. . . Says An African Union Rights Delegation
A delegation of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights has ended a two-week visit to Liberia with a call on the government to address the question of speedy trial of accused. Apparently the African Union’s Commission on rights and justice issues have seen miscarriage of justice in Liberia.
At a departure conference held at the Royal Hotel in Sinkor about two mile from central Monrovia, a member of the delegation of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights was categorical in pointing to the deplorable and humiliating conditions of the prisons they visited, especially the Monrovia Central Prison otherwise known as South Beach.
After a week-long assessment of prison conditions and visitations and meetings with relevant Liberian officials, a legal adviser of the Commission on the delegation who is also a rapporteur, Mumba Malila said the conditions of prisons are ‘terrible’ and need serious attention.
This is the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Chairperson, Justice Sanji Mnasenong Monageng, and a Commissioner and Rapporteur of the Commission's delegation to Liberia, Mr. Malila, addressing journalists at the Royal Hotel on 15th Street Sinkor. They spoke of the ills of criminal justice system in Liberia. The delegation promised its official report soon.
The Commissioner said he and the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Justice Sanji Mnasenong Monageng, said during their visit to Liberia, they visited prison facilities in Monrovia, Kakata, Margibi County and Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. Other members of the delegation include, Senior Legal Adviser Dr. Feji Ogunade and legal Adviser Sheikh Tijan Hydraru.
Speaking further, Mr. Malila said most of the detention centers visited were filthy and put the health of inmates at risk. Mr. Malila further noted that the delegation observed the inmates have no access to medication and trade, calling on the government to give the criminal justice system attention if Liberia must move forward amongst civilized nations
Mr. Malila indicated that the Monrovia Central Prison in particular is congested with inmates, and noted that the facilities are poorly handle. This reporter who visited the Prison although observed that bulgur wheat is and corn dust are supplied with oil, most of the supplies the service of these food items are in appropriate and condition to which detainees and prisoners are subjected are inhumane.
For instance at least three cook spoons of cornmeal dust is supplied for each morning after 10 hours GMT and that by 14 hrs to 15 hrs, a plate of bulgur wheat with vegetable oil sprinkled over it served. Even at this the plates and condition of service of this food is not hygienic.
Besides, there is less attention paid to inmates most of whom are mere detainees accused without the slightest opportunity to court hearing who have also overstayed due to negligence of the court system. The room provided for health attention and services to inmate is not even opened often and on time, while the facility itself lacks basic medical supplies including medicine and drugs.
One inmate told me that prison authorities are doing this because of pecuniary gains made from government coffers for burial expenses of deceased inmates, which the inmates suspected are pocketed by the prison authorities.
The AU commissioner also said the delegation has observed that most of the prison centers visited are filthy and put the health of inmates at risk. Mr. Malila further noted that the delegation observed the inmates have no access to medication and trade, calling on the government to give the criminal justice system attention if Liberia must move forward amongst civilized nations.
The Commission’s Chairperson, Justice Sanji Mnasenong Monageng who headed the delegation to Liberia, speaking earlier also spoke of over crowdedness of the Monrovia Central Prison whereas prisons in other parts of the country are virtually empty.
Justice Monageng explained that the visit to Liberia was overdue since 2006 because of breaches in communication, adding that they are thankful that they have finally come and assessed the Liberian justice system. During the visit, she said they met with the President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Foreign Minister Olubanke King-Akelere, Minister of Justice Philip A.Z Banks and Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis.
Commenting on their visits to correctional facilities around Liberia, the Justice said: “One thing that cannot escape our attention and comment is the prison facility in Grand Gedeh. It is a facility that meets acceptable standards established internationally and by the African Commission on Human and People’s Right.”
According to Justice Monageng, the visit of the delegation give them the general impression that the Liberian Government is doing well, but added that a lot more needs to be done to ensure justice in the country.
She told reporters in an answer to a question the over crowdedness of the Monrovia Central Prison that what is required to ensure the courts periodically review their dockets or registries of cases to ensure that those accused are given speedy trial.
“Besides, the need for an improved magistracy should not be over emphasized if there should be proper carriage of justice in the criminal justice system” she said. According to her, both the indigent and the affluent deserve equal justice, adding that justice should be at the disposal of all no matter the class or status of litigants. The delegation did not elaborate.
However, the Justice said the delegation’s report would detail their observations and make recommendation, saying that the Liberia justice system has improved than before on the overall note.
Justice Sanji Monageng the said the delegation’s visit to Liberia demonstrates the Commission’s readiness to work with this country. According to Commissioner Monageng, Liberia has already ratified the African Charter on the Abolishment of Torture. Torture, she said is increased on a daily basis, especially in Africa, adding that the issue of torture needs a concerted fight globally.
In fact she disclosed that the delegation hosted a workshop of law enforcement officials on torture while in Liberia on the application of Robben Island Guidelines on their days to work and to conscientize them of Liberia’s obligation in the use of regional and international human rights instruments towards the total abolition of criminalization of torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatments.
Justice Monageng indicated that further that the workshop was a forum of sharing experiences and exploring the role of police and prison officials in the prevention of torture and establishing of an alternative form of punishment.
The delegation will recommend concrete initiatives for adoption by the Liberian Government within the context of strengthening the judicial and other investigative institutions to promote anti-torture legislation and other measures; and to enhance and improve the understanding of the Robben Island Guidelines (RIG). Robben Island is a place bearing the prison in which South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela spent his 27 years in prison. The guides referred to were drafted by AU-member states and named after the Island to prevent members from the act of torture.
The delegation met with the President of Liberia, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Mi9njister of Justice, the Chief Justice of Liberia and other relevant officials of Liberia where issues bordering on the improvement of the justice system of Liberia were discussed.
Receiving the delegation last Monday at the Foreign Ministry in Monrovia, Minister King-Akelere said the Government of Liberia is deeply committed to observing Human Rights, and urged the Commission to critically and speedily address the proliferation of drugs in the sub-region.
Minister King-Akelere said Liberia is grateful to the international community particularly contributions made by the Governments of Nigeria, Ghana, ECOWAS, African Union and UNMIL to restore peace to Liberia. She said the Government of Liberia appreciates the visit and looks forward to working closely with the Commission.
Meanwhile, the delegation left Liberia for the Gambia where the commission is headquartered.