November 1997 Vol. 9, No. 7 (A)



Human Rights Challenges Facing the New Liberian Government



To the Liberian Government 6

To the United Nations 8

To the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 9

To the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 10

To the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) 10

To Donor Nations including the European Union and United States 10



Refugees and the Efforts of UNHCR 14

Education, Health and Shelter in Ivory Coast and Guinea 15

Protection Issues 15

Assistance and Protection Issues Particular to Guinea 16

Views on Repatriation 18

The Internally Displaced 19

The Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission 21


The Ministry of Justice and the Courts 23

The Police 23

The Military 24

Prisons 25

The Human Rights Commission 26


Accountability for Human Rights Abuses 27

Women's Human Rights in Post-Conflict Liberia 27

Demobilization of Soldiers (Including Child Soldiers) 28


United Nations 31


European Union and its Member States 34

United States 34



On July 19, 1997, Liberia's seven-year war was finally ended through an election that swept former faction leader Charles Taylor and his party, the National Patriotic Party (NPP), into power with 75 percent of the vote. Due to the system of proportional representation used in the 1997 Liberian election, Charles Taylor also garnered a corresponding 75 percent majority in the legislature, giving him seventy of the ninety legislative seats.

The new government is beginning the process of establishing and consolidating its authority in the face of enormous challenges. Tens of thousands of Liberians were killed during the fighting. Almost half the population is displaced, and the country's infrastructure is virtually destroyed. Despite the presence of regional peacekeepers since 1990, joined by a United Nations (U.N.) military observer mission in October 1993, fighting resumed numerous times during the war, and the number of factions proliferated over the years.1 All the factions, to different degrees, were responsible for terrorizing the local populations in order to loot and to discourage support for rival factions. The widespread atrocities against civilians included extrajudicial executions, torture, including rape, forced labor, and extortion. The factions consisted predominantly of bands of armed fighters, some as young as ten years of age, with no formal military training.

Ultimately, over a dozen peace accords and almost twenty cease-fire agreements were signed during the countless negotiations for peace. The repeated breakdown of the peace process can be attributed to a number of factors including the internal factionalization of the warring factions along ethnic lines, and their economic and political incentives for continuing the war. The proliferation of these groups was encouraged by the creation and support of anti-Taylor factions by the former government army and the regional peacekeeping force. Moreover, the lack of adequate leadership, training, and financing of the regional peacekeepers, and the unwillingness of the U.N. military observer mission to address the weaknesses of the regional peacekeeping force further contributed to the country's problems.

While the end of the war brings much needed peace and security to the country, serious human rights issues remain. After a decade of repressive rule under the previous government of former President Samuel Doe, followed by seven years of civil war, Liberia's state institutions and economy have been destroyed, and a culture of violence, ethnic tension, and impunity has taken root. The election has given a virtual monopoly over all branches of government to President Taylor: the executive branch, 75 percent of the legislature, and every judicial selection as the courts are reconstituted. For all practical purposes, Liberia is a one-party state.

The transition period, however, provides a rare opportunity to develop new state institutions that have strong human rights components integrated into their structure, and to create mechanisms that can operate to guarantee, secure, and enforce respect for human rights throughout the society. In his victory and inauguration speeches, President Taylor declared his intention to head a government that respects human rights, stating that he is committed to an independent judiciary, human rights, the rule of law, and equal protection of the law. President Taylor has also announced that he will create a commission on human rights and a commission on reconciliation, although the terms of reference of these commissions has yet to be defined. While this announcement served to dispel somewhat the fears harbored by some in Liberia's human rights community-based on the Taylor faction's past record of egregious abuses and conscription of child soldiers-these stated commitments need to be sustained through concrete government action if they are to have meaning.

The importance that the Taylor government accords to the rule of law and respect for human rights in the process of reintegrating, rebuilding and reconciling Liberian society will be a critical indicator of whether the country will emerge from the chaos to which it has descended. The lack of checks and balances on this government will further require President Taylor to prioritize respect for human rights in the reconstruction process and to put into place self-imposed restraints against government excesses. Human Rights Watch/Africa recommends to the new government that it pay particular attention to the following rights issues in the rebuilding and reconciliation process:

Reintegration: In order for the over one million refugees and internally displaced Liberians to return to their homes, the Liberian government should actively extend political assurances of safety and provide material assistance. Those refugees who want to return to Liberia will receive assistance and transportation from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to cross over the border. However, once they return, they will require government assistance to rebuild their homes and community institutions in order to become self-sufficient once again. Some refugees, particularly those from ethnic or political groups previously targeted by National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) fighters, may fear persecution and be unwilling to return. Those who have a well-founded fear of persecution should not be forcibly returned by neighboring countries. The Liberian government should allay such fears of persecution by taking tangible steps to show that former political opponents and those from ethnic groups that were allied with the past government, such as the Krahn and Mandingo, will not face persecution or discrimination. The organized return of refugees and the internally displaced should not be arranged by the government or the international community until the political situation stabilizes further and some basic services are restored inside the country.

Although international assistance will be extended to refugees, little or no assistance is available to those displaced within the country. Thousands of internally displaced are living in squalid conditions, particularly in the greater Monrovia area. The Liberian government body tasked with the responsibility of returning the refugee and internally displaced, the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), remains under funded and virtually non-functional. The mandate of the LRRRC needs to be clarified by the government to ensure that this government body is given express responsibility for the internally displaced in addition to refugees. The government must give the LRRRC the funding and authority to deal with reintegration. Qualified staff should be hired by the LRRRC to design programs that can return people to their home areas, once the situation stabilizes.

Rebuilding State Institutions: The government must, as a matter of priority, create a justice and law enforcement system that promotes the rule of law and respects human rights. The Ministry of Justice, the courts, the police, the security forces and the prison administration are all institutions that must be developed to guarantee official accountability.

The law enforcement institutions should be streamlined, screened and reconstituted both with regard to professionalism and ethnicity. Before the war, the former government appointed a disproportionate number of people from the ethnic group of the president, the Krahn. Many of those appointed were not qualified or abused their power, leading to ethnic tensions. During the war, these tensions were further exacerbated by the different factions targeting select ethnic groups. This history needs to be taken into consideration as the government selects its personnel. Qualified personnel should be appointed to administer the judicial and prison administrations. The government should resist the pressure to reward former faction fighters by giving them government jobs in the new army or police force without professional training. In addition to hiring and training qualified personnel, the new government should create an independent oversight commission with the authority to monitor and investigate abuses by police and security forces. Army, police and prison officials who abuse their powers should be punished by the government.

Prison conditions also need to be improved. In the past, lengthy illegal detentions without trial were common practice despite the constitutional provision requiring suspects to be released or tried within 48 hours of arrest. To avoid the past problems of unacceptably long periods of detention, inadequate arrest records, and the co-mingling of convicted prisoners with suspects, the government should put into place a procedure to ensure that all suspects are charged speedily in compliance with the constitution.

The government has announced the creation of a Commission on Human Rights. This body should be given sufficient funding and authority to investigate human rights complaints and to institute legal proceedings in a court of law on behalf of victims of abuse of state power.

Dealing with Past Abuses: Having emerged from a situation of brutal conflict where civilians were overwhelmingly targeted by all factions, there is a need for the government to take steps to hold those responsible for committing gross abuses of human rights accountable for their crimes. The peace accords that give immunity to faction fighters for abuses in the course of military action should not apply to atrocities against civilians. Where former combatants have wantonly committed abuses against civilians, they should be held accountable in a court of law. The government should also create a Truth Commission, perhaps as part of the announced Commission on Reconciliation, to collect testimony and evidence about the wrongs committed during the course of the war and publicly name those responsible for the acts.

In dealing with past abuses, the government should pay special attention to the effects of the widespread sexual violence committed against women during the war. Due to the stigma attached to sexual violence and the underreported nature of this crime, sexual violence and its after effects are often overlooked. The government should ensure that the government agencies dealing with reintegration, health, justice, and welfare integrate this issue into their brief. In addition, women continue to be subjected to discriminatory customary provisions which, among other things, prevent them from inheriting property. With a larger number of widows and female-headed households as a result of the war, these discriminatory provisions should be repealed by the legislature and brought into conformity with the Liberian Constitution and international human rights law.

The process of demobilizing former combatants remains incomplete. Some 21,315 of an estimated 33,000 have been disarmed. Nonetheless, the chain of command in many places remains intact, posing a threat of renewed mobilization of these fighters for political or criminal violence. Former fighters, particularly child soldiers, should be returned to their home areas and given schooling or vocational opportunities to diminish the likelihood of renewed violence and to assist them in finding a place in society.

Human Rights Watch/Africa welcomes President Taylor's stated commitment to the rule of law and respect for human rights. In order for these statements to be meaningful, they must be followed up with the necessary action and sustained attention throughout the six-year presidential term. Human Rights Watch/Africa has prepared this report in order to assist the Liberian government identify some of the key human rights challenges that we believe need to be prioritized by the new government, and to provide recommendations which comply with international legal standards.

Human Rights Watch/Africa also calls on the international community to sustain its attention to the rebuilding process in Liberia, and to make respect for human rights a condition of international aid and assistance. Much of the attention and energy of the international community focused on the election. Now that the election has taken place, the international community has become less attentive to Liberia. The regional peacekeeping operation and the U.N. Observer Mission, UNOMIL, will depart within the next year, leaving the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) as the primary U.N. agency in Liberia. UNHCR will also play a key role to ensure that assistance and safety are given to Liberians as they return. It is incumbent on these U.N. agencies as well as bilateral donors and international nongovernmental groups, to ensure that human rights issues are the cornerstone of their program assistance to Liberia.

1 The major warring factions included the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor; the former government Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); two rival factions of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), one led by Al-Haji Kromah representing ethnic Mandingo interests and the other headed by Roosevelt Johnson representing ethnic Krahn interests; and the Liberia Peace Council (LPC) headed by George Boley.