Liberia: OHCHR, CSO Launch Platform to Observe Rights Abuses During COVID-19

Monrovia — In the wake of the Government of Liberia declared state of emergency, the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform (CSO Platform) with support from the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) has launched a technical working group to monitor the human rights perspective of COVID-19.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Liberia, like many countries grappling with the global pandemic, declared a state of emergency as part of proactive measures taken to contain the spread of the virus.

Under the 60-day state of emergency, the Government also declared a 21-day lockdown that mandated the public to be indoors by 3pm. The lockdown has since been extended by two weeks twice, with the latest extension easing the indoor time to 6pm.

However, the state of emergency has been marred by allegations of violence perpetrated against citizens by state securities enforcing the lockdown order.

This has prompted the CSO Platform, with support from OHCHR to launch the human rights monitoring platform to document and report on the violations of fundamental human rights including prolonged/arbitrary arrest and detention, torture or ill treatment in the context of arrest and detention, undue restriction on freedom of expression, assembly, reprisal and intimidation, and hate speech.

Adama K. Dempster, CSO Platform Secretary-General told reporters that the technical working group will conduct an independent assessment on the national level response in the management of the COVID-19 crisis from a human rights perspective across the country.

Other basic human rights issues to be monitored, Dempster added, include the decongestion of prison and detention facilities, the protection of healthcare workers and humanitarian personnel, monitoring food aid distribution and the administration of justice and accountability.

He added that the technical working group will use the human rights framework within the context of the management of COVID-19 pandemic through the medium of emergency powers and rights limitation, government obligations under regional and international human rights laws.

"On the basis of the human rights community intervention, the technical working group-COVID-19 is tasked to monitor, investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihood of citizens including the economic, social aspect before and during the state of emergency and after the state of emergency in Liberia," he said.

He revealed a monitoring template has been developed to guide all human rights officers in the field to report weekly and how to receive complaints from the public on human rights issues within communities.

Also speaking, Ebai Emetine, representing OHCHR Country Representative, Uchenna Emelonye, pointed out that Civil Society organizations are important partners that often reminds state on their obligation to respect and promote human rights.

Ms. Emetine indicated that in most countries, human rights and freedoms withstand the worst of measures such as the state of emergency and the government needs assistance to ensure these rights are respected during this period.

To ensure the government's compliance, the national human rights watchdog in Liberia will monitor, document, and report any human rights violations and acknowledge government's compliance to human rights obligation during the period, she revealed.

"Even during implementation of the stringent measures, the national and international law allow certain rights to be derogated during emergency subject to the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination," she said.

The OHCHR, she noted, has the responsibility to ensure that governments all over the world put human rights and freedoms at the center of every mechanism they adopt to curb the spread of COVID-19.

And since the establishment of OHCHR-Liberia Country office, it has been working with the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), the CSO Human Rights Platform and other partners carrying out its overall mandate of protecting and promoting human rights of persons in Liberia.

She expressed optimism that Liberia will win the battle against COVID-19 through the same spirit of oneness and solidarity exhibited during the successful fight against EBOLA in 2014-2016.

For his part, Rev. Francis S. Kollie, the CSO Platform Board Chairman said the use of force against people in the community will drive away community inclusion in the fight against COVID-19.

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