Violations of the Liberian Constitution: A citizen's views
By: Theodore T. Hodge
September 30, 2002
After reading again the constitution of Liberia (http://www.theperspective.org/liberianconstitution.html) and looking at the current state of affairs in our country, I intend to outline three cases to be brought against President Charles Taylor of the Republic of Liberia. Also named, as co-defendants are the Supreme Court or Judiciary and the Legislature of said Republic.
Chapter one of the constitution deals with 'the structure of the state'. Article I states: "All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under the Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments."
Why then are we the citizens of the Republic of Liberia waiting for signals and approval from the president (a public servant) to unilaterally decide whether or when there will be general elections? The matter of up-coming elections is clearly not an issue for the president to decide. The constitution leaves no ambiguity in dealing with this matter in the opening chapter and original article as seen above.
Article II tells us:
"This Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia and its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons throughout the Republic.
"Any laws, treaties, statutes, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional."
Does it say, "Its provisions shall have binding force and effect on all authorities and persons, except the president?" No. No such exception is made. It is, therefore, illegal for the president to act contrary to this great document referred to as "the supreme and fundamental law of Liberia." However, isn't it common knowledge that the president has acted in total disregard of our constitution? For him to be allowed to continually do so with impunity is unacceptable!
For the sake of brevity and to establish the cases I intend to make against President Taylor, and the government of Liberia, let's examine Article XIV of Chapter III, which deals with 'fundamental rights':
"All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination or sect shall have exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion."
First case: Although the constitution clearly advises against the establishment of a state religion, the president, (apparently with the advice and consent of his spiritual guru and business partner, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club and founder of Freedom Gold, a diamond mining company), has shamelessly and without remorse declared "Christianity" as the state religion of Liberia. This is a blatant violation of our constitution as has been clearly shown in the writing shown above.
Although the president is the main culprit as I present this case to the public, sharing responsibility for this unlawful act is the nation’s Supreme Court. Article II (Chapter 1) reveals: "The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional". Yet, the Supreme Court is apparently slumbering as the president imposes this unlawful decree on the country.
Well, some people may be wondering, 'what is the harm of declaring the nation a Christian state and Jesus Christ as president? After all, aren’t most Liberian leaders educated in Western thought and accept Christianity as their personal religion, anyway?' Well, it is simply wrong because the constitution says so. Go see for yourselves. The majority in a 'democracy' must not overlook the rights of the minority. Conversely, it is unconscionable to have an elite minority abuse the rights of the majority, which is clearly the case here.
Second case: Since the Supreme Court had no guts to challenge the unconstitutionality of the president's act, he was further emboldened to 'vow to dismiss from his government anyone found to be an atheist.' It was further reported: "The Liberian president said he will not accept atheists in his government."
Since I am relatively sure that the term "atheist" is a code word meaning "non-Christian", I ask: Isn't this a gross violation of the rights of all Liberians who are not Christians? Is the president aware that the constitution says "no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right"? How does he intend to separate Christians from atheists? Who gave him the right to do so?
Maybe someone needs to remind the president that Article XVIII of the constitution states:
"All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work."
Why are the lawmakers silent in the face of such flagrant abuse of the law? Do you still see yourselves as "keepers of the flame" when you can't stand up to one dictator who is determined at all costs to have it his way? Remember, your failure to act, according to your constitutional responsibilities, makes you just as culpable as the president.
Third case: A case, which has drawn attention to the ugly plight of Liberians, is that of Hassan Bility, the detained journalist. National and international human rights groups including governments have intervened to curb this grave injustice being perpetuated against a defenseless man - all to no avail.
What does the constitution say about the flagrant abuse of a citizen's legal rights? Let's turn to Article XXI (sections e, f, g), which state:
e. "No person charged, arrested, restricted, detained or otherwise held in confinement shall be subject to torture or inhumane treatment; nor shall any person be seized and kept among convicted prisoners or treated as a convict, unless such person first shall have been convicted of a crime in court of competent jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make it a criminal offense and provide for appropriate penalties against any police or security officer, prosecutor, administrator or any other public official acting in contravention of this provision; and any person so damaged by the conduct of any such public official shall have a civil remedy there for, exclusive of any criminal penalties imposed."
f. "Every person arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty-eight hours. Should the court determine the existence of a prima facie case against the accused, it shall issue a formal writ of arrest setting out the charge or charges and shall provide for a speedy trial. There shall be no preventive detention."
g. "The right to the writ of habeas corpus, being essential to the protection of human rights, shall be guaranteed at all times, and any person arrested or detained and presented to court within the period specified may in consequence exercise this right."
Well it seems, in direct contradiction to what these constitutional guarantees stipulate, our fellow citizen is being held on a trumped-up charge of "unlawful combatant", a charge that some legal experts claim does not exist in the Liberian Penal Code. Interpretation: this whole "Hassan Bility as a Terrorist" issue is a huge mockery, a travesty of justice.
Mr. Bility was arrested and has been detained since June and has not been formally charged, yet, the constitution 'guarantees' "Every person arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty-eight hours."
The right to the writ of habeas corpus has also been denied. (See Article XXI, section f).
It is such a sad testament that the regime in Monrovia has decided to ignore the constitution by treating citizens on the basis of tribal origin or religious preference. It seems the government's case is based on irrelevant facts: Mr. Bility is a Mandingo and a Muslim, therefore, he's guilty!
To summarize, I, Theodore Hodge, a concerned citizen of the Republic of Liberia do hereby in this open court bring charges against Mr. Charles Taylor, President of the Republic of Liberia and name also as co-defendants the Supreme Court and Legislature of the Republic of Liberia for the crimes described above and namely:
The first case documented above and brought against Mr. Taylor involves the unlawful decree naming Christianity as "state religion" in direct contravention to Article XIV, summarized as follows: "Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion." Named as co-conspirator(s) in this case is the Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia for failure to carry out its legal responsibility as required by the constitution in Article II, namely: "The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional."
The second case being brought by this plaintiff also indicts Mr. Taylor for his vow "to dismiss from his government anyone found to be an atheist", as reported by the government's propaganda website. The president reportedly said "he will not accept atheists in his government..." He asked all atheists in his government "to resign instead of being publicly ridiculed."
Again Article XVIII of the constitution clearly states: "All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work." Notice the sentence refers to all Liberian citizens, not all Liberian Christians.
The third and last case is also brought against Mr. Taylor for the illegal arrest and continued incarceration of Mr. Hassan Bility and his colleagues and the gross violations of their constitutional and human rights as provided. The violations briefly outlined above are too numerous to enumerate. The Liberian Legislature is also hereby named as co-conspirator(s) in this case for failing to act appropriately. Namely, its failure to "prescribe rules and procedures for the easy, expeditious and inexpensive filing and hearing of cases and appeals."
One thing that should be unmistakable to all thinking and rational people is that there are causes for concern in our homeland. The time for "business as usual" has come and gone. The time has come for us to question 'our government'. Now is the time for action. I say the President and his co-conspirators must be challenged to give proper accounts of their actions. We must act now.