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Liberia constitutional referendum ballot errors rampant

The National Election Commission (NEC) [official website] of Liberia distributed defective paper ballots for Liberia's constitutional referendum Tuesday. Liberians were slated to vote today [Front Page Africa report] on four constitutional amendments, including a provision to change the election date to avoid the rainy season, as well as a stipulation to alter the residency requirement for presidential and vice presidential candidates. In the midst of the first national referendum to be held in the country in 25 years, voters reportedly found an error on the ballot proposing a change to the retirement age of Supreme Court judges. The error left voters confused when casting their ballots. Deputy Coordinator of the referendum organizing team, Amos Koukou, said instructions for voting with the defective ballots had been placed at voting stations.

Despite the referendum, Liberia has been criticized for its poor human rights record in recent years. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] emphasized [UN News Centre report] in a 2010 progress report [text, PDF] that reconciliation in Liberia [JURIST report] hinges on the development of its national security and its legal institutions. Liberia struggles [JURIST report] with corruption in its criminal justice system, poor detention conditions and sexual and gender-based violence, including rape and forced marriage, according to a UN Mission in Liberia [official website] combined quarterly report [PDF text; press release] released in April 2008. In 2007, the UN independent expert on the promotion and protection of human rights in Liberia urged the country to accelerate its human rights efforts [JURIST report], and in particular called on the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) [official website] to begin operations. The TRC held its first public hearings [JURIST report] after several months delay due to lack of funding. The TRC is investigating possible war crimes that occurred during the civil war that ended in 2003, but does not have the authority to try cases. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is currently awaiting a verdict from the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] for crimes against humanity. He has been charged [PDF indictment; summary] by the SCSL with 11 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law.

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