"Ballots not bullets"! Will human rights be respected in Liberia?


On the occasion of the swearing-in of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, scheduled on January 16, 2005, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, Liberia Watch for Human Rights (LWHR) are releasing a joint report entitled “Ballots not bullets! Will human rights be respected in Liberia?”. This report is the result of an investigatory mission to Liberia from August 21 to September 7, 2005.

In a country rundown by years of civil war and political misrule, the six-year term of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be critical for Liberia’s future.

Indeed, the Liberian conflict, which dates back as far as 1989, has had immense social, political, and humanitarian implications: an estimated 250,000 lives have been lost, 464,000 Liberians have become internally displaced and over 350,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Schools, hospitals, water and electricity supply systems have been looted or destroyed. The economy has suffered major blows. The security situation is still volatile and the country is awash with arms.

In their joint report, FIDH and LWHR consider that the 2005 general elections putting an end to the transitional regime were held freely, fairly and in a peaceful way. This landmark success constitutes a first step towards the establishment of the rule of law in Liberia.

But, this report sheds light on the various human rights issues at stake for the new elected authorities.

President Johnson-Sirleaf’s to-do list has to include ensuring the respect of economic and social rights in compliance with international human rights standards, notably by making education and training available, creating jobs, restoring water and electricity supply systems. Moreover, new elected authorities have to fight against corruption by taking drastic measures in compliance with the African Union Convention on Combatting and Preventing Corruption.

One other major issue is the need to fight against impunity, bringing perpetrators of the most serious crimes and violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed during the civil wars to justice and reforming the justice system. Indeed, long-lasting peace in Liberia can only be achieved through full respect of the rights of victims to truth and justice. These rights entail obligations for the State: to investigate violations, to prosecute the perpetrators and, if their guilt is established, to punish them. In that respect, FIDH and LWHR welcome the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) establishment. Full and effective exercise of the right to truth is essential to avoid any recurrence of violations in the future. However, FIDH and LWHR remain highly concerned by the fact that no perpetrator of serious crimes committed during the civil wars have yet been brought to justice.

FIDH and LWHR additionally call on Nigeria to cooperate with the Special Court for Sierra Leone by extraditing former Liberian president Charles Taylor to face justice.

Bringing perpetrators to justice sends a clear message that violations of human rights will not be tolerated and that those who commit such acts will be held fully accountable.

It is time for new Liberian authorities to behave in accordance with human rights expectations. Any step backwards in this matter would clearly undermine the building of a long-lasting peace in the country.

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