Freedom in the World
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Freedom in the World Scores
Liberia has enjoyed more than a decade 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 and unequal access to justice.
Liberia’s civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to gradual improvements in freedom of movement within the country.
Key Developments in 2017:
- Legislative and presidential elections held in October were described as peaceful and generally well administered by both domestic and international observers, despite some procedural challenges.
- George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) won the presidency, defeating incumbent vice president Joseph Boakai with 61.5 percent of the vote in a run-off.
- The National Elections Commission (NEC) was considered to have operated impartially during the election period, but struggled to enforce electoral laws. The Supreme Court also overturned two NEC decisions that were aimed at enforcing the 2014 National Code of Conduct Act, prompting concern from election observers and others.
- The government debated a promised Land Reform Act needed to address ongoing land disputes, but lawmakers rejected the measure.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 27 / 40 (–1)
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 8 / 12 (–1)
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
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 commended by domestic and international observers, who assessed the poll as generally peaceful and credible, while also noting difficulties including long queues at polling places and challenges related to voter identification.
A runoff between Weah and Boakai, the top two finishers in the first round of polling, was delayed when third-place finisher Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party challenged the first-round results on grounds of fraud. The Supreme Court found that his fraud claim was not supported by evidence, and the run-off was held several weeks later than scheduled, in late December. Weah won the runoff with 61.5 percent of the vote, and Boakai conceded defeat. Observers noted procedural and administrative improvements in the run-off, compared to the first round.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
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. Legislative elections were held concurrently with the presidential election in October 2017. While there were some administrative problems, including complaints that registered voters could not be found on the voter rolls, observers said the elections were generally peaceful and well-administered. There were minor incidents of violence between political party supporters during the campaigning period, but candidates were largely able to campaign freely.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4 (–1)
The independence of Liberia’s NEC is mandated by law, and political parties expressed confidence in its impartiality during the 2017 election campaign. However, its capacity is limited, and it struggles to enforce electoral laws.
The 2017 elections were the first to apply the provisions of the 2014 National Code of Conduct Act, which laid out rules applying to government officials seeking to run for elected office, and included measures aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest. The NEC attempted to enforce the provisions of the Code of Conduct during the elections. However, the Supreme Court reversed the NEC’s rulings in two instances where the NEC had disqualified high-profile candidates for failing to meet the Code of Conduct’s eligibility requirements. Separately, the NEC failed to enforce a provision of the Election Law stipulating that parties must field candidates in at least half of all constituencies. Eleven political parties did not meet this requirement, but were permitted to run. The NEC additionally struggled to complete voter lists.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because the National Elections Commission struggled to enforce electoral laws in the lead-up to the 2017 elections.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 12 / 16
B1. 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 / 4
Political parties generally do not face undue legal or practical obstacles that prevent them from forming or operating. However, in the run-up to the 2017 elections, election monitors recorded allegations that the ruling party drew on public resources to fund political campaigns—notably by taking advantage of state-owned vehicles and facilities.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4
Opposition parties hold support among the population and have a realistic chance of gaining power through elections. In the 2017 presidential election, Weah, of the opposition CDC, won the presidency over the incumbent party’s candidate. Similarly, the Congress for Democratic Change, the largest party within the CDC coalition that backed Weah, won 21 seats in the legislature in the elections, and displaced the Unity Party as the party with the greatest representation.
However, in the run-up to the 2017 elections, election monitors recorded allegations that opposition candidates had to pay higher fees to rent public facilities than did those affiliated with the ruling party.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 3 / 4
Allegations of undue influence or pressure on voters by powerful groups that are not democratically accountable to the people are rare. However, a general wariness of potential electoral violence persists in Liberia. A few instances of violence between party supporters took place during the 2017 campaign, but generally the election period was peaceful.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4
Some minority groups continue to be stigmatized as outsiders. Members of Lebanese and Asian minority groups whose families have lived in Liberia for generations are denied citizenship, and cannot participate in political processes. Monitors noted that many women experienced difficulty registering to vote, attributed in part to limited hours registration offices were open.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 7 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3 / 4
Once elected, government officials are duly installed in office, and elected legislators generally operate without interference. However, bribery and corruption can influence policy prioritization.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4
Many institutions are devoted to fighting corruption, but they lack the resources and capacity to function effectively, and corruption remains pervasive. The Supreme Court in October 2017 signaled that adjudication of a high-profile bribery case against former house speaker Alex Tyler was not a priority, and that courts would instead focus on election-related cases.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4
Liberia’s Freedom of Information Act is rarely used, and government responsiveness to requests tends to be slow. Transparency guidelines for public procurement processes are not fully enforced.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 35 / 60 (+1)
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 11 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4
Liberia’s media express a range of views. Despite becoming a signatory to the Declaration of Table Mountain, a pan-African initiative that calls for the abolition of criminal defamation laws, Liberia has long been criticized for its onerous criminal and civil libel laws, which authorities have invoked to harass and intimidate journalists. The government does not restrict internet access, but poor infrastructure and high costs limit usage.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4
Religious freedom is protected in the constitution and there is no official religion. However, about 86 percent of the population is Christian, and the Muslim minority reports discrimination. In 2015, a proposal to amend the constitution to establish Christianity as the official religion contributed to interreligious tensions. While then president Sirleaf shelved this proposal, some discussion of it reemerged during the 2017 campaign period.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4
The government does not restrict academic freedom, though educational quality and infrastructure remain inadequate.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
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 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people. The government is not known to illegally monitor online communications.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 8 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4
Freedom of assembly and of association is constitutionally guaranteed and largely respected. While there have been some instances of violence between political party supporters, people are largely able to gather and protest freely.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4
Numerous civil society groups, including human rights organizations, operate in the country. However, groups focused on LGBT issues tend keep a low profile due to fears of retribution for their activism.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4
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.
F. RULE OF LAW: 7 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4
Constitutional provisions guarantee an independent judiciary. Although petty corruption and backlogs remain major impediments to justice, some rulings by the nation’s highest court in recent years point to increased judicial independence and increased willingness to intervene to protect people’s rights. However, the Supreme Court’s move to overturn NEC rulings aimed at enforcing the National Code of Conduct Act during the 2017 election cycle prompted concern from election observers, lawmakers, NEC officials, and other observers, some of whom alleged that the court was trying to appease all parties by not fully enforcing the Code.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4
The right to due process under the law is guaranteed by the constitution but poorly upheld. Many people accused of crimes spend more time in pre-trial detention than the length they would serve for a guilty sentence. Those with money may be able to bribe judges to rule in their favor. Reports of arbitrary arrest by law enforcement agents continue.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4
The security environment in Liberia has improved dramatically in the years since warfare ended in 2003. However the police force is still seen to be corrupt, and lacks the financial support to be able to provide robust protection for Liberia’s people. Prison conditions are very poor, and reports of abuse and threats against detainees and prisoners by law enforcement agents and prison guards continue.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4
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. In a presidential debate with 9 candidates, none supported same-sex marriage.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 9 / 16 (+1)
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4 (+1)
People enjoy increasing freedom to move throughout the country. Some unofficial border checkpoints remain, at which border patrol agents sometimes attempt to extract bribes. However, people have enjoyed a gradual increase in the right to move about freely in the years since large-scale violence ended.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to gradual improvements in freedom of movement within the country.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4
Conflicts over land remain pervasive. Many of these conflicts originated in the civil wars and subsequent displacement, and resettlement. Others are the result of opaque concession agreements granting foreign corporations access to lands for production of timber and palm oil. While the government in 2017 debated a Land Reform Act that would address some of these concerns, lawmakers rejected the measure.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4
While men and women enjoy equal legal rights under civil law, customary law remains dominant in many parts of the country, especially in rural areas, creating gender discrepancies in access to land, custody of children, and impartial adjudication of disputes. Violence against women and children, particularly rape, is a pervasive problem. In October 2017, the Senate voted to make rape a bailable offense—a decision that sparked protests outside the Capitol building by women’s rights activists.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4
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.