Liberia illegally restores the death penalty


on 28 July 2008

On July 15, the Liberian Senate adopted a law establishing the death penalty for homicides committed during acts of armed robbery, terrorism or piracy, confirming a previous vote of the Chamber of representatives. President  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (photo), who could have opposed the legislation, signed it into law a few days later.
The vote takes place at a time when the whole country is going through an unprecedented wave of robbery with criminals going as far as kidnapping children to get a ransom.
Liberian politicians welcomed the decision, which Isaac Red, the Chamber of Representatives’ spokesman hailed as a “way to come out of the nightmare of insecurity”. But it has been sharply criticized by representatives of the civil society.
Dempster Brown, who heads a coalition of human rights defense movements, notes that none of these organizations have been consulted. “The government’s decision is not a good one because the UN opposes death penalty.”
On Dec 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted at a large majority a resolution to introduce a moratorium on executions that requires states that already abolished the death penalty not to restore it.

A decision that contradicts international commitments

The law goes against Liberia’s international commitments. On September 16, 2005, the national transitional government subscribed to a hundred international treaties. According to official UN documents, Liberia then adhered to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, by way of accession.
The Protocol commits its members to three main obligations: it forbids them to resort to executions, asks that members abolish the death penalty within their jurisdictions and abstain from reintroducing it.
The World Coalition is currently campaigning for the treaty’s ratification.
Liberia should in principle abolish the death penalty but some members of parliament have been questioning the Protocol’s status. “The President may have signed an international document aiming at abolishing the death penalty,  but the Parliament knew nothing about. No such document was ratified by the assembly,” Isaac Red said.

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