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Liberian Rights Work Praised, But Crime A Concern

United Nations expert praises rights progress in Liberia, raises concern at crime levels

18 July 2008 - Five years after the peace agreement that ended its civil war, Liberia has made accelerated progress on several human rights issues, but there are still serious concerns about the rule of law, according to a United Nations expert who has just completed a two-week visit to the country.

"The installations of a new democratically elected government which took office in January 2006 has witnessed the acceleration of progress on a number of human rights and development issues including economic and social rights," Charlotte Abaka, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights, Technical Cooperation and Advisory Services in Liberia, said in a statement released today.

Ms. Abaka cited the rehabilitation of schools, hospitals and courts as well as the launching of a poverty reduction strategy document, as signs of progress.

Other positive developments were the near completion of the public hearings of the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the launching of a judicial training centre.

The rights expert also praised draft legislation that would pave the way for a Law Reform Commission and an Independent National Commission on Human Rights and welcomed a new UN and Government-backed programme to prevent gender-based violence as well as the opening of safe houses for its victims.

However, Ms. Abaka stressed that rape and sexual violence continued to be the most frequently committed serious crimes in Liberia, saying that the very high rate of girls dropping out of school because of pregnancy was very worrisome. Twenty-four girls from Guthrie elementary and senior high schools had dropped out because of pregnancy in June this year, she noted.

"Serious concerns remain with regard to the rule of law," Ms. Abaka added. "The continued increase in armed robberies and rape cases is a security issue. Therefore there is an urgent need for far-reaching reforms in policing, judiciary and correction sectors."

Mr. Abaka called for action to ensure that protective and punitive measures were enforced to combat the ongoing scourge of sexual violence.

"The challenges in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights which face the Government and Liberian society as a whole remain enormous," Ms. Abaka concluded, adding that the "need for responsive and accountable policing, an effective judiciary which applies the rule of law and a strengthened corrections sector is yet to be adequately addressed."

ENDS

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