Liberia has enjoyed nearly two decades of peace and stability since the second civil war ended in 2003. During this time, the country has made considerable progress rebuilding government capacity, reestablishing the rule of law, and ensuring the political rights and civil liberties of citizens, and 2017 saw the first peaceful transfer of power between leaders since 1944. However, Liberia still faces serious issues with corruption, impunity, and violence against women.
- In April, the National Elections Commission (NEC) confirmed that none of the amendments on the December 2020 referendum passed. Provisions included changes to term-length of representatives, the vice president, and the president, as well as an end to the ban on dual citizenship. Critics noted flaws in the process that brought the referendum to the ballot, including a lack of openness by political leadership to include proposals that were important to the public and a lack of voter awareness about the issues.
- In February, the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Ndubusi Nwabudike, resigned amid allegations that he obtained his citizenship illegally. His replacement, Edwin Martin, subsequently issued a 120-day ultimatum to former and current public officials to voluntarily return stolen government assets and property or face arrest.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Liberia’s president is directly elected and can serve up to two six-year terms. Since the end of the civil wars in 2003, Liberia has had three peaceful presidential elections. The most recent election, held in 2017, was assessed by domestic and international observers as generally peaceful and credible, though difficulties in its administration included long queues at polling places and challenges related to voter identification.
In 2017, a runoff between George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and incumbent vice president Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party (UP), was delayed when third-place finisher Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party (LP) challenged the first-round results on grounds of fraud. The Supreme Court found his claim unsupported by evidence. Weah won the run-off with 61.5 percent of the vote, and his 2018 inauguration marked the first peaceful transfer of power since 1944. Observers noted procedural and administrative improvements in the runoff compared to the first round.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Liberia has a bicameral legislature composed of a 30-member Senate and a 73-member House of Representatives; senators are elected to nine-year terms, and representatives to six-year terms.
Lower-house elections were held concurrently with the first round of the presidential election in 2017. The CDC won 21 seats, while the UP won 20. The People’s Unification Party (PUP), which was allied to the ruling CDC, won 5 seats, and the LP won 3. The remaining 24 seats were won by independents and other parties. Despite administrative problems, observers considered the elections generally peaceful and well administered, with only minor incidents of violence during the campaign.
Fifteen Senate seats were contested in December 2020. The opposition alliance Collaborating Political Parties (CPP)—comprised of the former ruling UP, the Alternative National Congress, the All Liberian Party, and the LP—won six seats, double that of the ruling CDC. The remainder were shared between independents and smaller parties. Polling day was largely peaceful, but the campaign period was marred by incidents of fraud and violence. Voter turnout was 34.9 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
While the independence of the NEC is mandated by law, its capacity is limited, and it has struggled to enforce regulations. The National Code of Conduct Act is not consistently followed by officials.
The NEC managed a December 2020 constitutional referendum, held concurrently with the Senate elections, which included amendments to shorten the terms of the president, the vice president, and lower-house legislators from six years to five; to shorten senators’ terms from nine years to seven; and to end a ban on dual citizenship. In April 2021, four months after ballots were cast, the NEC confirmed that none of the amendments received the required two-thirds of votes to become law. Critics noted flaws in the process that brought the referendum to the ballot, including a lack of openness by political leadership to include proposals that were important to the public and a lack of voter awareness about the issues.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political parties generally do not face undue legal or practical obstacles that prevent them from forming or operating. The People’s Liberation Party was certified by the NEC in late December 2020 and opened a party office in Monrovia in February 2021. However, the ruling CDC has been known to use public resources to fund campaigns during election periods—notably by taking advantage of state-owned vehicles and facilities.
Opposition parties can form coalitions; the CPP coalition formed in 2019 was certified in August 2020.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties and independent candidates have a realistic chance of gaining office and power through elections. In 2017, President Weah, of the then opposition CDC, defeated the former ruling party’s candidate. Opposition candidates found success in the December 2020 Senate elections, with only three CDC candidates winning across 15 races. Independent candidates won two of four by-elections held in November 2021.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
Allegations of undue influence or pressure on voters by powerful groups are somewhat rare. However, a general wariness of election-related violence persists in Liberia.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Lebanese people and people of Asian descent whose families have lived in Liberia for generations are denied citizenship and cannot participate in political processes. While former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006–18) was the first woman to be head of state in Africa, and Liberia’s current vice president is a woman, women are poorly represented in national politics and hold few leadership positions in political parties. Only 2 of the 30 senators are women, and women hold 9 of 73 seats in the House of Representatives. Social stigma against LGBT+ people discourages them from advocating for their rights.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Once elected, government officials are duly installed in office, and elected legislators generally operate without significant interference. However, bribery and corruption can influence policy prioritization even at the executive level.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Many institutions exist to fight corruption, but they lack the resources, political independence, and capacity to function effectively. Corruption thus remains pervasive.
In February 2021, the head of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Ndubusi Nwabudike, resigned amid allegations that he obtained his citizenship illegally. His replacement, Edwin Martin, subsequently issued a 120-day ultimatum to former and current public officials to voluntarily return stolen government assets and property or face arrest. The LACC Enforcement Division opened investigations into the suspended heads of the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation and the managing director of the Liberia Airport Authority. The body is also actively investigating NEC commissioners for allegedly using $180,000 to purchase thermometers for the November 2021 by-election administration, and in December recommended dismissing the NEC chairperson as well as the NEC head of procurement.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The Freedom of Information Act is rarely used, and the government responds slowly to information requests, if at all. Transparency guidelines for public procurement processes are not fully enforced.
In 2021, many new public officials, including in the executive branch, failed to declare their assets as required by law. The LACC, which collects asset declarations, is not obligated to disclose those submitted by executive branch members, and efforts by civil society and media to gain access to President Weah’s declaration have been unsuccessful.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Liberia’s constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but these rights are sometimes restricted in practice. Investigative reporters receive threats, including by members of the government who have vowed to sue in response to journalistic inquiries. President Weah has previously taken an adversarial stance toward media, denouncing “fake news” that purportedly threatened national stability. Liberia also maintains onerous criminal and civil libel laws, though the 2019 Press Freedom Act effectively decriminalized libel, “sedition,” and “criminal malevolence.” Defamation remains a civil offense, and journalists risk jail time for nonpayment. Investigative reporting can lead to media houses being summoned to court.
Journalists were harassed, threatened, and attacked while reporting on the senate elections in December 2020. In June 2021, journalists Trojan Kiazolu and Hannah Geterminah were physically assaulted by police officers for photographing in a public area.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Religious freedom is protected in the constitution. However, about 86 percent of the population is Christian, and the Muslim minority reports discrimination in government appointments. Proposals to amend the constitution to establish Christianity as the official religion emerge occasionally and contribute to interreligious tensions. Since his election, President Weah has made efforts to reach out to the Muslim population.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not restrict academic freedom, though education infrastructure remains inadequate.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
People are generally free to engage in private discussion while in public spaces, but some topics are taboo, such as discussion of issues affecting LGBT+ people. This extends online too, though the government is not known to illegally monitor online communications. In March 2021, the secretary general of the opposition UP, Mohammed Ali, was arrested for suggesting in a Facebook post that the NEC was involved in a “ploy” to stall the certification of a member of his party who had won election to the senate. He was released later that month.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, and Liberia has a history of public protests and civic actions. Security forces at times met protests in 2021 with a heavy-handed response. In July, police arrested several protestors in Lofa County denouncing delays in the certification of the region’s senator-elect. In August, at least 10 protestors demonstrating against the cancelation of online learning were injured after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the University of Liberia.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Numerous civil society groups, including human rights organizations, operate in the country. However, groups focused on LGBT+ issues tend to keep a low profile due to fears of retribution for their work. A National Aid and NGO policy was introduced in September 2020 to improve the coordination of humanitarian aid in the country.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Unions are free to form and mobilize and are well organized. The rights of workers to strike, organize, and bargain collectively are recognized. However, the law does not protect workers from employer retaliation for legal strike activity. Labor disputes can turn violent, particularly at the country’s various mines and rubber plantations.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but it is impeded by corruption, backlogs, and funding shortfalls. The Supreme Court claimed in September 2021 that judges at all levels of the judiciary have experienced a rise in verbal and physical harassment.
In May 2021, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Francis Korkpor, acknowledged the influence of corrupt actors on the judiciary’s independence. Critics have also raised concerns that the outcomes of some trials seem predetermined.
In 2019, the Senate voted to remove Supreme Court associate justice Kabineh Ja’neh from the bench, finding him guilty of official misconduct after he issued a writ in favor of petroleum dealers who opposed a gasoline sale levy. Ja’neh appealed to the Court of Justice of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which ruled in Ja’neh’s favor in November 2020, awarding him $200,000 in damages along with back pay and instructing the government to either reinstate him or allow him to retire. The Liberian Senate rejected the ruling and had not reinstated Ja’neh by the end of 2021.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
The right to due process is guaranteed by the constitution but poorly upheld. Many people accused of crimes spend more time in pretrial detention than the length they would serve for a guilty sentence. Citizens with financial means at times bribe judges to rule in their favor. Reports of arbitrary arrest by law enforcement agents continue.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
The security environment in Liberia has improved dramatically since warfare ended in 2003. However, citizens still view the police force as corrupt, and security agencies lack the financial means to meaningfully protect citizens from violence. Prison conditions are very poor, and detainees and prisoners continue to report abuse and threats by law enforcement agents and prison guards.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Some minority ethnic groups continue to be stigmatized as outsiders, and the Muslim population experiences some discrimination. LGBT+ people face social stigma and the threat of violence. The penal code makes “voluntary sodomy” a misdemeanor offense that can carry up to a year in prison, and this provision can be invoked against LGBT+ people. President Weah has not supported same-sex marriage.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Though some unofficial border checkpoints remain active—and border patrol agents sometimes attempt to extract bribes—people have enjoyed a gradual increase in the right to move about freely in the years since large-scale violence ended. COVID-19-related restrictions on movement expired and were not renewed in 2020.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Conflicts over land remain pervasive, many originating during the civil wars and the subsequent displacement and resettlement of people that the violence caused. Others are the result of opaque concession agreements granting foreign corporations access to lands for mining, logging, and the production of palm oil.
The 2018 Land Rights Act formalized community ownership of ancestral land. However, the Liberia Land Authority lacks the capacity to deal with disputes that have emerged has a result of the law.
Customary law practices that prevail in large parts of the country disadvantage women in matters of land rights and inheritance.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
While men and women enjoy equal rights under civil law, gender disparities are common in customary law, which remains dominant in much of Liberia and disadvantage women in matters including inheritance and child custody.
Violence against women and children, particularly rape, is pervasive. In 2017, the Senate voted to make rape a bailable offense, prompting protests by women’s rights activists. Despite the vote, rape remains a nonbailable offense. In 2019, President Weah signed the Domestic Violence Act, originally proposed in 2014, mandating stricter punishment for those convicted of domestic violence, though restrictions on female genital mutilation (FGM) were not included. An interministerial taskforce created in 2020 to address sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) remains largely powerless.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and prostitution remains a problem, with most victims trafficked from rural areas to cities. Many trafficking victims are children, who can be found working in diamond mines, agricultural operations, or as domestic laborers, or engaged in forced begging or prostitution. In December 2021, a man was sentenced to 22 years in prison for attempting to traffic 22 children.
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Global Freedom Score60 100 partly free