Liberia’s CSOs Seek ‘Open, Viable Civic Space’ Ahead of October 10 Elections

CONGO TOWN, MONROVIA: A group of civil society organizations has called on the government of Liberia to protect the fundamental rights of everyone within the bounds of Liberia and facilitate civic engagement and inclusive political participation.

The CSOs made the call in a resolution adopted at the end of a two-day conference aimed at creating a platform for prominent civil society actors and stakeholders involved in the upcoming elections to thoroughly examine the current state of the country’s civic space and its potential impact on their efforts to safeguard the credibility of the electoral process.

Civic space, as coined by the organizer, is the place, physical, virtual, and legal, where people exercise their rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly.

In the resolution, the CSOs acknowledged the increase in political participation, mainly the increase in women’s political participation, and the growing culture of civic engagement and participation among Liberians as evidenced by the increased number of civil society organizations, media outlets, and political parties in the country.

Despite the existence of laws and regulatory policies that support the free exercise of the right to free speech, access to information, and the right to associate and assemble peacefully, the application of some of these laws, such as the Liberian Code of Laws Revised Volume II, Title 5, Association Law, continue to undermine the free exercise of these rights and limit the space for civic participation and engagement in Liberia.

The CSOs said they “note with grave concern and alarm the rise in incidents of political violence in the country, the forceful disruption of peaceful protests by security forces and political party activists, and harassment of journalists and activists in the country. We see these as serious threats to the existence of a vibrant and sustainable civic space for the exercise of the rights of free speech, association, and assembly, and of the press; and the advancement of our democracy, generally.”

“We desire a more open and viable civic space that protects fundamental rights, facilitates civic engagement and inclusive political participation during and after the 2023 elections.”

They called on the Government of Liberia to reform the current regulatory regimes for non-governmental and civil society organizations, and remove the requirement for sectoral clearance for the accreditation of organizations by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning; encourage the government to fully implement the Local Government Act of 2018, and strengthen the county service centers to increase access to documentation services, such as identification and business registration services, in all counties;

In addition, the CSOs call on the government to improve public safety and ensure the security and protection of all citizens, especially civil society activists, and journalists during and after the elections; encourage political parties and candidates to denounce violence and run peaceful and violence-free campaigns in line with the commitments of the Farmington River Declaration of April 2023 and the Protocol between the National Elections Commission and Registered Political Parties to address Violence Against Women in Elections and Politics (VAWiE/P Protocol) of February 2022;

The group also called on political parties and candidates to respect the rights of women, people with disabilities, and minorities; and ensure that people from these marginalized groups are protected from abuses, attacks, and harassment during the exercise of their right to engage and participate in political processes; encourage the National Elections Commission to deepen engagement with civil society organizations and provide adequate civic and voter education across the country to engender informed participation from all sectors of the society— including women, people with disabilities and the minorities;

Furthered, they “demand speedy and robust investigation and prosecution of individuals who incite and participate in electoral and other forms of political violence, and individuals who harass and attack journalists and activists during and after the elections; and encourage state-owned and independent media to provide equal access to all political parties, candidates, and civil society organizations; and provide balanced coverage of the campaign activities of all political parties and candidates during the elections.”

The conference, held and to under the theme “Building Civil Society Organizations Resilience and Protecting the Civic Space Ahead of the 2023 Elections in Liberia,” was convened by Naymote, Partners for Democratic Development, and key CSOs including the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, CENTA and Accountability Lab.

The conference was supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH through the ECOWAS Peace and Security Architecture and Operations (EPSAO) project, which is co-financed by the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Speaking during the opening of the event, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Liberia, Peter Speyrer lauded the organizers of the conference and called on the government to reaffirm its commitment to fostering and deepening an environment for CSOs to operate freely in a democratic space ahead of the October polls.

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