The Unlawful and Wrongful Killing of 13 Liberians


By Mohamedu F. Jones


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 17, 2005


On April 18, 1967, Liberia signed the United Nations’ Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 1976, after being ratified by the required 35 states, the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights became international law. From that point on, Liberia was bound by international law to adhere to the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a member of the United Nations. This was the case even though Liberia did not actually ratify the Covenant until September 22, 2004. As of 1948, Liberia was also obliged under international law to secure the "universal and effective recognition and observance" of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On April 22, 1980, in violation of the domestic laws of Liberia and international law, 13 citizens of Liberia were murdered on a beach in Monrovia in broad daylight before large crowds of Liberians and foreigners. While the killings were called "executions," they were actually no more than cold-blooded political murders; no more than a public demonstration of total victory by those who had removed the constitutional government from power 10 days earlier: they wanted to show Liberians that they decided matters of life and death in the country now. Even if it had been proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that any or all of these men had committed the criminal offenses associated with them, killing them would still be murder and in violation of domestic and international law.

This is how the BBC described events of that day:

"They were tied to stakes on a beach next to the army barracks in the capital, Monrovia, and shot. Journalists who had been taken to the barracks to watch the executions said they were cruel and messy. They said four men were forced to watch the others die before being shot themselves as there were only nine stakes. The 13 men had been accused of treason, corruption and violation of human rights. However, only four were condemned to death after their trial by a military tribunal."

Even the four reportedly condemned to death by the military tribunal were unlawfully killed.

Based on the information available to the public at the time (and nothing has been revealed since to change this fact) there was nothing disclosed that would validate the killings as lawful and in conformity with the laws of Liberia. The killings were clearly arbitrary and wrongful under the country’s laws. Offenses of treason and corruption were governed by domestic law: no laws in Liberia provided execution as the punishment for corruption and charging these men (government officials at the time of the military coup) with treason was clearly something out of "Animal Farm."

They were also charged with "violations of human rights." Those who made the charges never even bothered to be specific – too much trouble. Perhaps they expected the world to salute them for acting against those who had allegedly violated the human rights of Liberians and thus applaud their deaths. They were in for a rude awakening!

Under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." The rights of these men to life as human beings were summarily violated on April 22, 1980. Article 10 of the Declaration provides: "Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him." In Article 11(1), the Universal Declaration proclaims: "Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense." Throughout the spectacle leading up to the killings, these 13 men were denied their human rights under international law.

At Article 6 (1), the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." Each of these 13 citizens of Liberia was arbitrarily deprived of his inherent right to life in violation of international law. For countries like Liberia that have the death penalty, the Covenant provides in part: "In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime … This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court." This provision of international law was also violated with the killings on the beach on April 22, 1980.

Tens of thousands of Liberians have been murdered since then, and of course their deaths are no less unlawful and wrongful then those 13 men. What marks the murders of these 13 men is that they were killed by an official act of the government, supposedly acting under the color of law and in accordance with due process and in the name of the people of Liberia; they had proclaimed that they were acting in our name. These 13 murders were actually the first public act of the new military government following the coup. Because their killings were official acts, but nonetheless carried out in violation of Liberian and international law, Chairman Gyude Bryant, acting in his capacity as Head of State of the Republic of Liberia should officially declare their so-called "executions" unlawful and formally extend the nation’s apologies to them and their families in this 25th Year of their murders.