The fight against corruption remained a priority for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government. Trials of former members of the National Transitional Government of Liberia charged with theft were ongoing. After a vote of no confidence by members of the House of Representatives, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Edwin Snowe, resigned. He was replaced in April by Alex Tyler of the Liberian Action Party.
In July three men, George Koukou, a former speaker of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly, Major General Charles Julu, a former Army Chief of Staff and head of the Anti-Terrorist Unit under Samuel Doe, and Colonel Dorbor were arrested and charged with treason; the trial is ongoing. Sanctions on diamonds and timber were lifted in April and Liberia was admitted to the Kimberley Process verification scheme, an internationally recognized process designed to certify the origin of rough diamonds with the aim to reduce smuggling. Liberian law makers debated a controversial bill aimed at freezing assets of former government officials but the bill was ultimately rejected.
UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation was completed in June. Approximately 80,000 Liberians still reside in other countries and some 50,000 refugees, mostly from Côte d’Ivoire, remained in Liberia.
Liberian ex-combatants were alleged to have been involved with the political crisis in Guinea in February. There were also unconfirmed reports of cross border movements of Liberian ex-combatants to Côte d’Ivoire.
In February a donor conference was held and reviewed Liberia’s achievements. The USA also cancelled Liberia’s US$391 million debt.
In December the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was extended to September 2008.
Delays in payment of state subsistence allowance led to demonstrations by former combatants in at least three cities in Liberia. In January, some 50 members of the Mandingo ethnic group staged a demonstration at the President’s mansion demanding action on land disputes in Nimba county. A presidential commission was set up to investigate the situation. Later in the year further violent protests over land erupted in the southeast.
Violent demonstrations involving university students also took place in Gbarnga in mid-April. The protests focused on inadequate facilities on campus. In June protests broke out at the University of Liberia when students demonstrated on behalf of their teachers, who had been on strike for non-payment of their salaries.
In July police investigating theft and violence at Freeport, the main seaport in Monrovia, led to violent clashes in which 50 people were injured. A commission was set up to investigate the incident. Violent protests also took place in Bong Mines, 50 miles from Monrovia. Residents were enraged by what they believed to be police involvement in the death of a five-year-old child. A newly constructed police station was burned down, and the residences of the Liberian National Police and the house of the city mayor were vandalized during the disturbance. In December protests at Firestone rubber plantation and the police response led to five people being injured and plantation facilities were looted.
Security sector reform
Approximately 90,000 former combatants benefited from reintegration programmes, although some 9,000 are still awaiting reintegration opportunities. Some of those who benefited have been participating in army and police training. In July an all-female unit graduated from basic training.
Deficiencies in the judiciary remained a huge challenge. Court officials administered rules and procedures in an inconsistent manner, failed to observe basic human rights standards and engaged in corrupt practices. Although state prosecutors are assigned to every circuit court, the majority of the circuit courts did not have defence counsels. Trial by ordeal – a practice by which the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined by subjecting them to a painful task – remained in wide practice in rural areas. Few improvements were made in the juvenile justice system during the year.
A bill to establish a law reform commission was drafted. The commission will provide an overall review of the laws to ensure that they meet international standards.
Prison conditions remained poor and jailbreaks were frequent. Overcrowding was a problem in Monrovia’s central prison, with 780 people detained in a building built to house 470 inmates. The majority of detainees were awaiting trial. UNMIL trained 104 security personnel, with more staff expected to be trained in 2008.
Little progress was made in setting up an Independent National Commission on Human Rights due to a delay in the appointment of Commissioners.
The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceeded slowly. In March the Commission’s work was suspended due to concerns with transparency. A working group comprising members of the Commission and donors was set up, leading to a number of positive developments including the hiring of key staff. Civil society raised concerns about the lack of progress in the work of the Commission. Public hearings were due to start in January 2008.
Trial of suspected war criminal
The trial of Roy M. Belfast Jr (aka Charles McArthur Emmanuel and Charles “Chuckie” Taylor Jr), the son of Charles Taylor, who was charged with torture, conspiracy to torture, and using a firearm during an act of violent crime while he was serving as the head of the Anti Terrorist Unit, continued.
Despite the passing of a new law on rape in December 2005 providing a clearer definition of rape and more stringent punishments, a high incidence of rape against women and girls continued. There was an increase in the number of rape cases tried in circuit courts and 2007 saw the first successful conviction for rape since the end of the conflict. However, relevant provisions of the 2006 law were not uniformly applied by court officials with the majority of the cases being settled out of court.
In February, following publication by the Independent newspaper of photos of a Minister of State of Presidential Affairs in bed with two women, the paper was closed down by the police. In March the Supreme Court of Liberia attempted to lift the ban, however, the Government of Liberia maintained the ban and instructed printing houses not to print the paper; the government lifted the ban in June.
In February journalist Othello Guzean of the government-controlled radio network Liberia Broadcasting System (LBS) was suspended indefinitely by the LBS director after airing an interview with opposition parliamentarian Thomas Fallah of the Congress for Democratic Change party. The LBS director described the airing of the interview as unacceptable and in contravention of the station’s editorial policy.
In June, during clashes between students of the University of Liberia and security forces, journalists Daylue Goah of the New Democrat and Evan Ballah of the Public Agenda newspapers were beaten by security forces. Goah was seriously injured.
In August, Liberia National Police and the Drug Enforcement authority physically attacked and briefly detained the journalist J. Rufus Paul of the Daily Observer newspaper. He was arrested for what the police termed “trying to cover a raiding exercise without invitation”.
In September the bodyguards of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, from the Special Security Service (SSS), intimidated several local journalists and correspondents of international news organizations, including Jonathan Paylelay of the BBC, Dosso Zoom of Radio France International, and Alphonso Towah of the Reuters News Agency, for what the presidential guards termed a “breach of protocol”.
Amnesty International visits
- Amnesty International visited Liberia in February and September.