Liberian Government Faces Human Rights Commission

By Musue N. Haddad

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 19, 2002

Samuel Kofi Woods
The halls of the Africa Commission on Human and People's Rights in Banjul have been saturated with reports of a communication filed against the Liberian government for its incommunicado and prolong detention of journalist Hassan Bility and others without charge.

Bility, Asumana Kamara and Mohammed Kamara were taken away by government security officers on June 24th 2002 on charges of plotting to assassinate President Charles Taylor and cause havoc in the country.

Sources in Banjul, The Gambia, said two International human rights lawyers, Samuel Kofi Woods and Kabineh M. Ja'neh in their communication have requested the Africa Commission on Human And People's Rights to order the immediate release from detention of Ansumana Kamara, Mohammed Kamara and Journalist Hassan Bility. The communication also urged the Commission to "grant any and all other remedies/redress that the Commission shall deem right and appropriate in this matter".

The Communication from Woods and Ja'neh is described as a "Litmus Test" for the Commission against a government reputed for being "obsessively cantankerous" in its failure to adhere to the basic rule of law. The Commission, since its establishment, according to sources, is not recorded to have such a "Herculean" task against any government.

Attorneys Woods and Ja'neh outlined the exhaustion of all local remedies particularly the writ of Habeas Corpus issued by an assortment of human rights organizations following the arrest and subsequent detention of Bility, Ansumana and Mohammed since their arrest as per procedures of the Commission.

Our Source from The Gambia said, Woods and Ja'neh in their communication narrated the steps taken locally to remedy the case. They explained that after Bility, Ansumana and Mohammed were arrested for what government described as "operating a LURD terrorist cell in Monrovia with the intent to assassinate President Taylor and create havoc", the Liberia National Human Rights Center in collaboration with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Center for the Protection of Human Rights and the Legal Consultant Incorporated jointly filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus to the First Judicial Circuit Court of Montserrado County ordering the government to produce the living bodies the detainees.

In response, the court issued a special Writ of Habeas Corpus. The court's writ ordered the Liberian government to produce the living bodies of the detainees and show cause why Bility, Ansumana and Mohammed should not be released. Government failed to produce Bility and the two others before a civilian court in Monrovia. . On July 8, the court was constrained by President Charles Taylor's influence and withdrew its decision against government.

In another turn of events, the public prosecutor's office is recorded as saying that the government was no longer holding the suspects.

Contrary to the Public prosecutor's claim, Information Minister Reginald Goodridge in a press statement and interviews said Bility was being held at the National Security Agency in Monrovia. He said Bility was "the central figure" among those running cells in Monrovia in collaboration with LURD terrorists and their supporters in the United States with the aim of assassinating President Taylor.

Also in an interview with Allafrica, a U.S based international media, Minister Goodridge said Bility was arrested as a ringleader of a plot to assassinate the President of Liberia. "This man is being held as an unlawful combatant and it was you guys [the U.S. government] who coined the phrase. We are using the phrase you coined," Goodridge said.

The Liberian government said it had obtained several e-mail messages sent or received by Bility, which proved his links with the rebels. But a LURD's spokesperson abroad said Bility was neither a LURD member nor a sympathizer and that, on the contrary, Bility had been very critical of the LURD.

President Charles Taylor
President Charles Taylor said the case was a military one and subsequently government did not and has not complied by the court's order to make available the detainees. Reporters Without Borders is among several organizations that have condemned the Liberian government's refusal to comply with an order from the country's highest military court to produce "the living bodies" of journalist Hassan Bility and the two others.

Reporters Without Borders in a letter to President Charles Taylor said, "We ask you to prove your good faith by authorizing a member of the Red Cross to see the journalist in order to establish that he has not been beaten or roughed up." Reporters Without Borders communication to the Liberian leader up to press time have not yielded any result.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Defense, Major-General Daniel Chea, rejected the military court's order, issued on 25 July, as null and void, stating that the court had not been authorized by any competent authority to intervene in the case.

The lawyers in their communication referred to Article 111 of the Commission's rules and procedures, the Liberian Constitution, the African Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights urging it to honor the Charter and order the release of the detainees.

Attorney Woods presently in Sierra Leone and Ja'neh in Guinea were actively engaged in human rights advocacy in Liberia until forced into exile where they have continued campaigns for respect for the human persons both at the sub-regional and international level.

Although there are emerging reports of frequent and unannounced arrests by the Liberian government, efforts by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum, The United States government including Liberian groups in the country and Diaspora have not yielded any response.

Many are hopeful that the intervention of the Commission could arouse leaders of the continent to the commitments of their predecessors during the preparation of the preliminary drafting of the African Charter on Human And People's Rights in Monrovia during the July 17th to 20 1979, Sixteen Ordinary Session of Organization of African Unity (OAU).

African Heads of states during that Session in the preliminary draft on the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights agreed and noted in the preamble that the Charter provides "inter alia for the establishment of bodies to promote and protect human and peoples' rights".

Article 6 of the African Charter as guaranteed in Article 20(a) of the Liberian constitution gives every individual the right to liberty and security. Both the Constitution and the Charter prohibit arbitrary arrest or detention.

While the Liberian Constitution in Article 21(f) states that anyone arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of Competent jurisdiction within forty-eight hours, the African Charter Article 7 supports that Constitutional provision: "Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This comprises the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a Competent court or tribunal". Article (d) of the Charter also gives the right to be tried within a reasonable period of time by an impartial court.

"Contrary to the provisions in the Liberian Constitution and African Charter, Bility, Ansumana and Mohammed have exceeded the 48 hours provision as provided in the Liberian Constitution, they have also not been charged but declared guilty the Liberian government," a legal practitioner in Monrovia said.

Another provision in the Constitution that analysts believe have been flouted by the Liberian government is Article 21 (g), which guarantees the right to the writ of habeas corpus. Article 21(g) views the writ of Habeas Corpus as "essential " to the protection of human rights. The Articles insists that the writ of Habeas Corpus be guaranteed at all times, and any person arrested or detained and not presented to court within the period (48 hours) specified has the right to exercise this right.

Local human rights organizations have expressed disappointments in their attempts to exercise the writ of Habeas Corpus on behalf of Ansumana, Mohammed and Journalist Hassan Bility that has been overruled by the government and personally by Charles Taylor. Attempts by international human rights organizations to engage the Liberian government on the arrest and detention of the three have proven unsuccessful as indicated in their Communications to the President Charles Taylor and reports on the case.

The African Charter and the Liberian constitution call for the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world as advocated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments on Human Rights.

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