Fact-Finding Mission to Liberia
Two Freedom House representatives recently traveled to Liberia on a fact-finding mission to examine the country's pre-electoral political environment and human rights situation after more than a decade of civil war. Director of Programs Robert Herman and Senior Program Officer Clara Cole met with NGOs, civil society leaders, and government officials in an attempt to determine Liberia's needs and how Freedom House could help ahead of the 2011 presidential elections.
The international community has praised Liberia for its peaceful elections in 2005 and other positive changes since the end of its violent civil war. Yet Herman and Cole point out that there is still much to be done to strengthen the country's democratic institutions, such as ensuring access to justice for those accused of crimes. The overstretched prison system is "symptomatic of a serious shortcoming in this nascent democracy," says Herman.
During their time in Liberia, Herman and Cole visited Monrovia Central Prison, where prisoners are so crowded into small cells that they must sleep in shifts. "In Liberia," says Herman, "the principal sphere of ongoing human rights violations is the absence of a functioning criminal justice system. People don't really have access to justice. The court system is overwhelmed; it doesn't work effectively. One consequence of that is people languishing in prisons either because they haven't had their day in court or because they were wrongly convicted." These aren't political prisoners, but individuals who are unable to receive a fair, speedy trial because the judicial system is so overtaxed.
Now that they are back in the United States, Freedom House hopes to secure the funding to design and implement programs to help civil society strengthen its role in the democratic political process and to become a "more effective voice and partner in terms of influencing government policy," Cole says.
Liberia is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.