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Liberia

Executive Summary

Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly and a democratically elected government. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2017, and legislative by-elections in 2018, which domestic and international observers deemed generally free and fair. Vacancies in one Senate seat and one House of Representatives seat prompted by-elections on July 29. Soon after, the National Elections Commission (NEC) declared Liberty Party candidate Darius Dillon winner of the Senate race. On August 28, the NEC held a run-off in 20 voting precincts for the House seat, given irregularities in voter registration. There were incidents of violence during the campaign for the House seat, including stone throwing and property damage. In addition, multiple press outlets reported allegations of an assault on Deputy Police Inspector General Marvin Sackor. On August 28, the NEC declared the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate Abu Kamara the winner.

The Liberia National Police (LNP) maintains internal security, with assistance from the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and other civilian security forces. The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities if called upon. The LNP and LDEA report to the Ministry of Justice while the AFL reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary killings by police; arbitrary detention by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; substantial restrictions on free expression and the press, including site blocking; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women due to government inaction in some instances, including rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

Impunity for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities during the civil wars that ended in 2003, remained a serious problem. The government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Security forces and law enforcement officials undertook some training to increase respect for human rights.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but civil libel and slander laws placed limits on freedom of speech, and self-censorship was widespread. Some media outlets avoided criticizing government officials due to fears of legal sanction and to retain government advertising, which, according to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), was the largest source of media revenue. Other outlets avoided addressing sensitive human rights issues like female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Court decisions against journalists sometimes involved exorbitant fines.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Some media outlets, journalists, and broadcasters charged fees to publish articles or host radio programs. According to the PUL, civil suits relating to libel, slander, and defamation were sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. The PUL also expressed concern media outlets owned directly by politicians and government officials were crowding out privately owned media and advocated for legislation to prohibit ownership of media by public officials.

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement officers occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners because of their political opinions and reporting, especially those that criticized government officials. Government officials also harassed media members for political reasons. For example, in August, Front Page Africa newspaper reported cabinet members were pressuring the Firestone Corporation to fire Patrick Honnah, a public relations manager who criticized the government on social media and through the Punch FM website, where he previously worked. Separately, in July, Judge Peter Gbeneweleh summoned Othello B. Garblah, publisher of New Dawn newspaper, for possible contempt of court because of an article he wrote that speculated there was a plot to exonerate the defendants in the Sable Mining corruption case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid harassment. Journalists and media directors also practiced self-censorship to maintain advertising revenue from the government, the largest advertiser in the country. There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to secure coverage of events.

From approximately February to August, the radio show of government critic Henry Costa, was frequently unavailable. On at least a few occasions, the broadcast seemed to feature older, progovernment clips, leading to speculation that the station was being jammed or otherwise interfered with. In response Costa made a number of threats of violence in his Facebook Live broadcasts. The government’s reactions to these and other broadcasts from Costa, which the government deemed as inciting violence, included a suspension of Roots FM’s broadcast license due to nonpayment of fees and inciting violence. On October 10, amid groups of protesters supporting Costa, sheriffs from the Monrovia Magisterial Court, escorted by armed police units with a “search and seizure” writ issued by the court at the request of Solicitor General Saymah Cyrenius Cephus, stormed the Roots FM studio, shut Costa’s broadcast down, and seized the station’s broadcasting equipment.

Libel/Slander Laws: In February criminal libel and slander laws were repealed with the passage of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom. Government officials occasionally used the threat of civil suits to intimidate critics. On April 15, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill filed a $500,000 defamation suit against Roots FM and its hosts Henry Costa and Fidel Saydee, alleging the two radio personalities “slandered, badmouthed, vandalized and vilified” McGill by accusing him of financial impropriety. He later dropped the suit.

PUL continued efforts to self-regulate the media and ensure adherence to standards including investigation and settlement of complaints against or by the press. PUL’s National Media Council, launched in 2017 to address court cases against the media, continued to mediate cases during the year.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Security officials at road checkpoints throughout the country frequently requested bribes, which may have inhibited domestic travel.

f. Protection of Refugees

The law forbids the forced return of refugees, their families, or other persons who may be subjected to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, and the government generally respected those rights for refugees. The government provides a prima facie mode of recognition for Ivoirian refugees, meaning that Ivoirian refugees arriving in Liberia because of the 2011 postelectoral violence in Cote d’Ivoire do not have to appear before the asylum committee to gain refugee status; the status is granted automatically. According to Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the country was host to 8,623 refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and 77 others of diverse nationalities.

Those denied asylum may submit their case to the appeals committee of the LRRRC. Asylum seekers unsatisfied with the appeals committee ruling can seek judicial review at the Supreme Court. The Alien and Nationality Law of 1974, however, specifically denies many of the safeguards for those wishing to seek asylum in the country under the Refugee Convention.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR, other humanitarian organizations, and donor countries in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The LRRRC did not record any cases of abuse or discrimination against refugees. UNHCR reported one case of a refugee being harassed and assaulted by an immigration official at an internal checkpoint.

Refoulement: The LRRRC and UNHCR reported seven Ivoirian refugees remained in custody in the MCP, pursuant to a 2013 request for extradition from the government of Cote d’Ivoire that alleged their involvement in “mercenary activities.” The case has continued since 2013, and bail requests have been denied. Three of the seven refugees were brothers, the youngest 16 years old at the time of arrest. The LRRRC and UNHCR continued to provide subsistence allowances, legal support, and medical and psychosocial support to refugees in custody.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees enjoyed freedom of movement, since the country did not have a mandatory encampment policy. Government policy stated refugees wishing to receive material assistance should move to one of the three refugee camp locations in Bahn Town, Nimba County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh; and Harper, Maryland County. The camps were in the process of being transformed into settlements intended for local integration of refugees.

Employment: The law generally prohibits non-Liberian citizens from obtaining work permits when Liberian citizens are available to perform the labor, but this law was generally not enforced. The LRRRC and UNHCR worked with partners to implement livelihood programs for Ivoirian refugees who wished to integrate. As of August 14, refugees requested work permits from the Ministry of Labor to work in the formal sector. UNHCR paid the requisite fee.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government resettled, offered naturalization, and assisted in the voluntary return of refugees. Voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees continued. According to UNHCR, as of June approximately 715 Ivoirian refugees had voluntarily returned to Cote d’Ivoire. UNHCR and the LRRRC assisted those returning and supported 1,584 refugees who opted for local integration. As of August the government had begun the process of naturalizing five refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government, with UNHCR and other implementing partners, continued to provide protection to Ivoirian refugees who entered the country after November 2010. According to UNHCR, as of June, 8,623 Ivoirian refugees remained in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

The mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption among public officials. As of September it had 41 active cases and had forwarded six to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.

Corruption: In June a grand jury indicted 10 persons, including sitting representatives Edward W. Karfiah and Josiah M. Cole, following an investigation by the LACC into corruption related to construction of the Bong County Technical College. According to the press release, the individuals were accused of using fraud to embezzle approximately $2.7 million in county development funds. In a press conference after the indictment was announced, Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus said he would keep the indictment sealed pending an investigation. As of November the indictment remained sealed. According to media reports, former speaker of the House Alex Tyler was listed in documents as owning 7.5 percent of the company contracted to build the college; Tyler was speaker at the time of the alleged scheme, and funds from the national budget were allocated to the project despite a lack of visible progress. Tyler was not included in the indictment, prompting further questions about transparency and accountability.

Financial Disclosure: By law all government officials “involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses” must declare their income, assets, and liabilities before taking office, at the end of every three years, upon promotion or transfer to another position, and upon leaving office. Members of the legislature must submit their declarations to the secretary of the Senate and the chief clerk of the House, members of the judiciary must submit to the clerk of the Supreme Court, and members of the executive branch must submit to the General Auditing Commission, with receipt “notified” to the LACC. The law provides for dismissal in cases of false declaration but does not outline punishments for noncompliance. Financial disclosures are not made public, and officials were reluctant to share them publicly.

As of December the LACC reported that approximately 67 percent of officials in the executive branch and 83 percent in the judiciary had submitted notification of their declarations. The Senate and the House of Representatives reported that 11 senators and 25 representatives had submitted asset declarations to their respective offices in the legislature. The LACC, for its part, reported it had undertaken to verify the assets of 49 individuals.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has not implemented the majority of the recommendations contained in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. The law creating the commission requires that the president submit quarterly progress reports to the legislature on the implementation of TRC recommendations; however, since taking office in January 2018, President Weah has failed to submit quarterly reports.

The INCHR has a mandate to promote and protect human rights, investigate and conduct hearings on human rights violations, propose changes to laws, policies, and administrative practices and regulations, and counsel the government on the implementation of national and international human rights standards. Since coming to office in January 2018, President Weah has not appointed a commissioner to lead the INCHR, which observers reported hampered its effectiveness.

The Human Rights Protection Unit of the Ministry of Justice convened some coordination meetings that provided a forum for domestic and international human rights NGOs to present matters to the government, but it complained about a lack of funding. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights acted as an independent check on the actions of the government in line with its mission to monitor human rights violations in the country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties, or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs.

Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from organizing into unions and bargaining collectively, but instead they may process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, the Liberia Labor Congress, and the Civil Servants Association continued to argue the Standing Orders conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. Some public-sector associations, including those for teachers and public-health workers, declared themselves to be unions, despite the law, and the LLC and Ministry of Labor backed their efforts to unionize.

The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted to negotiate to resolve the issue and give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and the Liberian Labor Union. The National Tripartite Council has not published a list of essential services.

While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It also does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”

In general the government endeavored to enforce applicable laws in the formal sector, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoyed freedom of association and had the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and some protections depend on whether property damage has occurred and is measurable. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference.

Union influence continued to increase during the year. There were reports of union-led protest actions in a number of concession areas, including plantations, leading to work stoppages or disruptions for days, and by public-sector associations of health workers and teachers. Labor unions called on the government to enforce laws that would improve work conditions across the country, particularly the Decent Work Act.

In April and September, the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Revenue Authority, the Liberia Immigration Service, and the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation conducted joint nationwide labor inspections to ensure employers complied with the Decent Work Act and all other existing labor laws. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate did not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, aside from forced prison labor or work defined as “minor communal service.” Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. These penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children with relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers to Monrovia or other cities with the promise the women and children would pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, beggars or in commercial sexual exploitation. There were also reports of forced labor in auto shops, on small rubber plantations, and artisanal mines.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment of children younger than age of 15 is prohibited. Children older than age 13 but younger than age 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act children age 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than age 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until age 15.

The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The Ministry of Labor did not provide statistics on if such permits were either requested or issued.

The government prohibits some, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work, but has not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

The National Commission on Child Labor (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies, although it did not do so effectively. It was unclear if any labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor or if any labor inspections included checking for child labor. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor. The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the LNP’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section. It was not clear if any inspections or remediation took place. Although the National Child Labor Committee convenes regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious challenge. In July the government released the National Action Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The government has not identified specific funding to implement its provisions and expects the donor community to contribute 59 percent of the total budget.

The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms, which exposed them to hazardous conditions involving use of machetes and acids. Children also worked in other conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining, which exposed them to heavy loads and hazardous chemicals. Children were also engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in auto shops.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Section 2.4(b) of the Decent Work Act prohibits discrimination with respect to equal opportunity for work and employment and calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in hiring based on gender, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions resisting their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged behind that for men. LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes minimum wages for unskilled laborers and for formal sector workers. The law allows workers in the informal sector to bargain for a wage higher than the legal minimum.

The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging.

The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one -hour rest period for every five hours of work. The Decent Work Act stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed upon period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. For certain categories of industries, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.

The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established health and safety standards, but it is not clear if these standards were enforced. These inspectors are responsible only for monitoring labor in the formal sector, and there is no system for monitoring the informal sector. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce the law.

Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority of citizens (estimated at 80 percent) had no other option than to work in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries.

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