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World : Africa : Liberia

Portuguese explorers established contacts with Liberia as early as 1461 and named the area Grain Coast because of the abundance of grains of malegueta pepper. In 1663 the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast, but the Dutch destroyed these posts a year later. There were no further reports of European settlements along the Grain Coast until the arrival of freed slaves in early 1800s.

Liberia, which means "Land of the Free," was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1820. These freed slaves, called Americo-Liberians, first arrived in Liberia and established a settlement in Christopolis, now Monrovia (named after U.S. President James Monroe), on February 6, 1820. This group of 86 immigrants formed the nucleus of the settler population of what became known as the Republic of Liberia.

Thousands of freed slaves from America soon arrived during the proceeding years leading toward the formation of more settlements culminating into a declaration of independence on July 26, 1847 of the Republic of Liberia. The idea of resettling free slaves in Africa was nurtured by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization that governed the Commonwealth of Liberia until independence in 1847. The new Republic of Liberia adopted American styles of life and established thriving trade links with other West Africans.

The formation of the Republic of Liberia was not an altogether easy task. The settlers periodically encountered stiff opposition from African tribes whom they met upon arrival, usually resulting in bloody battles. On the other hand, the newly independent Liberia was encroached upon by colonial expansionists who forcefully took over much of the original territory of independent Liberia.

Liberia's history until 1980 was largely peaceful. For 133 years after independence, the Republic of Liberia was a one-party state ruled by the Americo-Liberian dominated True Whig Party (TWP). Joseph Jenkins Roberts who was born and raised in America became Liberia's first President. The style of government and constitution was fashioned on that of the United States.

The True Whig Party dominated all sectors of Liberia from independence until April 12, 1980 when indigenous Liberian Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, from the Krahn ethnic group, seized power in a coup d'etat. Doe's forces executed President William R. Tolbert and several officials of his government mostly of Americo-Liberian descent. As a result, 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination ended with the formation of the People's Redemption Council (PRC).



A civil war in 1989-96 destroyed much of Liberia's economy, especially the infrastructure in and around Monrovia. Many businessmen fled the country, taking capital and expertise with them. Some returned; many will not return. Richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture, Liberia had been a producer and exporter of basic products, while local manufacturing, mainly foreign owned, had been small in scope. The democratically elected government, installed in August 1997, inherited massive international debts and currently relies on revenues from its maritime registry and timber industry to provide the bulk of its foreign exchange earnings. The restoration of the infrastructure and the raising of incomes in this ravaged economy depend on the implementation of sound macro- and micro-economic policies of the new government, including the encouragement of foreign investment. Recent growth has been from a low base, and continued growth will require major policy successes and containment of armed rebellion.

The Liberian economy had relied heavily on the mining of iron ore prior to the civil war. Liberia was a major exporter of iron ore on the world market. In the 1970s and 1980s, iron mining accounted for more than half of Liberia's export earnings. Since the coup d'etat of 1980, the country's economic growth rate has slowed down because of a decline in the demand for iron ore on the world market and political upheavals in Liberia. Liberia's foreign debt amounts to more than $3 billion.

Timber and rubber are Liberia's main export items since the end of the war. Liberia earns more than $100 million and more than $70 million annually from timber and rubber exports, respectively. Alluvial diamond and gold mining activities also account for some economic activity.

Being the second-largest maritime licenser in the world with more than 1,700 vessels registered under its flag, including 35% of the world's tanker fleet, Liberia earned more than $18 million from its maritime program in 2000. The Liberian Government has declared in recent months that it has discovered sizable amounts of crude oil along its Atlantic coast.

Liberia's business sector is largely controlled by foreigners mainly of Lebanese and Indian descent. There also are limited numbers of Chinese engaged in agriculture. The largest timber concession, Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), is Indonesian owned. There also are significant numbers of West Africans engaged in cross-border trade.

Liberia is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). With Guinea and Sierra Leone, it formed the Mano River Union (MRU) for development and the promotion of regional economic integration. The MRU became all but defunct because of the Liberian civil war which spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Liberia has relied heavily on vast amounts of foreign assistance, particularly from the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, China, and Romania. But because of the corrupt nature of the Liberian Government and its disregard for human rights, foreign assistance to Liberia has declined drastically. Taiwan and Libya are currently the largest donors of direct financial aid to the Liberian Government. However, significant amounts of aid continue to come in from Western countries through international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations, avoiding direct aid to the government.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Liberia in May 2001 for its support to the brutal rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Liberia, with a population of approximately 3.1 million (UNDP estimate), was a very poor country with a market-based economy that has yet to recover from the ravages of the civil war. Few statistics were available, but real growth probably was negative. Average per capita income was estimated at less than $170. An estimated 80 percent of the population lives on less than $1 per day. The country had an unemployment rate of at least 70 percent and only a 30 percent literacy rate. The internal displacement of civilians in Lofa, Bong, and Nimba Counties and the absence of infrastructure throughout the country continued to depress the economy, despite the country's rich natural resources and potential self-sufficiency in food. Government officials continued to exploit the country's natural resources for personal profit. Extortion was widespread in all levels of society.



Liberia has provided data neither for United Nations nor INTERPOL surveys of crime; however, an estimate of crime is given in the United States State Department's Consular Information Sheet according to which Monrovia's crime rate is high. Theft and assault are major problems, and they occur more frequently after dark. Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been targets of street crime and robbery. Residential armed break-ins are common. The police are ill equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection.



The regular security forces include: The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); the Liberia National Police (LNP), which has primary responsibility for internal security; the Antiterrorist Unit (ATU), composed of an elite special forces group consisting predominately of foreign nationals from Burkina Faso and The Gambia, as well as former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) combatants from Sierra Leone; and the Special Security Service (SSS), a large, heavily armed executive protective force. The ATU absorbed Taylor's most experienced civil war fighters, including undisciplined and untrained loyalists. There also were numerous irregular security services attached to certain key ministries and parastatal corporations, the responsibilities of which appeared to be defined poorly. National Police Director Paul Mulbah headed the police force; however, former National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) officials within the police service wielded considerable power. The national army, which fought against Taylor's faction during the civil war, has yet to be downsized and restructured as required by the 1996 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-brokered Abuja Peace Accords. Several thousand troops deployed in northern counties were fighting armed dissidents; however, there were few troops deployed to maintain security in other rural areas of the country. Fighting between the security forces and the LURD rebels intensified and spread towards Monrovia during the first half of the year; however, government forces regained lost territory by the year's end. The Government offered a general amnesty to LURD fighters that several dozen accepted. Security forces frequently acted independently of government authority, particularly in rural areas. Members of the security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.

In regards to arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life Liberia's security forces continued to commit extrajudicial killings. Human rights organizations estimated that such killings increased during the year as hundreds of civilians died in the fighting which occurred in Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties. Fighting between government forces and LURD insurgents spread from the border areas towards Monrovia during the first half of the year and culminated in several pitched battles for key towns; however, by October the Government reoccupied most of the country's territory. No perpetrators were arrested or convicted for any killings connected to the conflict.

Security forces were responsible for numerous disappearances. For example, in May security forces allegedly abducted several ethnic Mandingos during a LURD rebel attack near Monrovia. The Mandingos remained missing at year's end.

In regards to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, the Constitution prohibits such practices; however, government police and security forces frequently tortured, beat, and otherwise abused and humiliated citizens. Detainees continued to charge that they were tortured while in detention, especially at a security-training base in Gbatala. Victims and witnesses reported beatings, torture, killings, and sexual abuse at the base. Despite calls by human rights organizations for the closure of the base, the base remained opened at year's end. The Government also resisted efforts by human rights monitors to visit the detention facilities at Gbatala. The use of torture reportedly was widespread in interrogating LURD captives in conflict zones.

The Constitution provides for the right of privacy and the sanctity of the home; however, authorities regularly infringed on these rights. The Constitution provides that the police must obtain a warrant, or have a reasonable belief that a crime is in progress, or is about to be committed, before entering a private dwelling. In practice police and paramilitary officers frequently entered private homes and churches without warrants to carry out arrests and investigations. Police also raided the offices of newspapers and NGOs during the year, including The Analyst newspaper and the human rights group Liberia Prison Watch.



The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily. In September Justice Minister Koboi Johnson reported 141 persons unlawfully detained in prisons. Persons were abused and sometimes tortured while in detention.

The Constitution provides for the rights of the accused, including warrants for arrests and the right of detainees either to be charged or released within 48 hours. Although the Government generally adhered to these standards, warrants were not always based on sufficient evidence, and detainees, especially those without the means to hire a lawyer, often were held for more than 48 hours without charge. The Constitution provides for the right of a person who is charged to receive an expeditious trial; however, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. In some cases, the length of the pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the length of sentence for the crime.

Security forces at times refused to produce suspects being held in detention without charge even after the courts issued writs of habeas corpus on the application of human rights organizations. Their disappearances often were the result of prolonged illegal detention at the Gbatala base. In some cases, persons were detained secretly at unofficial detention centers, including one at the Executive Mansion. In April as a result of the efforts of the NGO National Human Rights Center to file writs of habeas corpus on their behalf, the Government released 24 persons--some were detained as long as 4 years without charge.

In April 2002, police released 24 detainees who had been held without charge since February, when they were arrested during security sweeps against suspected "dissident collaborators."

On June 24, security officials detained and held incommunicado Hassan Bility, the editor-in-chief of The Analyst, Abubakar Kamara, Mohamed Kamara, and Asumana Kamara reportedly on suspicion of links to LURD rebels. Although a civil court judge approved a writ of habeas corpus for the four individuals, it was refused by the Government and overturned by a higher court. The Government alleged that the four detainees were not civil prisoners entitled to constitutional rights, but rather "illegal combatants." The Military Court Martial Board filed a second writ of habeas corpus, requesting that Bility and the others appear before a military court by August 7; however, the Ministry of National Defense declared the writ void, arguing that it had been filed "improperly." Bility routinely was beaten in prison, sometimes severely, and often held in poor locations, including confinement for several weeks in an underground pit. He was denied access to lawyers, family, and other outside visitors. The other detainees were held at an undisclosed location without access to lawyers, family, or the Red Cross. Family members, who often bribed prison officers to communicate with the detainees, alleged the detainees were abused badly by their captors. On December 7, Bility was released and left the country.

On July 25, Sheikh K.M. Sackor also was detained as an "illegal combatant." A writ of habeas corpus in favor of Sheikh Sackor was refused on the same grounds, citing the Bility case as precedent. Sackor remained incarcerated and denied all outside contact at year's end. By year's end, an unknown number of persons were detained during the state of emergency as "illegal combatants," frequently without access to lawyers or international humanitarian organizations, and denied habeas corpus.

In July and August, in connection with the Bility case, ATU forces seized and arrested alleged LURD conspirators, most of them ethnic Mandingos; they remained detained at unknown locations at year's end. Many ethnic Mangingos subsequently fled to neighboring countries, primarily Guinea.

On September 14, Manasuah Kollison, a law student at UL, was arrested and detained at National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters without charge. The NBI did not respond to a writ of habeas corpus filed on his behalf. The whereabouts of Kollison was unknown at year's end.

Security forces arrested and detained a number of journalists, NGO members, and human rights activists during the year.

Government security forces and the LURD detained, tortured, and killed hundreds of civilians during the year.

The police only have limited logistics and forensic capabilities and cannot adequately investigate many crimes, including murder cases. When the courts released known criminals for lack of evidence, police officers often arrested them again on false charges.

On March 19, the Government released senior Ministry of Defense intelligence officer Colonel Aloysius Zayzay, who had been arrested in 2000 on treason charges. Auditor General Raleigh Seekie, also arrested in 2000 on treason charges, was released in December 2001.

The Government did not use forced exile; however, as a result of frequent harassment and threats by the security forces, a number of student activists, opposition figures, and human rights activists fled the country due to fear for their personal safety or that of their families. For example, Minister of Transportation Francis Carboh resigned his post from overseas and stayed in self-imposed exile. In August Mohamed Konneh, President of the Muslim Students Association at UL, feared for his life and fled to another country in the region. Journalist Hassan Bility left the country. Former Deputy Minister of Information and Presidential Media Advisor J. Milton Teahjay; leader of the UL Student Union Alphonse Nimene; prominent NGO Director Conmany Wesseh; former president of the interim national government in the 1990s Amos Sawyer; human rights activist James Torh; and Muslim organization leader Lartin Konneh all remained outside the country at year's end.

The existence of the state of emergency deterred many opposition figures who resided abroad from returning to the country. In May Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, runner-up in the 1997 presidential polls, spent several days in Monrovia. Although invited back in August for the government-sponsored Reconciliation Conference, she and other overseas citizens declined to attend, citing personal safety concerns.



Liberia has a dual system of statutory law. The law is based partly on on Anglo-American common law and partly customary law based on unwritten tribal practices. Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges were subjected to political, social, familial, and financial pressures, and the judiciary was corrupt. Some judges and magistrates were not lawyers. The judiciary has determined that it was not feasible to retire all judicial personnel who were not legally trained but intended to replace those currently sitting with lawyers as they retire. By statute members of the bar must be graduates of a law school and pass the bar examination. The executive branch continued to exert strong influence on the judiciary. For example, the Government's assertion that persons identified as "illegal combatants" have no recourse to the civil courts appeared to have no basis in law; however, writs of habeas corpus for Bility and Sackor were refused on such grounds.

The judiciary is divided into four levels, with the Supreme Court at the apex. All levels of the court system in Monrovia, including the Supreme Court, functioned sporadically. The Government's efforts to revitalize the court system outside of Monrovia continued to be hindered by a lack of trained personnel, a lack of infrastructure, and inadequate funding. Although judges were assigned throughout the country, in some cases they were unable to hold court due to lack of supplies and equipment. Traditional forms of justice administered by clan chieftains remained prevalent in some localities.

Under the Constitution, defendants have due process rights; however, in practice these rights were not always observed. Defendants have the right to a public trial and timely consultation with an attorney; however, there was no effective system to provide public defenders, especially in rural areas. Some NGOs provided legal services to indigents and others who have no representation.

Courts regularly received bribes or other illegal gifts out of damages that they awarded in civil cases. Defense attorneys often suggested that their clients pay a gratuity to appease judges, prosecutors, and police officers to secure favorable rulings. In 2000 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stated publicly that delays in salary payments to judicial personnel contributed to corruption in the judiciary.

There continued to be long delays in deciding cases involving juveniles.

On March 12 2002, President Taylor granted executive clemency to 24 ethnic Krahn political prisoners, including Armah Youlou, Professor Charles Breeze, Brigadier Joseph Jarlee, and Major Alphonso Dubar, who were released on the same day. The group included civilian prisoners convicted of treason and military officers convicted of sedition. All were detained following the 1998 fighting in Monrovia.



In year 2002, prison conditions remain harsh and in some cases life threatening. There were credible reports of unofficial detention facilities, including one at the Executive Mansion, in which detainees were held without charge and in some cases tortured. The Government did not provide detainees or prisoners with adequate food or medical care. The National Human Rights Center reported on the "de-humanizing and deplorable conditions" detainees experienced at the Central Police Station. The Center reported that detainees sometimes were fed only a spoonful of rice per day and that police permitted prisoners to torture, humiliate, and flog detainees. Cells at Monrovia Central Prison were overcrowded, mostly with detainees awaiting trial. Only approximately 10 percent of the total prison population was convicted of criminal offenses. Similar conditions existed in the Barclay Training Center military stockade. In some counties, the structure that serves as a jail is a container with bars at one end. There also were reports that local officials forced prisoners to work for them.

Women, who constituted approximately 5 percent of the prison population, were held in separate cells. Their conditions were comparable to those of the male prisoners and detainees. There were no separate facilities for juvenile offenders. Women and particularly juveniles were subject to abuse by guards or other inmates. Convicted prisoners and detainees awaiting trial were not held in separate facilities.

In September 2002, Minister of Justice Leveli Korbo Johnson identified 141 persons held in prisons, many for offenses that did not merit incarceration, and ordered them released. In a number of cases, human rights groups and interested persons obtained the release of detainees and prisoners; however, for the most part, these cases tended to be nonpolitical in nature.

The Government generally permitted the independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, the media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Although visits to unofficial detention centers often were denied, in June 2001, the Government allowed members of the U.N. Security Council Expert Panel on Liberia to visit Gbatala base, where victims have been detained and tortured. The Panel did not include any findings from Gbatala in its report. The ICRC often was allowed to visit persons held in prison facilities and police detention centers without third parties present and to make regular repeat visits; however, despite repeated requests the ICRC was not granted access to Gbatala Camp.



Domestic violence against women was widespread; however, it was not addressed seriously as a problem by the Government, the courts, or the media. Several NGOs in Monrovia and Buchanan continued programs to treat abused women and girls and increase awareness of their rights.

FGM traditionally was performed on young girls in northern, western, and central ethnic groups, particularly in rural areas. Prior to the onset of the civil war in 1989, approximately 50 percent of women in rural areas between the ages of 8 and 18 were subjected to FGM. A local organization, Human Rights Watch Women and Children, launched a campaign in 2001 to eradicate FGM, but no results were reported. The Association of Female Lawyers in Liberia (AFELL) also spoke out against FGM.

Social structures and traditional institutions, such as the secret societies that often performed FGM as an initiation rite, were undermined by the war. While many experts believed that the incidence of FGM dropped to as low as 10 percent by the end of the war, traditional societies were reestablishing themselves throughout the country, and the practice of FGM continued. The most extreme form of FGM, infibulation, was not practiced. The Government took no action against FGM during the year.

The status of women varied by region, ethnic group, and religion. Before the outbreak of the civil war, women held one-fourth of the professional and technical jobs in Monrovia. On the whole, women have not recovered from the setbacks caused by the civil war, when most schools were closed, and they were prevented from carrying out their traditional roles in the production, allocation, and sale of food.

Women married under civil law can inherit land and property; however, women married under traditional laws were considered the properties of their husbands and were not entitled to inherit from their husbands or retain custody of their children if their husbands die. The Government prohibits polygyny; however, traditional laws permit men to have more than one wife. Women's organizations, especially AFELL, continued to press for legislation on behalf of inheritance rights in traditional marriages. There continued to be few programs to help former combatants reintegrate into society, and there were none specifically to benefit former female combatants; however, several women's organizations advanced family welfare issues, helped promote political reconciliation, and assisted in rehabilitating both former female combatants and women who were victims of the civil war. The Liberian chapter of the Mano River Women's Peace Network visited neighboring countries during the year to promote regional peace and stability.

During the year, professional women's groups--including lawyers, market women, and businesswomen--remained vocal about their concerns regarding government corruption, the economy, security abuses, rape, domestic violence, and children's rights. Government officials often responded negatively to public criticism. Outspoken critics such as JPC chief Morris were harassed. In 2001 the Government created the Ministry for Gender and Development, whose mandate included the promotion of the wellbeing of women and girls.



The Government generally was unable to provide for the education and health of children; however, it intensified the nationwide anti-polio vaccination campaign during the year. Due to the poor condition of government schools, many children, who attended school particularly in Monrovia, went to private institutions. Since many private schools still needed to be refurbished due to wartime damage, school fees remained relatively high, thereby making education unattainable for many school-age children. In both public and private schools, families of children often were asked to provide their own books, pencils, paper, and even desks. In 2001 1.05 million out of an estimated 1.7 million school-age children, less than half of whom were girls, were enrolled in primary and secondary schools. Expenditures on education were estimated at $2.4 million. In 1995 the literacy rate was 53.9 percent for boys and 22.4 percent for girls.

Young persons were victimized during the civil war of the mid-1990s. An estimated 50,000 children were killed; many more were injured, orphaned, or abandoned. Approximately 100 underfunded orphanages operated in and around Monrovia; however, many orphans lived outside these institutions. The National Military Families Association of Liberia (NAMFA) tried to provide for orphaned military children; it registered hundreds of street children. These institutions did not receive any government funding, but relied on private donations. Nearly all youths witnessed terrible atrocities, and some committed atrocities themselves. Approximately 21 percent (4,306) of the combatants who were disarmed under the provisions of the Abuja Peace Accords were child soldiers under the age of 17. Many youths remained traumatized, and some still were addicted to drugs. The number of street children in Monrovia and the number of abandoned infants increased significantly following disarmament. Although pressured by the Government to cease their programs, international NGOs and UNICEF continued retraining and rehabilitation programs for a limited number of former child fighters. These children were vulnerable to being recruited in subregional conflicts, since most had no other means of support.

The various armed militias continued to recruit forcibly underage soldiers. During the LURD offensive in May, government troops forcefully conscripted several dozen young men from the streets of Monrovia, took them to military camps where they were armed, and sent them to the battle zone. Secondary school boys were targeted for such operations in the Red Light and Duala neighborhoods of the capital. Families in rural areas claimed that their missing sons also returned after several months and reported that they had been seized and forced to fight LURD rebels. There were credible reports that the LURD engaged in similar forced recruitment tactics.

FGM was performed primarily on young girls.



The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were reports that persons were trafficked within the country. There were reports of forced labor, including by children, and the recruitment of child soldiers.



Internet research assisted by Janine D. Mendelssohn

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