The Republic of Liberia, a small nation on the West Coast of Africa, began as a settlement for American freed slaves and free-born blacks in 1822. In 1847, Liberia proclaimed its independence and became Africa’s first independent republic. Like many nations, it has struggled with human rights throughout its history, but it has also made major progress. Here are the top 10 facts about human rights in Liberia.
Facts About Human Rights in Liberia
- Around 54 percent of Liberia’s population lives below the poverty line. Only 16.9 percent of its people have access to improved sanitation facilities, and a mere 10 percent have access to electricity. The country’s literacy rate is only 47.6 percent.
- A violent 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 destroyed Liberia’s economy, created a refugee crisis and led to major human rights abuses. Such abuses included massacres, executions, rape and torture. Though a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2009 to address these abuses, no one has yet been tried for war crimes or human rights violations committed during the war.
- Violence against women is a major concern in Liberia. It is not uncommon to have domestic violence and sexual violence including rape and female genital mutilation (FGM). Marriage at a young age is also commonplace. Impunity, or lack of punishment for these crimes, is prevalent. Sexual harassment is not explicitly prohibited by law. The country’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. However, a bill was passed this last July to set regulations against domestic violence.
- Discrimination of and violence against minorities is a serious problem as well. Despite the fact that 12 percent of the population is Muslim, Muslims have had difficulties registering to vote. Racial discrimination in Liberia is persistent and even supported by the country’s constitution, which only those of “Negro descent” can own land. Furthermore, the LGBT community has no rights.
- Children’s rights have progressed in a variety of areas, though there is still room for improvement. Infant mortality rates have dropped 70 percent since 1990. The number of minors in detention has decreased dramatically with the establishment of new procedures and programs that send juvenile offenders to “safe homes and kinship care situations” instead of placing them in the formal criminal justice system. Primary and junior secondary education is compulsory and tuition-free. However, girls still face barriers to attaining an equal education as do students with disabilities. Child abuse, child marriage and even infanticide of children with disabilities are severe human rights violations that still occur in Liberia.
- Conditions in Liberian prisons are poor. They are extremely overcrowded and there is a lack of adequate medical care, sanitation, food and water. However, in 2017, the Liberian government did allow various local human rights groups, international non-governmental organizations, the International Committee of The Red Cross, The United Nations and others to independently monitor prison conditions. In addition, some prisons are instituting vocational programs for inmates, another positive step for the country’s prison system.
- Liberia has done fairly well in respecting the rights of refugees. The government automatically grants asylum-seekers from The Ivory Coast refugee status, and Liberia respects the international law of non-refoulement, which prevents states from forcibly returning refugees to the country from which they fled. Refugees are free to move around the country, and the government provides temporary protection to those who do not qualify as refugees as well.
- Liberia’s laws concerning labor rights are generally strong. Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited, workers are allowed to join unions and conduct strikes, child employment is strictly regulated and the law guarantees nondiscrimination and equal pay. However, enforcement of some of these laws has been poor. For example, there is widespread discrimination in employment based on gender and disability. In addition, though the formal work sector is highly regulated, the informal sector, where 85 percent of citizens work, is not. This leaves the vast majority of workers vulnerable to exploitation and dangerous working conditions.
- Liberia still has progress to make in its protection of political rights, but it has made some important advancements. Presidential and legislative elections in 2017 were considered to be free and fair. Women and minorities are fully allowed to participate in the political process, and the number of women running for public office has increased. The rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and association have generally been respected. However, there have been instances of harassment of the media by law enforcement and government officials for non-conforming political opinions.
- Liberia has a variety of institutions working in the nation to improve the country’s human rights situation, including The Liberian Independent National Commission of Human Rights, The Ministry of Justice Human Rights Protection Division and various national committees that focus on specific issues such as child labor rights. The government has also cooperated with the U.N. Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights to address human rights violations in Liberia.
These facts about human rights in Liberia show that Liberia has made some important advances in improving human rights; however, there is still much progress to be made. Foreign aid, including from the United States, could play a crucial role in helping Liberia improve its respect, protection and actualization of human rights.
– Laura Turner