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Liberia Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

More than 15 years after the end of the war, Liberia has made considerable progress in terms of democracy and human rights. But problems remain with, among other things, corruption and women's rights.

Liberia is a democracy with universal suffrage and multi-party systems. Everyone is free to form and operate in political parties. The 2017 election was considered by international election observers as essentially free and fair, even though there were shortcomings in the administration.

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The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association, which is generally respected. Both spontaneous and planned demonstrations are common. Liberia has many civil society organizations working in several sectors, but organizations working for the rights of LGBTQ people have a low profile as homosexuality is not widely accepted in society.

Although women and men are equal before the law, they continue to be discriminated against in several areas and especially in rural areas. Sexual and gender-based violence is common. The number of rapes, including group rapes, is high and few cases lead to convictions. Women's participation in politics is low at all levels. In 2018, twelve percent of parliamentary seats were held by women.

Religious freedom prevails by law, but there is information on discrimination against the Muslim minority (see Religion). Asian and Lebanese groups, who have lived in the country for generations, are denied citizenship.

Democracy and Human Rights of LiberiaBeing gay is not illegal but practicing same sex sex. LGBTQ people are stigmatized and blamed, among other things, for causing the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

Several initiatives have been taken to fight the widespread corruption, but the authorities lack sufficient resources to work effectively. In 2018, the appropriations for several of the most important authorities were further reduced. In 2018, Transparency International ranked Liberia 120th in its index of perceived corruption in 180 countries.

Freedom of expression and media

Expressing different opinions as a private person is usually harmless, but some topics, such as homosexuality, are taboo.

Liberia has a long press tradition and the constitution prescribes both freedom of the press and opinion, but freedom of the press has at times been severely limited. This is where West Africa's first newspaper, the Liberia Herald, was started in 1830. Today there are about 10 newspapers, most of which also publish online. However, most Liberians receive their news via the radio.

During the civil war in the early 2000s, it was forbidden to report on the movements and to write about the international sanctions against the Liberian regime. Under the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who ruled the country from 2006 to 2018, conditions improved significantly. However, in connection with the 2011 presidential election, many cases of threats and acts of violence against journalists and media companies were reported. Also in connection with the Ebola epidemic 2014–2015, the authorities sought to influence the reporting of journalists. Particularly large interventions against the media were made between August and November 2014, when the government announced an emergency permit to fight Ebola (see Calendar).

In 2018, progress was made when new President George Weah signed a new press law that decriminalized crimes such as the throwing of the presidential office and revival. Nevertheless, 2018 became a dark year when several journalists were arrested and subjected to violence. Among other things, a minister in the government threatened the publisher of the investigative journal Frontpage Africa with imprisonment since its journalists wrote about suspicions that a container of money had disappeared. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General, the Liberia Press Club expressed concern about the situation of the independent press in Liberia.

Reporters Without Borders placed Liberia in place 93 in its ranking of freedom of the press in 180 countries in 2019. It was four places worse than the year before, but still at about the same level as other years during the period 2013 to 2018.

Most media is financially dependent on government advertisements or money from local politicians or various donors.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is formally independent but in practice has almost always been forced to submit to political leadership and the armed forces. During the first civil war, total lawlessness prevailed, but the situation was almost as serious during the years Charles Taylor was president (1997–2003). The abuses against civil interest groups, journalists and politically opposites helped to trigger the Second Civil War. Under Johnson Sirleaf's rule, the situation improved, but the weak legal system often means that serious crimes are not prosecuted.

In the 2003 peace agreement, the parties agreed to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) whose mandate was to investigate serious human rights and war crimes, but also financial crimes committed from January 1979 to October 2003.

TRC began its work in June 2006 and conducted a series of witness hearings in 2008. In its final report, presented in July 2009, the Commission listed 49 people who it considered should be banned from holding public office for 30 years. Among those appointed were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who shortly thereafter apologized to the nation for supporting the late Charles Taylor in the early stages.

In January 2009, former President Charles Taylor's son, Chuckie Taylor, was sentenced by a US court to 97 years in prison for torture and summary executions during his time as head of a Liberian army unit. This was the first time the United States made use of a 1994 law that allows people to be convicted of torture in other countries.

Charles Taylor himself was sentenced in 2012 to 50 years in prison for his role in the war in neighboring Sierra Leone (see Sierra Leone: Democracy and Rights). He appealed against the judgment, which, however, was upheld at a higher instance.

Progress has been made in the development of the rule of law in recent years and the international organization Freedom House sees signs of increased independence. But corruption and pressure often continue to undermine its neutrality. The traditional judicial system with informal mechanisms still often forms the basis for achieving justice in rural areas.

The police do not have the resources to do their job properly. It often commits assault and, according to human rights organizations, corruption within the union is extensive.

The wait for judicial review is long. It happens that people are allowed to sit in jail for years without getting a trial, longer than the penalty for what their alleged crimes state. This is due, among other things, to understaffing and inefficiency. The conditions in the prisons are poor. A major problem is the many rapes that are rarely punished.

The death penalty was abolished in 2005 but reinstated in 2008 in an attempt to address the high crime rate. However, no execution has taken place in practice.

2007

November

New write-offs

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) joins a debt relief program for Liberia.

August

Free schooling

The President orders that compulsory education for compulsory school children be compulsory and free of charge.

July

Coup stopped

A coup attempt is reported to have been interrupted. Five people are charged with treason.

April

Penalties are lifted

The UN Security Council repeals the ban on the export of diamonds from Liberia.

February

Top politicians are charged with corruption

Former Interim President Gyude Bryant is indicted for embezzlement of more than a million US dollars (the Supreme Court ruled in August that he does not have legal immunity because he was not elected president).

January

Debt cancellation

The US writes Liberia's debt to the country at US $ 358 million. Liberia's total foreign debt amounts to US $ 3.7 billion.


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