Universal Periodic Review of Liberia

On November 1st 2010, the human rights situation in Liberia was put under the microscope by its peers as part of the country’s first Universal Periodic Review. (UPR)

Liberia has recently emerged from a long history of instability, turmoil and conflict, including two violent civil wars. Out of a pre-war population of 3,000,000 an estimated 250,000 people were killed and as many as 1,500,000 people were displaced.

Following the signing of a peace agreement in 2003, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was successful in the 2005 democratic elections, becoming the first woman to be elected president anywhere in Africa.

In its national report presented as part of its UPR, the Liberian government indicated that it has taken a number of measures to improve the human rights of its citizens. A number of commissions have been established, the most notable of which is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which investigated human rights violations committed during the civil conflict period. Liberia is also attempting to harmonise its domestic laws with its international obligations.

Liberia recognized that it still has a long road to travel to improve the human rights situation in the country. Some of the many challenges and constraints it identified include: the lack of human rights awareness in society; high illiteracy and unemployment rates; a lack of basic infrastructure; existence of dual justice systems; existence of discriminatory laws; a culture of impunity and corruption which has led to a lack of public trust in the judiciary and law enforcement system; and inadequate financial resources to implement crucial human rights projects.

During the UPR process, several key issues were continually raised by other states. These included the high incidence of sexual and gender based violence and the need for measures to be taken to both protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators; the elimination of the practice of female genital mutilation; strengthening law enforcement and reforming of the judicial and penitentiary systems, including training of personnel. The abolition of the death penalty was also brought up regularly. There were also recommendations to ratify various human rights conventions and to address the recommendations made by the TRC.

While the Liberian delegation accepted the majority of the recommendations made (71 out of 113 total), it deferred 41 to allow further consultation with their government and civil society. The deferred recommendations included all those made regarding female genital mutilation, the death penalty, the TRC and most calls to sign and ratify international human rights conventions. Liberia did not reject outright any recommendations.

At the conclusion of the review, the Liberian delegation called for assistance from the international community in regard to training of its law enforcement personnel, in developing human rights awareness and for treaty body reporting. It also asked for assistance in the development of a National Human Rights Action Plan for Liberia.

(thanks to Shauna Scott for the research for this article)

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