The Fate Of The 60 Missing Blind

By James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 28, 2002

Just this past May, it was widely reported that a certain "white" British Catholic priest named Father Garry Jenkins, who had actually lived in now war-ruined Liberia for about 20 or so years, had gone missing abruptly in the northern Tubmanburg area following 'supposed' clashes between forces of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) government and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels.

At that time, it was reported also that 60 blind people (all believed to be Liberians), who had been in the “relatively safe care” of Father Jenkins for so many years, were no where to be found. Since then, neither the ruthless Taylor government in Monrovia or the “shadowy” LURD, have given any reasonable account of their plight - something that’s very frightening!

Following loud public outcry, both inside and out of the war-wrecked country, LURD, which subsequently claimed custody of the Priest, delivered him “in good health” to Catholic authorities in neighboring Guinea but sadly with one twist - they could not physically produce the 60 missing blind people that were said to have been in his [Father Jenkins’s] care.

And why Father Jenkins, whose safety all of us had diligently prayed for, the country’s Inter Religious Council or anyone else has not shed more light up to now on the unfortunate plight of our missing blind is really not known. But we hope sooner or later that someone would eventually begin to speak up, because, I mean, it’s disheartening to know that they [missing blind] are out there somewhere either dead or abused. It would be really good to learn something new about their fate, won’t it!

In light of the conspicuous silence on the issue of the blind on the part of both the despotic government of President Charles Taylor and the little-known rebel group, LURD, many people, including Liberians, seem to have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the worst may have already happened to them, considering the poor human rights record on both sides of this ongoing brutal and senseless war. What else should we think?

But if the miserably failed Taylor regime that was “elected democratically” (according to his staunch heartless supporters) to basically protect the lives and properties of ALL Liberians, and LURD - which does NOT evidently have a better plan for Liberia - think that the troubling issue of our 60 missing blind countrymen [women] would be swept under the rug, then they are seriously mistaken again.

The notorious NPP government and LURD can rest assure that the issue of the mysterious disappearance of these defenseless and displaced blind people would not go away - EVER. If anything, it’s certainly going to be a dark cloud hanging over their heads forever! And so, they may as well provide some quick answers as to what has actually happened to them. In other words, the missing blind MUST immediately be accounted for - there’s no way around this one, plain and simple!

If the present Liberian government had any CREDIBILITY left, then it would be very easy to hold LURD primarily and directly responsible for the fate of these people. But the way in which the Taylor's administration has conducted itself, before and even after it came to power in 1997 supposedly riding on popular vote, really compels one NOT to exclude it completely from anything sinister as this. Simply, no one in his or her right mind would want to take the personal risk of giving this government the benefit of any doubt involving a situation of this magnitude – not when one’s hard-earned reputation is being put on the line.

On the other hand, the fact that LURD have produced Father Jenkins in person, leaves one almost without doubt that they surely do know something [that the rest of us certainly don’t] about the 60 blind persons that were said to have been with the Father. Or, is LURD saying that the 60 blind people just disappeared into thin air, thereby, leaving Father Jenkins all by himself? Come on!

Frankly, this whole unfortunate episode raises serious alarms, especially, regarding human rights practices in the war-weary country now and in the not too distant future.

Among the many questions that have been raised since, the two following questions, if answered truthfully, could give us some clues as to the absolute fate of our fellow blind countrymen (women) and even the future of human rights in the war-damaged nation. (1) Was LURD (or whoever they are) ever in the vicinity of Tubmanburg when the priest was allegedly abducted? And (2), How come that LURD could have produced ONLY the white British priest but claim not to know the whereabouts of the 60 blind people that were supposed to have been with him? There lies the puzzle!

But in any case, the answers to these two serious questions and many more are just as significant as the physical re-appearance of our blind compatriots.

In recent weeks, we have been learning about the forced abduction of some nurses that were reportedly working for the United Nations (UN) in the Sinje area, Grand Cape Mount County, caring for refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Again, LURD said in a press release dated June 26, 2002: “The leadership of LURD is pleased and willing to assist the aid workers [to] reach the nearest United Nations or relevant international organizations’ offices at any time. We therefore invite the United Nations and other interested international groups to make arrangements aimed at contacting the aid workers very soon at our headquarters in Voinjama, Lofa County for possible evacuation.” Disappointingly, though, nothing at all was mentioned in the statement about the fate of the 60 missing blind. And people wonder why LURD so far has not been able to garner popular support amongst the majority of Liberians!

By releasing only those persons that apparently have some outside links, like, to the UN or Britain, and mentioning absolutely nothing about the plight of the 60 blind Liberians, is LURD implying that it cares more about the welfare of foreigners [I’m not sure whether or not the released UN workers were Liberians] than their own people [the blind], on whose behalf they are ironically claiming to be fighting?

But one could also argue that the continuous failure of the Taylor regime to protect the lives and properties of the citizenry proves that this bankrupt government has negated one of its primary CONSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES to the people of Liberia – that of protecting them and their properties.

Many Liberians coming to the United States (US) for the first time say that living [just living] in today’s Liberia, under the NPP, is very, very difficult, even for those without any physical handicap, much less, being totally blind.

That is why, as I’ve done on previous occasions, I’m again appealing to the entire human rights community (local and international), particularly groups like, Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders [including, Movement for the Defense of Human Rights (MODHAR), Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Civil Rights Association of Liberian Lawyers (CALL), etc.] and, of course, Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch, among others, to ensure that justice is done in this particular case in terms of accounting for “our” missing blind. Why? Because as human beings, we just can’t afford to ignore their plight - good or bad!

The US, Great Britain, Canada and any other nation, group or individual that are interested in the protection and preservation of human lives could also lend support to this endeavor to at least ensure that whoever “deliberately” harms another person would under no circumstances get away with it scot free. After all, every single human life is important, including, the blind. That’s why they must be accounted for, one way or the other.

As a starter, I’d strongly suggest that the UN, with the help of the US and others, immediately send in a group of experts to Liberia to thoroughly investigate this particular incident. Then again, would the UN or US have the urge to do so - that’s the 'big' question. Certainly, all we can do at this point is to ask for their help in ascertaining the whereabouts of these folks. And hopefully, they’ll have the heart and the willingness to help this time around for the sake of humanity!

As Liberians, it should be the sacred responsibility of each of us to care for one another, despite our obvious differences – physical or otherwise – as well as our long history of mistrust and discontent. The inevitable fate and whereabouts of these 60 blind people should be of utmost concern to all of us, regardless. We must do all that we possibly can to find out what has actually happened to them. We have no other choice! For, if we cannot find out now, then how can we go forward in “good conscience” as a nation? We definitely can’t without first resolving such a huge humanitarian problem of this nature!

One of these days, hopefully, Liberia will come to grips with all of its major problems and attempt to recover fully from the devastation of the last ten or twelve years. In order to recover, it would surely need all of its citizens, especially so, since so many of them have been led to their untimely deaths by evil forces for the acquisition of raw state power. Therefore, no one, including, the blind, should be discounted from making their little contribution as far as the nation’s resuscitation is concerned.

For those of us that have been privileged to live in developed countries over the years, we have seen and can testify to the tremendous contributions made continuously by people that are ‘officially’ classified as ‘disabled’ (including the blind) to their respective societies. They go to work daily just like any other normal human being; many times by themselves, thereby, contributing directly to their various nations’ economies. Also, they (the ‘disabled’) can be as technologically savvy as any other "techie". But most of all, their rights are somewhat protected. Wouldn’t we want to give our ‘disabled’ (blind) the same or similar opportunity in the future, the least of all, to live in peace?

Realistically, all of this starts with stability, followed by "sound" national leadership - two basic things that Liberia is lacking today. By finding out the truth about the plight of the missing blind, we would have gone a long way in determining what kind of country Liberia will be tomorrow.

In any case, someone has to give a full account as to the fate of "our" 60 blind compatriots - now or in the immediate future. There’s no doubt about that!

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