddine, following allegations of a sexual assault brought against him.

According to a police report, Sergeant Joseph Targeddine allegedly sexually assaulted a girl, age 16, in Harper, Maryland County. Targeddine remained free pending court trial.

The U.S HRR further stated that arrests of citizens were often made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence.

It emphasized that the law allowed for arrests without a warrant if the necessary paperwork was filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority as well as it required the police to have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrest.

The report continued that “Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions, vermin infestation, and poor medical care which led to disease outbreaks.

The bail system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption.

The Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) and other civil rights observers reported judges misused the bail system, viewing it as punitive rather than a way to regulate appearance in court. Some judges reportedly used the possibility of bail to solicit bribes, the Report added.

According to the American Government, the government generally respected the rights of freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media although with some unofficial limits.

It added that individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but government officials used the threat of civil defamation suits to place limits on free expression, and self-censorship was widespread as a result and press associations reported government officials occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners, as well as individual journalists, because of their political opinions and reporting.

The law criminalized rape of a woman or man, including spousal and domestic or intimate partner rape and other forms of domestic and sexual violence including so-called corrective rape of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape was a serious and pervasive problem.

Although illegal, domestic violence was a widespread problem. The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence was six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Civil society observers suggested the lack of speedy trials led some survivors to seek redress outside the formal justice system.

The law did not prohibit the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and NGOs reported there was little political will within the legislature to address the issue.

On February 6, the National Council of Chiefs and Elders in Liberia, headed by Chief Zanzan Karwor, instituted a national ban on FGM and closed a traditional rural school in Montserrado County, replacing it with a heritage and vocational center to train FGM practitioners with alternative skills for livelihood.

The law prohibited sexual harassment in the workplace, but it was a significant problem at work and in schools.

UNICEF reported sexual harassment in schools in the form of “sex for grades” and “sex for school fees” was common. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape, through one-stop centers.

There were no reports postexposure prophylaxis was available as part of clinical management of rape.

While public clinics throughout the country provided family planning counseling and a mix of modern access to these services at times proved difficult, particularly for women living in rural areas or those with limited financial means,” the report mentioned.

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