Washington - Rampant police corruption is impeding Liberia's
development a decade after its 14-year civil war ended, and abuses should be
reined in as the United Nations scales back its presence in the West African
country, Human Rights Watch said.
Underpaid and inadequately supplied, Liberian police
officers demand bribes at every stage of an investigation, the human rights
group said on Thursday in a new report, "No Money, No Justice".
They extort money from taxi drivers and motorcyclists and
steal from street vendors, while criminal suspects routinely pay bribes to get
released, the report said.
The United Nations, citing a lack of professionalism and
resources in the police force, recommended in February that the government
allocate more resources to law enforcement to ensure that Liberia's security
sector gains the trust of its citizens and can operate independently once the
U.N. mission withdraws.
"Improving the criminal justice system, addressing
impunity for crimes and increasing access to justice and security services for
all Liberians remain particularly important for the consolidation of
peace," the UN Mission in Liberia said in its report to the Security
The UN peacekeepers went into Liberia in 2003 to stabilise
the country after years of civil war led to a collapse of the state. It was
carved up by warlords who used child soldiers to fight over control of diamond
and timber concessions.
After 10 years of peacekeeping efforts, the United Nations
is gradually drawing down its troops in Liberia from about 8 000 to 3 750 by
"Liberians have had all too many years of chaos and
violence. A professional police force is critical to uphold people's rights and
create a rights-respecting society," said Corinne Dufka, Human Rights
Watch's senior West Africa researcher.
'The major public enemy'
The group called on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's
government to establish a civilian oversight board, immediately investigate
resource shortages in the police force, improve the system for reporting police
abuse and strengthen the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, which struggles to
The report was based on interviews with 120 people and 35
police officers of all ranks. In one account, a resident of the capital,
Monrovia, said that the elite Police Support Unit came to his home, kicked him,
held his wife at gunpoint and stole money she had hidden in her bra.
When Johnson Sirleaf took office in 2006, she called
corruption "the major public enemy". Her administration has made some
progress in improving arrest procedures and addressing violence against women,
Human Rights Watch said.
But 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, it said.
In the report, the police expressed their own frustration
over inadequate supplies, low salaries and pressure to pay their superiors to
obtain desirable posts and promotions.
"They come crying to you and you don't even have a drop
of gas," the report quoted one officer as saying when describing the
difficulty of traveling to a crime scene. "We are not supposed to ask
someone for money, but because you don't have [gas], we ask the person for
money to go."
"These actions violate Liberians' rights under
international and national law and undermine public trust in the Liberia
National Police," Dufka said.