Liberia is a constitutional republic. In November 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was declared the winner of multiparty presidential elections, which domestic and international observers considered free and fair. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Deaths from mob violence persisted. There were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority. There were reports that police abused, harassed, and intimidated detainees and citizens. Prison conditions remained harsh and incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention occurred. Lengthy pretrial detention, denial of due process, and lack of fair public trials were problems. Some incidences of trial by ordeal were reported. Corruption and impunity continued in many levels of the government. Violence against women, especially reports of rape, the practice of female genital mutilation, child abuse, trafficking in persons, and racial and ethnic discrimination were problems. Child labor was widespread, especially in the informal sector. There were instances of ethnic tensions.
Despite significant progress in the transition to peace and stability after a 14-year civil war, the country remains a fragile state that relies on the United States, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), and other international partners for essential help in maintaining stability and building the foundations for sustainable peace and development. In order to help the government rebuild itself and become more accountable to its citizens, the U.S. government's priorities in the country were to promote peace and security, improve the quality of and access to justice, and strengthen democratic institutions.
For stability to prevail prior to UNMIL's withdrawal beginning in 2008, it is critically important that the security forces demonstrate both the capability and will to respect the rule of law and to preserve order. Since access to and quality of justice remains weak and undermines public confidence in democratic governance, communities take the law into their own hands instead of relying on the formal court system. In this post-conflict society, the capacity and effectiveness of the country's legislature, political parties, and civil society remains limited. Although by-elections held in 2007 were generally free and fair, a lack of civic education means many voters are unaware that their elected leaders are accountable to them.
The U.S. government continues to help both the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the Liberia National Police (LNP) become more professional and responsive to their country's needs. The United States continues to lead the effort to vet, train, and equip recruits for the new 2,000-member AFL. By the end of 2007, approximately 1,100 soldiers had completed the vetting and recruitment process. The vetting process was used to thoroughly screen applicants and ensure that they had not been involved in human rights abuses in the past. Each recruit received rigorous training, including instruction on human rights, civilian governance of the military, and the country's history. This training was intended to help ensure that past human rights abuses by the military will not be repeated. The U.S. government is leading a multiyear UN program that began in 2007 to set up an Emergency Response Unit within the LNP. The United States also funds the detail of four American advisors to LNP through UNMIL and provides development training to LNP managers.
U.S. efforts to strengthen the judicial sector and expand access to justice include training for judicial personnel, establishing legal aid clinics, promoting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, conducting public legal education, and renovating part of the Liberian Temple of Justice. The U.S.-funded Justice Sector Support Program supports several American justice sector advisors who work closely with the minister of justice, the chief justice, investigators, prosecutors, public defenders, and other court officials. U.S.-sponsored programs also support the establishment of a nascent public defender's office, the creation of a legal aid clinic at the national law school, and the distribution of the Liberia Law Reports and Revised Liberia Codes to various organizations. U.S. programs also provide training for NGOs to assist victims of gender-based violence in navigating the justice system and support a pro bono mediation specialist to develop training materials and conduct mediation training and law workshops. Finally, U.S. Government assistance helped rehabilitate several overcrowded and dilapidated prisons.
In support of democracy and the political process, the United States sponsors programs designed to educate citizens; strengthen political parties; and advise elected officials, candidates, and political party leaders. U.S. programs strengthened the electoral process through increased assistance to local political parties, civil society, and the National Elections Commission. Legislators received U.S. government assistance through training sessions designed to increase knowledge of constituent outreach and long-term strategic planning. Candidates for legislative by-elections participated in training and a public debate organized by U.S.-funded NGOs. These NGOs also supported civic education outreach and voter education efforts. U.S. officials observed all legislative by-elections during 2007, including in Nimba and Gbarpolu Counties, and determined that they were well run and appeared to be free and fair. Through training and workshops, the United States tried to improve the organizational capacity of civil society organizations and assisted them in promoting public participation and their watchdog and advocacy functions. The United States funded a local NGO to grade legislators and publish a legislative report card that held elected officials accountable to their constituents.
U.S. officials publicly highlighted the need for transparency and accountability in all branches of government and worked privately with officials, NGOs, and international organizations to identify areas of concern and encourage systemic reforms. The Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP), funded by the United States and other partners, placed internationally recruited financial controllers and management experts in key ministries, agencies, and state-owned enterprises to encourage transparency and accountability. The institutional knowledge that GEMAP advisors provided their local counterparts also contributed to the rule of law and good governance and helped create the necessary conditions for the economy to grow.
The United States promotes freedom of speech and press in the country. The United States funded the travel of local reporters to the United States to cover the 2007 Liberian Partners Forum. The United States provided budgetary support for the UNMIL radio program that broadcast news and educational campaigns related to the peace and development process nationwide. In addition, the United States assisted the leading independent station, Star Radio, and its affiliate network of six community radio stations to provide access to budget account information, legislative proceedings, GEMAP findings, and public perceptions of government performance to radio listeners. U.S. officials also promoted human rights and democracy messages through taped or live UN radio programming and interviews on anticorruption and human rights. The United States funded the establishment of a presidential radio and television studio, which increased independent media access to the president's office. The embassy conducted three digital video conferences for the media focusing on issues of media freedom and best practices. The embassy also organized a roundtable for members of the media with an American expert on challenges the press faces in fighting corruption. Finally, the United States funded a program through an American university to strengthen media institution management and business planning.
The United States supports civil society organizations that promote human rights, peace, and government transparency and contribute to peace-building efforts through community development, literacy, rural radio programs, and peace councils. For example, the United States supported the Liberia Community Peace Building and Development Program, which has mobilized 200 war-affected villages for peace building, infrastructure, agriculture, and income-generating activities. The Locally Initiated Networks for Community Strengthening Program facilitated grassroots reconciliation and peace constituencies in 70 villages in Lofa County. U.S. officials spoke at a number of civil society workshops and discussed the importance of civil society in a flourishing democracy. The United States also supported the Liberia Community Infrastructure Program, which seeks to create jobs and provide vocational training and psychosocial counseling for former combatants and other war-affected persons. Through a number of small grants, the U.S. government supported local NGOs that educated communities on human rights, reconciliation, and peace building. Peace building and mediation law programs, including support to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, expanded the numbers of mediators and peace advocates and encouraged communities to interact and resolve problems without resorting to violence. The U.S. ambassador spoke publicly to encourage local communities to fight rape and violence against women in their regions and also to promote religious tolerance.