Barlely a month after the release of the Transparency International corruption barometer on Liberia highlighting entrenched corruption in Liberia, a new report released in Monrovia on Thursday, August 22, 2013, by Human Rights Watch reveals that the Liberian National Police is riddled with Corruption, lack of professionalism and accountability.
The report which was released during a press conference held at the Corina Hotel in Sinkor by the New York based group found that the ability of the police to enforce the law and investigate wrongs is severely compromised by lawlessness and abuse that police officers themselves inflicts on ordinary Liberians, especially those living on the margins.
The latest police corruption report comes barely a day after FrontPage Africa Managing Editor Rodney Sieh was sent to jail by the civil law court of Liberia after being found guilty of a libelous lawsuit filed against him by former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe.
Mr. Sieh's newspaper published several articles against the former Minster, accusing him of squandering millions of dollars intended to curb the army worm infestation in Bong and Lofa Counties, using excerpts from the nation's General Auditing Commission report and other sources at the Agriculture ministry.
Predators not Protectors
According to the report titled 'No Money, No Justice', Liberian Police often act as "predators not protectors" and that police officers use numerous methods to extort money from residents, including both routine demand for bribes and more open and brazen shakedown of poorer communities at night.
Said Human Rights Watch in the report: "Victims of police corruption reported that the police can extort money at every stage of an investigation, whether for a common crime or a government rights violation."
"Many told Human Rights Watch that because of routine demand to pay bribes, they would no longer report crimes to the Liberia National Police (LNP). Many people expressed a growing distrust of the police's capacity to protect the public. Victims of police corruption repeatedly told Human Rights Watch "justice is not for the poor, or no money, no justice."
Report based on research
The 64 page comprehensive report is based on research conducted by the HRW between September 2012 and June 2013, including field visits to Liberia from November 2012 to February 2013.
Research was conducted in four counties, including Montserrado, Lofa, Bong and Grand Gedeh. During the period of six weeks in Liberia, three Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews with over 220 individuals, including over 120 victims of alleged police corruption, 35 police officers, and numerous members of civil society organizations.
Small- small thing
The HRW report states that despite the LNP leadership's public condemnation of case registration fees at police stations, many police depots require complainants to pay a "registration fee" for desk officers to register a complainant or file a case.
"Crimes victims informed Human Rights Watch that the police had asked them to pay to register their cases or demand money before following them to crime scenes," states the right group in its report.
Continued the report: "Of the individuals Human Rights Watch spoke with, registration fees range from L$150.00 (US$2.00) to L$500.00 (US$6.75). The most common amount paid in 2012-2013 was about L$250.00 (US$3.30). While these amounts may seem inconsequential, in a country in which over 90% of the population live on less than US$2.00 a day, this is a significant sum. Even those who described the fees as "small, small," or a "small thing," often admitted that for the poor, these were large amounts that prohibited them from seeking needed police assistance.
According to 27 street vendors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, police harassment, extortion, arbitrary arrest and violence against them occur most in heavily populated market districts such as Red Light, Duala and Waterside among others. The sellers told HRW that the most common form of harassment was police raids where police officers drive one or two police pickup trucks into heavily populated market streets.
"When the street vendors see the police coming, they collect their goods and begin to run. The police chase after the sellers and seize whatever goods they can. Sometimes, the vendors try to negotiate with the police to get back their goods," the HRW report states.
Human Rights Watch further cited in its police findings that lack of accountability for corruption, especially at the highest police and government levels, remains a barrier to a more professionalized police.
The group noted that logistical support and salary were two leading concerns for all police officers with whom Human Rights Watch spoke. They maintained that poor salaries and insufficient fuel, vehicle, uniforms, stationary and other equipment contributed to low morale and highly encouraged corruption.
When Johnson Sirleaf took office in 2006, she called declared corruption "the major public enemy". Her administration has made some progress in improving arrest procedures and addressing violence against women, Human Rights Watch observed.
The watch group said corruption and abuses persist, denying ordinary Liberians access to justice and money to support their families and frustrating the attempts of people trying to rebuild their lives after the war that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced another million.
Human Rights Watch among other recommendations called on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to act on her pledge to establish an independent Civilian Oversight Board for the Liberia National Police that would accept complaints from the public on acts of police misconduct.
HRW also called on the Government of Liberia to publically support the investigations and prosecutions by the Ministry of Justice and the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission of the high level corruption at LNP.
Far from reality
But in a sharp reaction hours after the release of the report, the Liberia National Police termed the rights group report as being "far from current realities."
Speaking at the Ministry of information's regular press briefing in Monrovia, Deputy Police Director for Operations Abraham Kromah asserted that: "the report does not reflect current realities; this is a depiction of the 2000-2001 view of the police counter post into 2013. We had a meeting with the author of this report yesterday. For the first time we were able to meet with them and discuss the report that were already published. If you read this report, you will find that all of the pictures are from 2006 and 2007."
Kromah said the LNP has graduated from previous approaches in the 2000 and 2003 to a 2012-2013 approach. He said there was not a painstaking approach towards reaching out to authoritative figures of the Liberia National Police. "
Continued Kromah: "The documents we brought in here have been sent to the Police Professional Standard Division. Police misconduct, problems in fact has been corrected... dismissal, suspension and this is the opportunity that the author of this report missed. They were reaching to put up a depiction that will reflect the headline that they put on this document:" "No money no justice."
With Liberia persistently coming under the spotlight about rampant corruption, many Liberians like Senate Pro-Tempore Gbenzongar Findley have expressed grave concern over the issue.
Senator Findley told a news conference on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 that the Liberian Senate was gravely concerned about reports of corruption in government and even went further to call for the prosecution of officials accused and indicted in corruption charges.
He said the issue of corruption remains a "major problem" in every sector of the Liberian society, but the total eradication of corruption is not attainable in any nation adding: "corruption is not unique to Liberia alone."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, HRW give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes.
The group's rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For more than 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.