Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Liberia's political rights rating improved from 6 to 5, its civil liberties rating from 6 to 4, and its status from Not Free to Partly Free, due to greater political freedom brought about through the broad-based, transitional government, and to improvements in press freedom and human rights.
Political freedoms expanded in Liberia in 2004 as officials of the country's Transitional National Government were making preparations to hold elections in October 2005, and former president Charles Taylor remained living in exile in Nigeria. Press freedom and other civil liberties also improved compared with the previous year. Sporadic rioting broke out in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, during the year.
Liberia was settled in 1821 by freed slaves from the United States and became an independent republic in 1847. Americo-Liberians, descendants of the freed slaves, dominated the country until 1980, when army Sergeant Samuel Doe led a bloody coup and murdered President William Tolbert. Doe's regime concentrated power among members of his Krahn ethnic group and suppressed others. Forces led by Taylor, a former government minister, and backed by Gio and Mano ethnic groups that had been subjected to severe repression, launched a guerrilla war from neighboring Cote d'Ivoire against the Doe regime on Christmas Eve 1989. In 1990, Nigeria, under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led an armed intervention force, preventing Taylor from seizing the capital but failing to protect Doe from being captured and tortured to death by a splinter rebel group. A peace accord in 1996 led to elections in 1997 that Taylor won.
The peace accord, however, wasn't entirely effective. Long-standing grievances were not resolved, and Taylor made little effort to seek genuine reconciliation. Many of his rivals were forced to flee the country. Some formed the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and used neighboring Guinea as a staging ground from which to launch their rebellion against Taylor. With rebels poised to overrun the capital and the United States calling for him to step down, Taylor resigned in August 2003 and accepted Nigeria's offer of asylum.
Taylor's departure from Liberia almost immediately stopped the war. ECOWAS helped negotiate an end to the fighting between Taylor's forces, LURD, and the rebel Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). The West African peacekeepers became part of a 15,000-strong UN-led force that is overseeing disarmament and demobilization. Human rights abuses abated following the ceasefire, but some violations have continued, especially in the countryside.
Delegates to the peace talks in 2003 chose businessman Gyude Bryant as Liberia's interim president. The delegates allocated posts in the transitional parliament to the former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), LURD, MODEL, other political parties, and civil society groups. Under the terms of the peace deal, the NPP and the two rebel groups could each name five ministers to the cabinet.
Fourteen years of intermittent civil war in Liberia brought fighting to three neighboring countries and claimed 200,000 lives in Liberia alone. Peacekeeping troops have been deployed to neighboring Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, as fighters have routinely crossed the borders into those two countries, as well as into Guinea. Liberia lacks electricity, running water, a functioning educational system, and proper medical facilities. More than 80,000 people turned up at disarmament and demobilization sites in 2004, but many of them lacked a weapon; the former fighters receive a payment of $300 as part of the demobilization process. Rioting broke out at least three times in Monrovia between December 2003 and October 2004, and a riot in October claimed at least 14 lives and turned into clashes between Christians and Muslims.
Members of a spectrum of political parties now operate openly and freely in Liberia. There were no political prisoners at the end of 2004, unlike in previous years. Freedom of assembly is respected and political discourse has replaced armed conflict. A National Election Commission was laying the foundation for polls to be held in 2005. The legislative branch of government operated with much greater independence from the executive branch in 2005 compared with previous years under Taylor.
Press freedom improved in 2004, and journalists faced far less harassment than they had during Taylor's administration. Private radio stations began broadcasting, including the short-wave radio station of the Roman Catholic Church in Liberia, Radio Veritas.
A team from the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury warned the transitional government in October 2004 that it must account for public funds in a more transparent manner if the UN is to lift sanctions on timber and diamond exports, and if donors are to release funds for the country's reconstruction. The sanctions had been imposed to prevent the former Taylor government from using the resources to finance arms purchases in violation of a UN arms embargo. In October, the transitional government froze the assets of several relatives and former associates of Taylor, and action which the UN Security Council had urged in March.
Citizens of Liberia cannot change their government democratically President Charles Taylor and his party assumed power after the 1997 elections. The votes for the presidency and the National Assembly, on the basis of proportional representation, were held under provisions of the 1986 constitution. The polls constituted Liberia's most genuine electoral exercise in decades but were conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation. Taylor's victory was more reflective of a vote for peace than for a particular ideology, as many people believed that the only way to stop the war was to elect him as president. After Taylor fled to Nigeria in August 2003, a transitional government was installed to lead the country to elections in 2005.
Liberia was not ranked in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. International lending institutions have urged the transitional government to crack down on corruption and operate with more transparency to secure donor funding.
Liberia's independent media have survived at the cost of extensive self-censorship. Employees have suffered from constant surveillance, harassment, threats, detentions, and beatings. Criminal charges were brought against journalists working for the private weekly newspaper Telegraph in January. Editor-in-chief Philip Moore Jr., managing editor Adolphus Karnuah, and subeditor Robert Kpadeh Jr. were charged with "criminal malevolence" in connection with a story alleging that the country's national security minister embezzled about $15,000; they were released the same day. Internet access is not impeded, but Liberia suffers from poor communications infrastructure.
Press freedom improved markedly in 2004 compared with the situation in the previous year. Several private newspapers are published, and there are at least five new FM radio stations, including Radio Veritas, the short-wave station of the Roman Catholic Church.
Religious freedom is respected in practice, but Muslims have been targeted because many Mandingos, who were a key ethnic component of the rebel group LURD, follow Islam. Religious freedom suffered a setback in October when a property dispute that triggered rioting in Monrovia dissolved into religious fighting. Several churches and mosques were attacked. Authorities arrested up to 250 people in connection with the violence, which claimed about 14 lives. The unrest was the worst seen in the city since Taylor was forced into exile in 2003.
Academic freedom was restricted under the Taylor government, as students feared expressing political views opposed to the government. Exiled student leaders returned to the country after the transitional government was installed. Security forces were sent to the University of Liberia in Monrovia in March after students protested the school's continued closure.
Numerous civil society groups, including human rights organizations, operate in the country. Human rights workers have been allowed access to prisons, where conditions are harsh and torture is used to extract confessions. The transitional government generally respects freedom of assembly. There were reports of brutality by police and members of the U.N. peacekeeping force during violent demonstrations in Monrovia in 2004. The right to strike, organize, and bargain collectively is permitted by law, but there is little union activity because of the lack of economic activity. Two umbrella unions cover some 60,000 workers, but most of them are unemployed. Forced labor exists in rural areas, and child labor is widespread.
The judiciary is subject to executive influence, corruption, and intimidation by security forces, which operate with impunity. International human rights groups have urged Nigeria to hand Taylor over to the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has indicted him for war crimes linked to his alleged involvement in the arms-for-diamonds trade that helped sustain Sierra Leone's civil war. Liberia's Justice Ministry in October froze the assets of several Taylor associates and relatives in line with a UN resolution. The Supreme Court ordered the suspension of the sanctions against two associates after their lawyers argued that only the courts had the authority to impose such measures. Prison conditions are harsh and sometimes life threatening. However, there was no evidence that the government operated unofficial detention facilities where prisoners were tortured, as in previous years. Arbitrary detention and brutality by the police, former members of Taylor's security forces and former rebel groups are problems. Violations were less frequent in 2004 than in previous years.
Societal ethnic discrimination is rife, and the Taylor government discriminated against indigenous ethnic groups that opposed Taylor during the civil war, especially the Mandingo and Krahn ethnic groups. Ethnic clashes erupted sporadically during 2004.
Treatment of women varies by ethnic group, religion, and social status. Many women continue to suffer from physical abuse and traditional societal discrimination, despite constitutionally guaranteed equality. Rape, including gang rape, was rampant during the civil war. Women and girls were often abducted as laborers and sex slaves, while others joined rebel groups or militias to protect themselves.