Promoting Human Rights Reporting Through Liberia Network

Sam Zota Jr. is the coordinator of the Human Rights Reporting Network

In April 2009, as part of the Human Rights Reporting Network, jhr and a group of Liberian journalists initiated The Liberian Journalists for Human Rights and Good Governance (LJHRGG). One year later, the LJHRGG is entirely in the care of 300 Liberian journalists and affiliates. Sam Zota Jr., the LJHRGG coordinator explained to jhr that during the course of the first year of operation, journalists have visited the Guthrie Rubber Plantation, numerous schools across the country, and the Liberian-Guinea border subsequent to Guinea’s military take-over. During each visit, the members observe the conditions of each institution, establish interviews, and report on each situation – often leading to more exposure to human rights awareness.

Zota Jr. reported, “In November, the network provided financial support to five radio stations in Nimba County to gather together and share interviews with women to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). And, in December, the network supported journalists from four Monrovia newspapers who traveled to Gbarpolu to investigate development barriers, teenage pregnancy, and other pressing stories in the area. It has invited journalists from across Liberia to submit applications for financial support to cover human rights stories across the country.” Read the original article below

Liberian Journalists for Human Rights & Good Governance

by Sam Zota Jr.

Some members of the Liberian Journalists for Human Rights & Good Governance (LJHRGG)

The Liberian Journalists for Human Rights & Good Governance (LJHRGG) is a human rights reporting network that was launched almost a year ago in Liberia. Since April 2009, it has carried out several activities aimed at investigating and increasing reporting on governance, development and human rights, especially women and children’s rights issues in the country.

 

The network was initiated by Journalists for Human Rights (jhr), but is now run entirely by Liberian journalists. LJHRGG includes 300 journalists and affiliates. It provides a network for these members to discuss ideas and help each other with difficult or dangerous stories, and also gives financial grants to journalists to cover expenses, such as transportation or accommodation, that would prevent the journalist from covering an important story.

 

In its first project, 20 members of the network from Monrovia travelled to the Guthrie Rubber Plantations in Bomi & Grand Cape Mount Counties. UNMIL dubbed Guthrie to be one of the main security flashpoints in the country. In March 2009, rubber workers at one of the plantations had protested violently. Among other things, the group took note of working conditions, sanitation situation, health services and educational opportunities in the plantation for the workers, and followed up with authorities concerned. The members filed stories for newspapers and radio stations in Monrovia.

 

Following the Guthrie visitation, the network also toured public schools within the greater Monrovia areas, including the G. W. Gibson High School Capitol by-pass, Gray D. Allison United Nations Drive, Esther Beacon Election School in Sinkor, Paynesville Community School in Paynesville, Marvee Sonii School in Cara Town, New Georgia Public School in New Georgia Estate, Special Project High School in Stephen A. Tolbert Estate, among others. During the visit, members of the group were keen in observing the sanitary conditions of these facilities (access to safe drinking water, toilet for both male and female, environment, etc.), seating capacities, number of students per classroom, etc. It was observed at nearly all of these schools that students, especially from the elementary division, were seated on bare, filthy floors copying notes and writing exams.

 

Also, as part of the Network’s monthly activities, members proposed a visit to various detention centers with the intent of getting a clearer picture of the condition of Prison and detention centers in the Monrovia area. The proposed visit was also intended to expose any forms of violation or abuse, alert authorities to the situation at the prisons, which have frequently suffered jail breaks, and follow up on what is being put into place to help change the situation. This was never successful, as authorities (Justice Ministry and Police) refused to grant authorization despite all efforts exalted. It was following the clever refusal on the part of the Government that it publicly warned journalists and other individuals wanting to visit the Monrovia Central Prison and other government detention facilities in the country to bear responsibility for their own security at these centers. Deputy Minister of Justice for Administration and Public Safety, Eva Mappy-Morgan said the facilities are insecure and allowing people or groups of people to visit those areas would be risky to their lives, though there is presence of United Nations Peacekeepers and UN trained Liberia National Police Correction Officers at these facilities. The Deputy Justice Minister did not provide details about the gravity of insecurity at the various prison and detention centers in the country. She said the government would provide some basic guidance to people visiting those facilities, but their security remains with themselves.

 

The Deputy Minister’s latest statement came after the Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) and the Liberia National Police (LNP) had refused to grant authorization to the Liberian Journalists for Human Rights and Good Governance (JHRGG) to visit the MCP and holding cells at the BIN and other police stations in the greater Monrovia area. The Journalists in separate communications to the Justice Ministry, BIN and the Police asked for authorization to tour these facilities. The actions by the law enforcement institutions to deny journalists access and subsequent declaration of these facilities as risky was described by critics of the Unity Party-led administration as very worrisome to the country’s security.

 

Following the denial of the group by the government, members of the network decided to divert the fund for that prison visitation project to visit Ganta in Nimba County, specifically the Liberia-Guinea border, following the military take-over in that neighboring West African Country. The visit was intended to determine whether there were threats in any form to the peace and security of post-conflict Liberia, to gather the impact of the problem on cross-border trade and the lives of the residents of Nimba, especially the commercial city of Ganta. The team visited the border and had the opportunity to interview immigration, police, customs, and other security officers assigned at the border, marketers, petty traders, motorcyclists, elders, lawmakers, opinion leaders and other government officials in the county.

 

In November, the network provided financial support to five radio stations in Nimba County to gather together and share interviews with women to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). And, in December, the network supported journalists from four Monrovia newspapers who travelled to Gbarpolu to investigate development barriers, teenage pregnancy, and other pressing stories in the area. It has invited journalists from across Liberia to submit applications for financial support to cover human rights stories across the country.

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