Liberian Civil Society Organize to Push for Abolition
On 12 April 2022, Rescue Alternatives Liberia (RAL) orchestrated a one-day forum on abolition in Liberia with the support of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The outcomes of this event were very promising, and time will tell if abolition in Liberia is near.
The necessity of the forum was born out of concerning news in December 2021 from the Liberian House of Representatives. According to the Liberian Observer, the House of Representatives had voted to amend the penal code to include the death penalty for ritual killings. While the bill seemed to stall, it was a worrying step for a country who has already deposited the instrument of accession to the Second Optional Protocol (OP2) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (effectively ratifying the protocol). Liberia is the only country on the globe that has ratified OP2, aiming to abolish the death penalty and commit to abolition, while still retaining the death penalty in its penal code.
The event attracted civil society members, international and national institution representatives, community leaders, journalists, students, and many others, who all rallied behind abolition. Amongst those were keynote speakers representing ACAT-Liberia (member of the FIACAT and also member of the World Coalition), the Liberian Ministry of Justice, Dr. Uchenna Emelonye (Country Representative to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), Ambassador of France to Liberia Michael Roux, and Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Liberia, Laurent Delahousse.
The forum was organized with keynote speakers addressing participants, each bringing their perspective on the fight towards abolition. Sam Nimely, Program Coordinator of RAL, gave the forum overview and highlighted “during the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of the Republic of Liberia [in 2020], Liberia accepted the recommendations to abolish the death penalty in its national legislation.” Despite this international commitment, Liberia has not taken steps to abolish.
The forum was also highly publicized in both print and electronic media outlets, with RAL and other civil society making the rounds to three local radio stations to speak on their morning program to build awareness amongst Liberians who may otherwise not understand the problems of maintaining capital punishment.
Overall, the outcomes of the forum were very positive. The highlight of the event culminated in the emergence of a draft bill to abolish the death penalty, that will soon be validated by the Death Penalty Abolition Draft Bill Committee (set up by the Ministry of Justice), prior to being submitted to the national legislature. RAL was officially invited to serve on this committee by the Ministry of Justice to represent civil society organizations. There is hope that this bill may be supported by the executive branch.
Liberia has not executed since 2000, and there are currently only 14 individuals are sentenced to death in the country. The abolitionist community worldwide will have its eyes on Liberia this year as this bill makes its way to the legislature.
Photo taken during the 12 April Forum. Credit to Rescue Alternatives Liberia.