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UNITED NATIONS INDEPENDENT EXPERT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, TECHNICAL COOPERATION AND ADVISORY SERVICES IN LIBERIA CONCLUDES VISIT IN THE COUNTRY


The United Nations Independent Expert on the situation of human rights, technical cooperation and advisory services in Liberia, Charlotte Abaka, issued the following statement:

Geneva, 28 September 2007: Over the course of this 10-day visit, my eighth since 2003, I have had the opportunity to meet representatives of the executive, legislature and judiciary branches. I have also met Government officials, civil society, United Nations agencies and funds and the diplomatic community. The information that I gained during these discussions are valuable inputs for my assessment of the progress towards the human rights promotion and protection in Liberia. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave off their time to meet with me and share with me what they considered to be the most pressing human rights issues facing the country today.

Since my last mission, considerable progress has been made in improving security and fulfilling many aspects of civil, political as well as social, economic and cultural rights of Liberians. The lifting of sanctions by the Security Council of diamond and timber has, to some large extent, enabled more income for the Government to progressively implement economic, social and cultural rights, and also to the private sector. The emergency amendment of Section 1508(3) of the labour law is a significant step in guaranteeing the rights of workers.

There are however, still many challenges that impede the promotion and protection of human rights. I am concerned about the delay in the establishment of the Independent National Human Rights Commission as mandated by the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (August 2003). To date, the Commissioners have not yet been appointed.

There still remain serious concerns with the rule of law and the judicial system. Although law reform was one of the President’s priority areas in her first 150 day action plan, it is regrettable that the Law Reform Commission has not yet been established.

The implementation of the Rape Law is another very serious issue. I am appalled to hear from almost all the interlocutors that rape remains one of the most frequently reported crimes in the country. Sadly, data on the prosecution of rape cases could not be made available due to lack of facilities. Police and prosecutors relied too heavily on medical evidence in rape cases, excluding other forms of both incriminating and exculpatory evidence that should be investigated. This reality discourages victims of rape reporting the cases to the police.

The Task Force on Orphanages advised the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in its report issued in June 2006 to close down orphanages that did not meet the minimum standards. However, this has not been carried out.

Harmful traditional and customary practices continue to be implemented with the argument that the related provisions in the Hinterland Regulations have not been amended. This is happening notwithstanding the fact that the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor General have openly come out stating the practice of sassywood (trial by ordeal) is illegal. The harmful and discriminatory practice of female genital mutilation is still a common practice in various counties.