Liberia election: 20 years of peace but business related conflict risks remain
26 October 2023
The 2023 Liberian election marks a crucial milestone in the country’s peacebuilding advancement. But multiple challenges still lie ahead. With many years of experience in the region, Swedwatch takes stock of key challenges in business and human rights that need to be addressed to sustain peace going forward.
Significant advancements in peacebuilding
The 10 October 2023 election ended in a tight race between the incumbent George Weah and former Vice President Joseph Boakai. The two candidates are now heading to a run-off, after what the EU Election Observation Mission Liberia deemed a “transparent and well-handled election day with a remarkable voter turnout, despite an atmosphere of mistrust towards institutions”.
The election is a symbolically and empirically important one. The country has made significant advancements in peacebuilding since the two subsequent civil wars (1989-2003) ended, including the disarmament of 100,000 combatants, the election of Africa’s first female president, and the 2018 peaceful power transfer between democratically elected presidents – the first one in 70 years. Moreover, the Accra Peace Agreement, signed at the end of the civil wars in 2003, commemorates 20 years this year. In the post-conflict period, Liberia never reverted into largescale conflict again, which by many accounts can be seen as success story in terms of peacebuilding.
Many challenges for sustaining peace remains
At the same time Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries where many challenges for sustaining peace remains, including corruption, weak state institutions, structural inequalities, localized land disputes and concession-related tensions. Additionally, the country is in an economic recession which adversely impacts most aspects of Liberians day-to-day life. The economic downturn follows multiple challenges in the post-conflict era, including the transition from war to peace, the horrors of an Ebola outbreak, and the covid-19 pandemic.
The role of business in the conflict has not been fully addressed
Another essential concern is that the role of business actors in the conflict has never fully been addressed. After visiting Liberia last year, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights (UNWG) underscored that the country has not had a full accountability process since the civil war, neither has it addressed the role of businesses and the battle for control of natural resources in fuelling conflict. Advancing responsible business conduct and promoting corporate accountability should, according to UNGW, be seen by the government and businesses as a precondition for inclusive development and sustainable peace going forward.
Main business-related human rights conflict risks according to Swedwatch
These observations by the UNWG are largely in line with Swedwatch’s analysis. Leaning on research conducted with local partners and various engagements in the country in the past years, Swedwatch outlines four important business and human rights aspects linked to conflict risks:
1. Unsustainable management of natural resources
As documented in Swedwatch’s research, several community-members report that land concessions to private companies, overexploitation of natural resources, and pollution from business activity harm their livelihoods and food security. Land-related disputes and social tension in concession areas are a source of concern for long-term peace. Business models that prioritize extraction over sustainability and inclusion of rights-holders, risk fuelling grievances that could destabilize peace.
2. Lack of inclusion of women in decision-making
International and national frameworks, like the UN Security Council Resolution on Women Peace and Security and Liberias’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for 2019-2023, outlines participation of women in peacebuilding and decision-making as key to fostering peace. Furthermore, the Land Rights Act 2018, establishes women’s equal access and equal protection to land ownership, use and management of land. But despite several laws and policies in place that uphold their rights, women continue to face structural barriers in accessing political decision-making, livelihoods and governance of land.
3. Lack of access to remedy and corporate accountability
Liberia has made some progress in establishing laws and policies that support business and human rights, such as the Land Rights Act 2018 and the Decent Work Act 2015. A National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (NAP) is also being developed. At the same time, there is an overall lack of implementation of existing laws and policies. There is also a lack of effective access to remedy, which can be attributed to a lack of appropriate grievance mechanisms, fear of reprisals, and the high cost and social stigma of accessing the judicial system.
More from Swedwatch on the topic:
– Ongoing project on the NAP (see fact box 👉🏽)
– Multistakeholder Dialogue on sustaining peace in land concession areas
4. Defenders at risk
Human rights groups have reported that human rights and environmental defenders who try to hold businesses accountable for violations of rights might face security risks, reprisals and social stigma. Lack of available means to hold business and government accountable can cause social tension, harm community-company relations, and erode trust in public institutions.
In an interview with Swedwatch, Radiatu H.S. Kahnplaye, from partner organisation Green Advocates International, outlines that:
“When people have protested in concession areas, they have been attacked and criminalised, even put in jail, and the military and police have protected the companies instead of the people.”
Business and peace after the 2023 election
In conclusion, the Liberian election marks 20 years of peace and significant advancements in democracy. The election’s transparency, relative absence of violence and high voter turnout in the first round is an important step in the country’s peacebuilding history.
If the run-off remains peaceful and transparent, a multitude of peacebuilding challenges still remain to be addressed by the new government. Among these are the business and human rights related conflict risks – including overexploitation of natural resources, exclusion of women in decision-making and lack of a safe environment for holding companies accountable – that in combination with underlying structural challenges like poverty and corruption can undermine long-term efforts to sustain peace. Addressing these concerns are key for the government and businesses to foster peace after the election.
Swedwatch’s work in Liberia
Picture👆🏼 from the cartoon-based toolkit, showcasing a story about a company and its impact on local livelihoods and obstacles women face women when defending their rights.