CSO Group to Begin Monitoring Human Rights Issues During Coronavirus Response

PAYNESVILLE, Montserrado – As Liberia continues to institute measures to battle the Coronavirus pandemic, civil society organizations working to promote human rights issues in the country have promised to monitor and report on all aspects of human rights throughout during the country’s response.

Liberia has instituted several measures to end the wave of transmission of the disease, including the declaration of a national health emergency as well as a national state of emergency announced by President George Weah. However, the president’s state of emergency did not include guidelines to guarantee protection for human rights.

On Tuesday, May 26, the Civil Society Organizations Human Rights Advocacy Platform, with support from U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Monrovia, officially launched a nationwide monitoring plan at the headquarters of Prison Fellowship International, in Paynesville.

Adama Dempster, the platform’s secretary-general, said the initiative will conduct an independent assessment on a national level response in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic from a human rights perspective in the country.

“That is using human rights framework within the context of the management of COVID-19 pandemic through the medium of emergency powers and rights limitations, [and] government obligations under regional and international human rights laws,” Dempster said.

The technical working group will monitor and investigate the impact of the pandemic on the lives of citizens, before, during and after the national state of emergency, Dempster said.

A monitoring template has been developed to guide human rights officers assigned in the 15 counties to report and receive complaints from members of the public. Some of the issues monitors would watch out for would include violations of fundamental freedoms, such as arbitrary arrest. Other rights issues include prison congestion and the administration of justice and accountability.

He added that the group would also conduct “monitoring of the protection of healthcare workers and humanitarian personnel, monitoring of food distribution, monitoring of financial aid assistance, if any, and citizens violating the state of emergency being sent to court.”

Some of the issues would also include whether there are laws on the book to issue tickets for violations of the emergency order, given that there were no specific guidelines provided by the government.

Ernestine Ebai, a human rights officer who represented the U.N. Human Rights Office in Monrovia, acknowledged the partnership of stakeholders, including the Liberian government, the CSO advocacy platform, and her office.

According to Ebai, crises like this often trigger an abuse of human rights and freedom, thus giving the need to assist the government to ensure that rights are respected.

“Even during implementation of the stringent measures, the national and international laws allow certain rights to be derogated during emergency, subject to the principles of legality, necessity, proportionally, and non-discrimination,” she said.

She praised the Embassy of Sweden for supporting the promotion and protection of human rights in Liberia. Ebai also acknowledged the enabling environment created by the government for civil society organizations to carry out advocacy on human rights issues in the country.

Featured photo by Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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