UN to open Human Rights Office in Liberia

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said on Friday that his office would establish a UN Human Rights Office in Liberia to open in early 2018.

Gilmour, who said this when he concluded a three-day visit to the country, said an agreement was signed with the Government of Liberia for the new office.

He said, “Liberia has progressed dramatically since my last visit just after the brutal civil war. That is a tribute to the Liberian people and Government, and to the great efforts of the the United Nations Mission in Liberia.”

He added, however, that the human rights gains “are still precarious, hence the vital need for the UN to continue our support.”

Gilmour expressed his appreciation to Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara, with whom he signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the new office that will open early 2018.

“This Office will conduct human rights monitoring and reporting, as well as providing technical assistance to State institutions, the Independent National Commission for Human Rights, civil society and other partners.”

Gilmour highlighted the primary role of the Government in promoting and protecting human rights in Liberia, saying “what we have learned in country after country is that neither peace nor development can be properly sustainable unless they are firmly grounded in human rights.”

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The Assistant Secretary-General met with the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, cabinet ministers, several leaders of civil society organizations, and foreign ambassadors during his visit.

He expressed serious concern about the continued prevalence of female genital mutilation in the country, and urged the government to do far more within its power to discourage the act and other harmful traditional practices such as trial by ordeal, accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings.

The UN official also underlined Liberia’s international human rights obligations in this regard, raising the plight of lesbian, gay and transgender people who were subjected to unbearable discrimination and abuse, which must be confronted and concerns about the rights of people with disabilities.

He acknowledged efforts by the government to address sexual violence, but stressed that the appalling frequency of rape in Liberia, including of young girls, was partly due to widespread impunity in the country.

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After visiting Monrovia Central Prison, Gilmour praised the work of the wardens but remarked on the overcrowding and insufficient food.

He noted that a large part of the problem was the large number of people held in pre-trial detention owing to the slowness of judicial procedures.

Gilmour later visited the Palava Hut Memorial for victims of the civil war, where he expressed the importance of transitional justice for national reconciliation

Accoriding to him, this should be a paramount concern for the new government following the October elections.

“True peace is never possible if people feel that their desire for justice has not been met.

“Abominable war crimes were committed in this country, and the perpetrators of the worst crimes should now understand that justice will catch up with them,” Gilmour said.

Gilmour also warned against what some regard as a worrying rise in hate speech as the election season approaches.

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