This is published later than I intended, but it took a while to figure out what it was exactly I wanted to write about for today’s Human Rights post. For today I chose to focus on Liberia, and not just because Africa has so a wide array of information readily available dealing with issues from violence against women, child soldiers, and so forth. I was thinking of how college courses are over for this semester, and how I may actually have time to read over Winter break until January. That led to me thinking of Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee and how it had been years since I last read it (and finished it within a couple of hours too!).
Liberia lies on the coast of Africa right between Sierra Leone, Cote d’Iviore, as well as sharing borders with Guinea. Similar to numerous other African countries, Liberia suffered through a civil war from 1989 up until 2003. One of the ending results of this civil war has been that of the rise in power of the LNP (Liberia National Police) which numbers at more than 4,000 officers. That may not seem like much in numbers when you think of a police force, yet these officers are, in fact, the ones creating & adding to the “lawlessness” and abuses carried out on the Liberian people (particularly those living in poverty).
These officers have been reported to hustle money from the street (usually from taxis, vendors, or motorcyclists) by using either threats or violence. Why exactly? Is it another racial issue? Remaining tensions from the war? According to the officers stated that they aren’t paid enough for the long hours of work they put in (according to HRW report equals about $135 USD/ month). They are unable to support their families, thus they must resort to such bribery and “lawlessness” in order to make ends meet. On top of this, the commanding officers themselves demand money from the lower ranked officers if they want to keep their promoted positions. These same commanding officers eventually cease trying to suspend any of the officers once they commit a crime due to it being unlikely that that officer will be replaced.
Though the LNP has come a long way from it once was years ago, it is still a corrupt system that targets the poor and make it even harder to care for their families. In Liberia, committing a crime is not about being guilty or not guilty, it’s about being rich or poor.
It’s obvious that Liberia’s security sector & police force needs a lot more work and a long ways to go before it turns into the the protection it’s supposed to be. Including, strengthening their “anti-corruption” institutions, as well as possibly holding the commanding officers responsible for not punishing said corrupt officers. Though I read how the officers are the guilty ones for being so corrupt as to hustle money from the poor and poor only, or take bribes from those who can afford to do so, I truly believe it is more than just bringing said police officers to justice. What needs to be done is to find a way to prevent these officers from carrying out such lawlessness. It’s obvious that it is more than the Liberian civilians who are suffering in my opinion. However, I am not saying that it is a justified means to rob and attack civilians in order to make ends meet.
In the end, the situation with the Liberian police is far more complex than I had thought was occurring. The police, whom are supposed to be protecting these people from criminals, are being forced to be those very criminals. There is no “true law” as you would want to call it.
Human Rights Watch Report, “No Money, No Justice.”