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Liberia: Police Used Excessive Force and Fired Weapons on Unarmed Persons, Says Carter Center

The Carter Center’s election observation mission finds that Liberia’s Nov. 8 presidential run-off election was conducted in general accordance with Liberia’s legal framework and its international obligations for democratic elections. Regrettably, the election was marred by an opposition boycott, violence on the eve of the election, and low voter turnout.

From a technical perspective, the election was well-administered and on the whole polling staff carried out their duties admirably at polling stations throughout the country. The process was conducted transparently, with domestic and international observers having access to all stages of the electoral process.

These positive aspects build upon the National Election Commission’s (NEC) performance in the first round and auger well for Liberia’s technical capacity to conduct credible and transparent elections in the future.

However, the events of the past week show that important challenges to Liberia’s democratic consolidation remain. The opposition’s decision to boycott the run-off was based on their assertion that the overall election process was significantly flawed. These claims remain unsubstantiated.

In addition, the Liberian National Police’s (LNP) use of deadly force in an action against the headquarters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) on Nov. 7, together with the closure of three media outlets, eroded confidence and contributed to an atmosphere of fear, particularly in Monrovia. These events suggest a significant failure of the political process to resolve electoral disputes peacefully within the framework of the law.

To address these challenges, the Center suggests a number of urgent steps:

(1) We welcome President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s statement that there should be an investigation into the events of Nov. 7.

This investigation should be carried out in a timely manner by an independent body to ensure a credible and transparent inquiry with full accountability.

(2) All parties should respect the official election results, pending the resolution of any legal challenges. (3) Liberian political leaders should redouble their efforts for a genuine and inclusive political dialogue leading to national reconciliation and governance reform.

The main findings of the Center’s mission include::

The first round of the presidential election held on Oct. 11 was found by international and domestic observation groups to be credible, transparent, and without evidence of significant irregularities or systematic fraud.

Since none of the 16 candidates received 50 percent plus one of the votes, the top two candidates, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of the Unity Party (UP) and Winston Tubman of the CDC automatically qualified for the run-off election held on Nov. 8;

In spite of the quality of the first round, the CDC decided to boycott the run-off election. While voting is a right, rather than an obligation, and a party is free to encourage its supporters not to participate, there is no legal provision in Liberia for withdrawing in between the first and second round of the election. The CDC’s decision to boycott essentially denied the Liberian people a genuine choice within a competitive electoral process;

The legal provisions regarding the date of the run-off are not harmonized with the period in which results from the first round may be challenged and adjudicated.

In practice, the NEC failed to issue decisions on several first round presidential complaints prior to the holding of the run-off

The CDC’s march on Nov. 7 violated provisions of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties that prohibit parties from undertaking election-related activities within 24 hours of the polls and was without proper authorization.

While the march began peacefully, it rapidly degenerated into a confrontation between CDC supporters and the LNP that included CDC supporters throwing stones, police firing tear gas, and later, an action by the LNP against the CDC headquarters.

Eyewitness accounts and video strongly suggest that the LNP used excessive force and fired weapons on unarmed persons, resulting in several deaths. Peacekeeping forces deployed by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) played a critical role in restraining the LNP and restoring order;

Events at the CDC headquarters were followed by the detention of more than 80 alleged CDC supporters, the closure of three media outlets, and the drawing up of a list of individuals whose travel outside the country has been banned. On Nov. 9, all detainees were released;

The atmosphere on election day was subdued in Monrovia but largely calm throughout the rest of the country.

Although voter turnout appeared to be significantly lower than in the first round, many Liberians, including some CDC supporters, were determined to participate and they are to be commended for their commitment to the democratic process;

Carter Center observers reported that almost all polling stations throughout Liberia’s 15 counties opened on time and that voting and counting were generally well-administered and transparent.

Domestic observers were present in 52 percent of polling places observed. In the absence of CDC’s party agents, the Liberian domestic observers provided an especially important safeguard for the integrity of the process;

The Center finds that Liberia’s run-off election was conducted in general accordance with the country’s legal framework and international obligations, which provide for genuine democratic elections.

While the run-off was undermined by the CDC boycott, the eruption of electoral violence, and low voter turnout, it allowed Liberians who wished to participate to express their will in a transparent and credible process.

The Carter Center expresses its regret at the loss of life during this electoral period.



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