Dear President Johnson-Sirleaf:

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch write to you to express concern about your government's failure to establish the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR). As you are aware, the establishment of the Commission was mandated as a part of the 2003 Accra Peace Agreement and passed into law in March 2005 in the Independent National Commission for Human Rights Act. We are concerned that a full five years later, it has yet to be constituted.

We believe this delay represents a serious setback in your government's expressed commitment to address many key and pressing human rights concerns, and more broadly to promote a culture of respect for human rights. We believe you can and should do more to ensure the Commission is fully established and operational, and in line with the United Nations Principles relating to the status of national institutions (the Paris Principles).

The INCHR is mandated with key functions including the monitoring and reporting on ongoing trends of human rights violations, as well as ensuring that the recommendations contained in the final report of Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission are duly studied, and where appropriate, implemented.  

There is much work awaiting the Commission once established: Ongoing incidence of violence and internecine conflict has claimed numerous lives, most recently in Lofa County in February 2010, when at least four people were killed. Striking deficiencies within the judiciary, police, and corrections sectors routinely lead to persistent human rights violations: hundreds of prisoners are held in extended, arbitrary pretrial detention in overcrowded jails and detention centers that lack basic sanitation and health care; in 2009, only 10 percent of the some 800 individuals detained in Liberia's prisons had been convicted of a crime.  

Weaknesses within the justice system also contribute to incidents of vigilante justice - in 2009 at least eight people died from mob attacks, including a police officer who was burned alive in Monrovia in February 2010. Meanwhile, the incidence of rape of women and girls is alarmingly high and serious abuses resulting from harmful traditional practices continue to occur. 

It is just these problems that the Commission is tasked with addressing. Your government's failure to ensure its establishment represents an obstacle in the road to establishing respect for human rights and the rule of law, which continue to undermine Liberia's post-war recovery, anti-corruption, and development agendas. 

Delays in establishing the Commission have resulted from the prolonged consideration of proposed amendments to the INCHR Act; vetting and selection of the commissioners; and parliamentary rejection of the commissioners following confirmation hearings. We are concerned by the delay in each of these steps and believe that if the establishment of the Commission were higher up on your agenda, the process would have proceeded much more expeditiously. Most recently, the Liberian Senate in February 2010 handed down a blanket rejection of the commissioners, selected over two years, from 2005 to 2007, yet no reason for their rejection was given. The second rejection on 18 March 2010 was likewise never justified, contrary to Liberian law and the legislature's own standards. We are also concerned that the new selection process has not yet proven to be adequately transparent with respect to process, time-frame, budget, and guidelines; and that the newly appointed vetting committee has not consulted appropriately with civil society to ensure that the caliber of nominees meets the highest possible standards.

We therefore ask you to exercise leadership to make the establishment of the INHRC a priority of your government. Concretely we urge you and your government to:

  • Request that the Liberian Senate provide an explanation for their February 2010, and March 2010 rejections of the commissioners previously nominated for the INCHR.   
  • Separately, ensure that in the future, the Senate assesses each nominated commissioner individually, and does not subject all nominees to a single group vote.
  • Ensure that there is adequate civil society involvement in the selection and vetting process for any new nominations for the INCHR commissioners.
  • Make public the official budget and timeframe for the vetting and selection of INCHR commissioners, to ensure a transparent and expeditious process.
  • Ensure your government draws on the best practices of human rights commissions-in particular the need to create a strong, independent, and impartial body that establishes a national culture of respect for human rights, in line with the Paris Principles. We are most concerned that the INCHR retains financial autonomy and the power to subpoena witnesses.

We thank you for your urgent attention and look forward to continuing dialogue on these issues. Enclosed is a copy of the Paris Principles, which we trust will guide your efforts to establish an independent and effective human rights commission. We would welcome discussing the implementation of the principles with you or your staff.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch stand ready to support the efforts of your government to ensure the INHRC is duly and expeditiously established. Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Tawanda Hondora
Deputy Programme Director, Africa Programme
Amnesty International

Corinne Dufka
Senior Researcher for West Africa
Human Rights Watch