Liberia urged not to resume executions
While no executions have taken place in Liberia since 2000, the country has recently reinstated the death penalty and sent three persons to death row. Liberia came close to executing two of them last month.
“On March 19, 2010, Hans Williams and Madea Paykue were sentenced to death by the Circuit Court in Monrovia for the murder of 13 year-old Angel Tokpa in 2007,” the World Coalition wrote in a report to be submitted to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. “They were scheduled to be publicly hung on Friday, March 26, 2010 on a Monrovia City beach. The Court ordered the hangings to be public with the bodies left hanging until 6:00pm. An appeal filed with the Supreme Court of Liberia has stayed execution,” the report adds.
The UN Human Rights Council will examine the situation in Liberia as part of its Universal Periodic Review in November 2010.
Any execution in Liberia would violate the pledge made by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in December 2008 to the World Coalition’s treasurer Speedy Rice and Anthony Valcke of the American Bar Association that she would not sign any death warrants.
Rice reminded Johnson-Sirleaf of her promise in a letter on behalf of the World Coalition on March 23.
The use of the death penalty also contradicts the Liberia’s obligations under international law.
On July 16, 2008, amid popular outcry at a wave of violent crime, the Liberian Senate passed a bill making armed robbery, terrorism and hijacking capital offenses if they result in death, despite Liberia’s accession to the UN Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty in 2005. That treaty explicitly prohibits executions (“No one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed,” Art. 1) and bans any reinstatement of capital punishment.
“The former Minister of Justice issued a legal opinion that while Liberia had acceded to the Protocol, since the Liberian Legislature has not ratified it as required under the Liberian Constitution, it has no legal force in domestic law. His opinion recognizes that there has been an international commitment but it is not a commitment that can bind domestic law,” Rice said.
The report to the UN Human Rights Council states that “the World Coalition is deeply concerned by the reinstatement of the death penalty and by the possible resumption of executions in the near future in Liberia which will result in a violation of its international commitment”.
Making Liberia an abolitionist leader once again
The World Coalition has been working closely with Liberian NGOs, the national authorities and partners of Liberia such as the European Union to ensure that death sentences are commuted to prison terms until the country abolishes capital punishment again.
“At one stage Liberia was shaping itself to be a leader in the abolition of the death penalty in Africa,” Rice wrote to Johnson-Sirleaf. “How do we retrace those steps so that Liberia is walking forward and in line with the global trend towards abolition once again?”