Spotlight on Liberia: human rights progress and challenges

As the first global initiative to track the human rights performances of countries, the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) produces scores for both civil and political rights and economic and social rights for Liberia. All the scores are available on our Rights Tracker.

HRMI uses an expert survey methodology to collect data on civil and political rights. To calculate economic and social rights scores, HRMI uses the award-winning SERF index. You can read further about our research credentials and our methodology.

Liberia’s conflicted attitude towards a free press

In the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s initial report of Liberia in 2018, the Committee noted that 2017 marked Liberia’s first peaceful and independent transition of power from the administration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to President George Manneh Weah since the second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003.

Fulfilling his election promise to respect the right to freedom of the press, President Weah has helped repeal harsh anti-media laws while promoting legislation that aims to foster a freer media environment.

However, Reporters Without Borders highlighted a ‘surge in attacks on critical journalists and media’ as a main concern threatening the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Liberia in 2019. Additionally, in May of 2019, the Liberian minister of state for presidential affairs, Nathaniel McGill targeted the radio station Roots 102.7 FM and the station’s hosts, Henry Costa and Fidel Saydee, slapping the station with a $500,000 defamation law suit. The Committee to Protect Journalists commented that « civil defamation lawsuits involving massive claims for damages remain a major challenge to press freedom in Liberia. »

What do HRMI’s data show?

Below is an overview of HRMI’s human rights report for Liberia, as seen on our Rights Tracker:

Human rights scores for Liberia from the HRMI Rights Tracker

Liberia scored  7.9/10 for empowerment rights, 7.5/10 for safety from the state, and 69.8% for quality of life rights.

HRMI’s scores show that Liberia has room for improvement in all three human rights areas.

Civil and Political Rights

To produce the civil and political rights scores, HRMI gathers information using an expert opinion survey designed to collect an unvarnished appraisal of human rights practices in the countries sampled. Our team then uses advanced statistical techniques to combine responses, producing scores that are comparable across countries. The scores highlighted in this article are based on respondents’ answers about the year 2018.

You can read further about our research credentials and our methodology

Empowerment Rights

Liberia’s combined empowerment score is the highest of all the countries sampled.

However, Liberia’s combined empowerment score of 7.9 still suggests that while many people are enjoying their empowerment rights, a significant number are not.

The individual scores for freedom of speech, assembly and association, and the right to participate in government are shown in the graph below:

Empowerment rights scores for Liberia from the HRMI Rights Tracker

Right to assembly and association

Liberia scored 8.1/10 for the right to freedom of assembly and association. This is the highest score for the right to freedom of assembly and association among countries sampled. For context, New Zealand received the next highest score of 7.7/10 for the right to freedom of assembly and association.

We asked our expert survey respondents which groups of people they thought were at risk of having each right violated.

The following word cloud represents their answers for the right to assembly and association.

Note: The larger the text, the greater the number of human rights experts who identified that group as at risk.

Word cloud showing groups of people identified by human rights experts as being at risk of having their right to assembly and association violated in Liberia, from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

This word cloud shows that 36% of our human rights experts identified LGBTQIA+ people as being at risk of having their right to assembly and association violated.

The next four groups most commonly identified by our experts as at risk of having their right to assembly and association violated are:

  • Human rights advocates (29% of our respondents)
  • Journalists (29%)
  • People who protest or engage in non-violent political activity (29%)
  • People with particular political affiliations and beliefs (29%)

As reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the right to assembly and association was directly threatened in June of 2019, when social media services were suspended during protests in Monrovia, Liberia. We will release our annual update of all civil and political rights scores in May 2020, to include the events of 2019.

Right to opinion and expression

Liberia scored 6.8/10 on the right to opinion and expression.

Our experts identified the following people as at risk of having their right to opinion and expression violated:

Word cloud showing groups of people identified by human rights experts as being at risk of having their right to opinion and expression violated in Liberia, from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

Experts showed concern for journalists’ rights, with 79% of them identifying journalists as being at risk of having their right to opinion and expression violated.

This figure in particular raises serious concern about the ability of citizens to freely disseminate and access information.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Liberia 93rd in the world out of 180 nations in its World Press Freedom Index, citing a ‘surge in attacks on critical journalists and media.’ The report highlighted attacks on the staff of the newspaper, Frontpage Africa, in 2018.

The next four groups most commonly identified by our experts as at risk of having their right to opinion and expression violated are:

  • Human rights advocates (50% of our respondents selected this group)
  • People with particular affiliations and beliefs (36%)
  • LGBTQIA+ people (29%)
  • People who protest or engage in non-violent political activity (21%)

In the future, the Liberian government should work to better uphold the right to opinion and expression, especially for these commonly cited groups.

Right to participate in government

Liberia scores 7.7/10 for the right to participate in government- the highest score among countries sampled. Australia received the next highest score of 7.6/10 for the right to participate in government.

Word cloud showing groups of people identified by human rights experts as being at risk of having their right to participate in government violated in Liberia, from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

This word cloud shows that 29% of our experts identified LGBTQIA+ people as being at risk of having this right violated. Similarly, 29% of our experts identified people with particular political affiliations or beliefs as at risk.

The next four groups most commonly identified by our experts as at risk of having their right to participate in government violated are as follows:

  • People who protest or engage in non-violent political activity (21% of respondents selected this group)
  • Detainee or those accused of crimes (14%)
  • Human rights advocates (14%)
  • Journalists (14%)

Safety from the state

Liberia’s safety from the state score of 7.5/10 suggests that a significant number of people are not safe from one or more of the following: arbitrary arrest, torture disappearance, execution or extrajudicial killing.

The individual scores are as follows:

Safety from the state rights scores for Liberia, on HRMI’s Rights Tracker

These scores suggest a need for improvement in respect for all four of these rights.

Freedom from torture scored particularly poorly, at 5.8/10. However, Liberia still scores highly in comparison to the other countries surveyed in respect to this right. Specifically among countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia received the highest freedom from torture score.

Right to freedom from torture scores for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa on HRMI’s Rights Tracker

These are the people identified as being at risk of torture:

Word cloud showing groups of people identified by human rights experts as being at risk of having their right to freedom from torture violated in Liberia, from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

Detainees or those accused of crimes and journalists were identified by 50% of human rights experts as at risk of being tortured.

Further, 44% of our experts identified human rights advocates as at risk of being torture while 39% identified LGBTQIA+ people as being at risk.

Liberia has improved in its respect of physical integrity rights

The graph below shows an 0.9/10 increase in the country’s safety from the state score from 2017 to 2018.

Graph showing Liberia’s safety from the state score increasing between 2017 and 2018, on HRMI’s Rights Tracker

While there is significant room for improvement in respect of these rights, Liberia has shown an increase in safety from the state rights from 2017 to 2018.

Quality of Life rights

Quality of life rights (economic and social rights) include the rights to food, health, education, housing, and work.

HRMI produces two quality of life scores for each country, each score measuring against a different benchmark.

The global best benchmark scores all countries against the same high standard.

By adjusting for a country’s income, HRMI also scores countries against the level they could be expected to be performing at, given their income level.

In the graph below, the income adjusted benchmark has been selected.

Economic and social rights scores for Liberia from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

Liberia’s quality of life summary score is 69.8%  when scored against the ‘income adjusted’ benchmark. This score takes into account Liberia’s resources and how well it is using them to make sure its people’s quality of life rights are fulfilled.

This score tells us that Liberia is only doing 69.8% of what should be possible right now with the resources it has. Since anything less than 100% indicates that a country is not meeting its current duty under international human rights law, our assessment is that aside from fulfilling the right to food, Liberia has some way to go in order to meet its immediate economic and social rights duty.

Liberia’s highest quality of life score is for the right to food, which at 100% says that Liberia is not only meeting its obligation to fulfil its people’s right to food, to the maximum of its available resources, but it is also setting the standard for other countries with similar wealth. Liberia is to be congratulated on this score.

Right to education

Liberia’s second lowest quality of life score is for the right to education, at 50%.

These are the people that our experts identified as at risk of having their right to education violated:

Word cloud showing groups of people identified by human rights experts as being at risk of having their right to education violated in Liberia, from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

54% of human rights experts identified people with disabilities as at risk of having their right to education violated.

The next most commonly identified groups by our experts as at risk of having their right to education violated are as follows:

  • People who are homeless (31%)
  • Children (23%)
  • Indigenous people (23%)
  • Older people (23%)
  • People with low social or economic status (23%)
  • People with specific medical conditions (23%)
  • Women and/or girls (23%)

Leaders in Liberia need to pay attention to these groups whose right to education is not currently being met.

Right to housing

The country’s lowest quality of life score is the right to housing, at 39.2%.

These are the people our experts identified as at risk of having their right to housing violated:

Word cloud showing groups of people identified by human rights experts as being at risk of having their right to housing violated in Liberia, from HRMI’s Right Tracker

62% of our experts identified people with disabilities as at risk of having their right to housing violated in Liberia.

The next most commonly identified groups by our experts as at risk of having their right to housing violated are as follows:

  • Older people (46% of our respondents chose this group)
  • People who are homeless (46%)
  • People with low social and economic status (38%)
  • Children (23%)
  • LGBTQIA+ people (23%)
  • People with less education (23%)
  • People with specific medical conditions (23%)
  • Women and/or girls (23%)

Moving forward, it is important that leaders in Liberia work to fulfill the right to housing for these most commonly identified groups.

Summary of Liberia’s human rights performance

Overall, our data show that Liberia has some way to go before its citizens are able to fully enjoy their civil and political rights.

There are several groups of people who were consistently identified by high numbers of our experts as being at risk of having these rights violated, including LGBTQIA+ people, journalists, human rights advocates, people with particular affiliations and beliefs, and detainees or those accused of crimes.

Our data also show that with the exception of the right to food, Liberia is not meeting its quality of life rights obligations under international law, and is performing particularly poorly in fulfilling the right to housing and education. People with disabilities were most often cited by our experts as being at risk of of having both these rights violated.

While Liberia has made some headway in respecting its citizen’s physical integrity rights, whether the country will improve in its respect of empowerment rights, particularly the right to opinion and expression, remains unclear. This follows from reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists of attacks against radio transmitters in early 2019 as well as disrupted internet and social media services during protests in June of 2019. We repeat our human rights research in February and March every year and will publish our updated 2020 scores in late May this year.

Compared to the other 19 countries in our 2019 sample, Liberia is performing better than average on empowerment rights and better than average on the right to be safe from the state.

On Quality of Life, Liberia is performing close to average, compared with the other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

You can see further country comparisons on our Rights Tracker.

Thanks for your interest in HRMI. To further explore our human rights data for Liberia, please visit our Rights Tracker, where you can find data by country or right.

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