Monrovia — Actors in the justice and human rights sectors of Liberia have been brainstorming on issues of basic human rights under the support of the Offices of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)-Liberia in collaboration with the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) of Liberia and the Civil Society Platform of Liberia.
The participants were drawn from the judiciary, police, Independent National Commission on Human Rights, civil society organizations, the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary.
During a one day working session in Monrovia Tuesday, they discussed trial by ordeal, as well as treaties and obligations of the state to uphold human rights.
Atty. Urias Teh Pour, a lawyer of the Liberia Law Society, Land Rights and Regional Accountability Project, drilled the judicial and law enforcement actors on how international treaties, conventions and declarations regarding human rights should be upheld and respected in the country.
He says basic human rights have several elements including universality which requires every human irrespective of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion or and other status to be treated equally.
Atty. Pour says the foundation for human rights is respect for the rule of law and as such the participants of the working session, who are key actors and deal daily with issues relating to human rights, should use their various professions to ensure the protection of human rights of all.
"When you sign treaties and say I agree, do not come back to your country and start to violate what is written in the treaties", he added.
Pour, who is also the lead presenter of the workshop, discussed the core principles of human rights including nondiscrimination, universality, indivisibility, participation, accountability, transparency amongst others indicating that state actors must work to ensure that all these principles are respected at all times.
Discussions on harmful traditional practices including trail by ordeal otherwise known locally as 'sassaywood'.
The drew a great deal of interest with magistrates expressing their practical experiences on the traditional practice of forcing confession from accused persons versus the legal requirement forbidding forceful extraction of testimonies.
During the interactive session, one Magistrate said "one time we were forced to issue a writ against somebody in Rivergee County for some action but they said the person was a Country devil and we could not affect the arrest".
Other magistrates who had similar situation of having to see harmful traditional practices coming in conflict with the law also recalled how difficult it is to provide justice to all under such circumstances where the people tend to believe in traditional practices.
Atty. Pour told the participants that the Supreme Court of Liberia has held that trial by ordeal is illegal, citing numerous cases in which the high court has declared such practice as against the constitutional rights of people.
Another presenter, Madam Ricardia Dennis said disabled people suffer many forms of human rights abuses including lack of access to public facilities based on the layout of the pathway.
"People look at the ugly aspect of disabled people, that's our mind, we grasp the ugly first before we get to know the composition. People don't look at all the good things disable do but only their physical conditions," says Madam Dennis.
According to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability including rights of persons living with albinism, disable are people have the same rights as other humans, she said.
"All humans have the same rights, disable do not have specific rights. Convention has come in with the legal framework enforcing rights of people with disability," she said adding that people with disabilities suffer high level of abuses and that schools are not modeled in the form to accept people with disability.
Earlier, providing an overview of the working session, Roosevelt Jayjay, of the UN Commission for Human Rights says the program is intended to meet the goal of the UN Commission on Human Rights office, a newly established office in Liberia.
According to Jayjay, the office of the UN Commission on Human Rights is meant to replace the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) human right office, established to ensure the sustaining some of the gains made by UNMIL on issues of human rights.
He said the commission has been holding meetings with key actors including Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, public defenders and other judicial and human rights actors looking at the challenges facing human rights in the country.
"This is just the beginning of the engagement process, we have lots more to do on issues of human rights and we will be looking forward to cordial collaboration," he said.
The participants said the workshop served as a "guide" in the justice system of Liberia.
One of the participants from the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INCHR), Joan Mulbah promised to adhere to what she has learned.
"I think the workshop was necessary and what all that were learned here today will be fully implemented during our job at the INCHR, we will do all that we can to implement what we have learned here today," she said.
Francis Johnson, a representative of the disabled people community, said he was excited to attend the training.
"I am happy to be a part of this workshop, even though I am not disabled, but I am in the advocacy for people living with disability. I am happy that judges and lawyers are all here today to know some of these things that were learned here today, people living with disability are humans as well," he noted.
The working session was attended by a total of 55 participants including 7 Judicial Officers -Magistrates and Public Defenders -, 7 from the INHCR; seven Civil Society Organizations, seven from the Ministry of Justice, Seven (7) from the Police two (2) from the media, and four presenters.