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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, concludes visit to West Africa

29 May 2008

9 May 2008

MONROVIA – Today I have concluded my visit to Liberia, which provided me with the opportunity to see progress made in the peace consolidation process, including in the field of human rights. In Monrovia I met with a wide spectrum of stakeholders: members of the Legislature, the Minister of Foreign Affaires, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Deputy Minister of Gender and Development, members of the Taskforce on sexual and gender-based violence, representatives of human rights NGOs, as well as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, other senior officials of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and members of the UN Country Team. I also visited the Monrovia central prison and traveled to Greenville, Sinoe county, where I met with a cross-section of actors, representing the local administration, judiciary, police, prison authorities, UNMIL and civil society.

I was impressed by the significant progress made in the reconstruction and peace consolidation process since the visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Liberia some three years ago. Tremendous human rights challenges still remain, notably in building national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights that enjoy the full confidence of all Liberians. Facing the past – and in particular dealing with a long legacy of impunity for human rights violations – remains a key challenge in the transition to a state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. I was pleased to note that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is now moving into the final phases of its important work and has carried out public hearings throughout much of the country. In addition to truth-telling processes, it will be essential to consider appropriate justice mechanisms to ensure that perpetrators of serious human rights violations be held accountable and to dissuade would-be violators from committing future abuses. OHCHR stands ready to continue to provide technical expertise to the TRC, in particular in regards to the application of international standards pertaining to transitional justice and human rights, including those related to reparation for victims.

I was pleased to note progress in the establishment of an Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) and the commitment of the authorities with whom I met to see it created as soon as possible. In my conversations with them and with civil society, I noted consensus regarding the importance of a broad and consultative process to establish an independent Commission that conforms with the relevant international standards. Such a Commission should constitute a core element in the Liberian national human rights promotion and protection system.

I was equally encouraged to note that a bill has been prepared in order to create a Law Reform Commission and should soon be considered by the Legislature. Among its many challenges, the INHRC and Legislature will be faced with the formidable yet essential task of ensuring that national laws are fully aligned with international human rights treaties ratified by Liberia. I would strongly encourage the Government of Liberia to consider steps to abolish the death penalty while in the meantime maintain the moratorium currently in place.

I discussed the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) with interlocutors both in Monrovia and Sinoe county. The extent and magnitude of the problem highlights the multiple layers of discrimination faced on a daily basis by women and girls in Liberia. In Greenville, I was encouraged to visit a courthouse under construction and meet with magistrates that have been deployed throughout the county. These judicial officials face enormous challenges as the gatekeepers in providing access to justice for women and girls who have suffered from SGBV and other harmful traditional practices. Civil society organizations also have a key role to play in advocating for a human rights approach to public policy and decision making, as well as raising awareness in order to prevent SGBV and providing assistance to victims.

While the challenges remaining in building a sustainable peace are formidable, I was very impressed by the collaborative and human rights-based approach adopted by the UN Country Team, Government, and civil society partners, as illustrated by the Taskforce on SGBV led by the Ministry of Gender and Development. I leave Liberia hopeful and convinced of the role of OHCHR as a partner in operationalizing human rights in the transition to sustainable and prosperous peace in Liberia.