MODHAR Decries Indiscriminate and Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions of People in Liberia

The Perspective
Monrovia, Liberia

August 20, 2002

Press Statement of the Movement for the Defence of Human Rights (MODHAR)
Read by its Executive Director & Project Officer of the National Human Rights Center of Liberia, J. Aloysius Toe

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press
Colleagues of the Human Rights Community

Thank you very much for responding to our call as evidenced by your presence here today. As you may know, our country is currently going through a period of war and there is an existing State of Emergency. In the face of these man-made impositions there is massive human suffering all around; dark cloud of disillusionment and despair is hovering over the country. If nothing is done and done in a hurry to bring our senseless blunderings to an end, I am afraid that we would have no peaceful Liberia to cherish, and no sovereignty to boast of anymore.

I have decided to speak to you today after a rather protracted period of silence because my conscience leads me to no other choice. Like those of you in the independent media, we in the human rights community who take the challenge to speak against the ills of society come to the realization that to speak is a vocation of agony. But must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our national situation.

I seize the opportunity to address you on two crucial issues: 1. The indiscriminate and arbitrary arrest and subsequent detention of people (mostly Mandingoes) without charge; 2. The so-called “unlawful combatants” phrase under which Hassan Bility and others are languishing in jail without charge or trial. I must firstly admit to you that the conduct of our government and its security forces with regards to the two issues mentioned above is tantamount to bringing into disrepute the integrity of our legal system nationally and globally and has further negated our popularly acclaimed phrase to the effect that indeed ‘Liberia is becoming a country of men, and not a county of laws’ to the extent that even the most powerful writ of habeas corpus in our land is being rendered meaningless by the law enforcement body of our country.

1. Indiscriminate and Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions of People without charge or trial

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our candid opinion and a realization of fact that the manner and form in which the government of Liberia continues to deal with the case involving Mr. Hassan Bility, Sheikh Sackor and others constitute willful attack on Article 20 (a), Article 21 (c,f,g and h) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution. Similarly, the government by her actions has violated Articles 6 and 7.1 b of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ratified by Liberia), the Geneva Convention and its optional protocols ( all instruments of International Humanitarian Law which referred to Armed Conflict) also ratified by Liberia as well as Articles 3, 8, 9 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It can be recalled that Journalist Hassan Bility and others have been in detention since the 24th of June 2002 without charge or trial. All attempts and efforts by the human rights community to have them appear in court and come face to face with their accusers have been thwarted and undermined by the government. They are languishing in jail (without charge) not because the laws of Liberia want them to be in jail, but because some people want them in there simply because those people feel that they have got the power to determine how others should spend their lives though unlawfully.

Allow me to mention in passing what has become a modus oparandi of state authorities to keep people detained unlawfully only to release them without charge and or trial - through what is supposed to be seen as a magnanimous act of good will, but with the actual motive being the winning of political premium. For references, we want to call attention to the arrest and subsequent detention, in late 1998 of Jardea Farley, Charlse Sobue, Kayee Gbargba, Alpha Massallay and Roosevelt Togba who were released without trial after languishing in jail for over three years. Also fresh on our minds is the arbitrary arrest, detention and brutalization of human rights lawyer, Tiawan Gongloe who was neither charged nor tried but later released, even though he insisted on being charged by a court of competent jurisdiction. Still, the arrests, detention (without charge or trial) and subsequent release of Catholic Justice and Peace Commission director, Francess Johnson-Morris, human rights activists Thompson Adebayor and Dixon Psio Gblah, Directors of the Liberia Watch for Human Rights and Liberia Prison Watch respectively. We strongly denounce this act and feel that the issue of people’s liberties should not played with in such a way.

In all of these instances it is unbelievable that the Executive Branch of the Liberian Government would choose to renege on its constitutional oath of office in which they swore to “… uphold, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia…” It must be established that the refusal of the Executive Branch of government to produce the living bodies of Hassan Bility, Sheikh Sackor, et al in court is a violation of Article 20(a) and 21(f & g) of the Liberian Constitution. This act is a serious constitutional breach of duty on the part of the Executive Branch of Government, which requires prompt and urgent legislative and judicial remedies. The writ of habeas corpus is a constitutional and statutory writ and as such must, at all times, be accorded unhindered respect by those who are entrusted with state power. The Supreme Court of Liberia and the National Legislature must wake up to their conscientious and national duties and force the Executive Branch to uphold and respect the Constitution, particularly Article 21 (f and g) which guarantees every arrested or detained person the right to be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty eight hours whether or not there is a state of emergency in force.

We are greatly appalled about the government reluctance and or inability to institute charges (if there are any) against the detainees within the prescribed constitutional and statutory period. Does it lead to logical conclusion that the government has no evidence, which would reasonably, mean there is no case? Should this new attitude of the government be seen as a short-cut method to arbitrary rule in Liberia?

Moreover, we are overtaken by growing apprehensions and fears. We wonder why elements mostly of the Mandingo tribe continue to be the victims of harassment, intimidation, arrest and detention by state security. What have they really done that cannot be established in court? Why is our government unwilling or afraid to go to court with those suspected as ‘unlawful combatants’? It is saddening to note that there are dozens people from the Mandingo ethnic group who are hopelessly languishing in narrow and unhygienic jail cells without charge.

We are seriously worried about the plight and safety as well as health of those in detention. Particularly, we are concerned that the health condition of Hassan Bility, Mabutu Kromah and Sheikh K. M. Sackor might be worsening. Family sources claim that they were ill on the days of their arrests. Further more, we call on the Liberian Government to grant human rights personnel, the press and other pro-democracy groups access to all detainees and publish the names of all persons detained. More than that we call on the government to unconditionally release the below listed persons, most of whom, if not all, are Mandingoes held in different detention centers including, the NSA, NBI, Zone 5 Depot, Central Police Station and elsewhere.

1. Hassan Bility
2. Mohammed Kamara
3. Ansumana Kamara
4. Mohammed Sheriff
5. Salia Kamara
6. Verbulay Jallah
7. Abraham Sando
8. Vayabatee Konneh
9. Menyu Kamara - Former Senator, Bong County and member, Unity Party
10. Abu Konneh - Student, University of Liberia
11. Sheikh K.M.Sackor, Executive Director Humanist Watch - Liberia
12. Alhaji Amara Kromah
13. Morris Kromah
14. Prince Uzoma
15. Junior B. Gidding
16. Abubakar Seeklike Kamara
17. Maputu Kromah
18. Mohammed V. Dukuly
19. Abraham Sando

Ladies and Gentlemen, as advocates of the fundamental liberties of people, we are determined to ensure that the Government of Liberia lives and operates by the laws. This is why we issued several writs of habeas corpus seeking the release from unlawful detention o f Bility and others. These writs were willfully ignored. In spite of that and because we have exhausted all legal domestic remedies in contemplation of International Human Rights Law, we are pleased to announce to you today that renown human rights activists both at home and abroad have filed a communication (complaint) before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, the Gambia against the Liberian Government in favor of Hassan Bility and others. It is expected that the Commission will honor the African Charter and grant deserving faith to these Liberian citizens by provisionally ordering their immediate release from further detention in consonance with and as provided under Article 111 of the Commission’s rule and procedures.

2. The so-called ‘Unlawful Combatants’ Phrase

Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, we are troubled by the introduction of the ‘unlawful combatant’ description by the Liberian government. This phrase which is borrowed from the United States of America in its attitude towards the prisoners in Guatanomo Bay (Cuba), lacks any legal basis and consistency both in Liberia and globally.

Granted, but not admitting that Hassan Bility and others have connections with the LURD on the basis of which they were arrested and detained by government as enemy forces, they must have some status as required by International Humanitarian Law and not such vague interpretation as ‘unlawful combatants’. They must either be prisoners of war (POWs) in which case they are covered by the 3rd Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of POWS; or civilians covered by the 4th Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilians in Time of War; or members of the medical personnel of the armed forces who are covered by the 1st Geneva Convention relative to the condition of the wounded and sick. Within the ambit of International Humanitarian Laws, there is no intermediate status. Any one arrested during armed conflict must have a status recognized by International Humanitarian Laws. Nobody in enemy hands can be outside the “Armed Forces in the Field” .

Both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have opined that the phrase ‘unlawful combatant’ is not recognized under international humanitarian law. “Individuals who fall into enemy hands during armed conflict have either prisoners of war or civilian status”.

In other words, the concept of “unlawful combatant” is unclear, lacks legal consistency and is against the understanding of specialized bodies in matters of International Humanitarian Law.

Therefore, “if an individual is not entitled to the protection of the 3rd Convention as POW, he or she necessarily falls within the ambit of the Fourth Convention” : Prosecutor v. Delalic et al Judgment, ICTY. IT-9621 (Nov.16, 1998). It must be noted that Liberia ratified the Geneva Convention and its additional protocol.

The continuous and isolated detention of Hassan Bility and others clearly shows how the Liberian Government is violating provisions of both International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws.

Ladies and Gentlemen, despite the fact that the Liberian government ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, its cardinal provisions relative to the “rights of individuals” continue to be under attack by the Liberian Government.

While Hassan Bility and others continue to languish in jail (at home) without charge or trial, our government has committed herself (abroad) to the protection of Article 7.1 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which states, among other things, that “… Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard”. This comprises 7.1b “The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty by a competent court or tribunal” and (7.1d), “The right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal.

Fellow defenders, it is interesting to remember that though Liberia didn’t ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (RE), it signed them as a State and must respect their concepts and contents under de Principle of Good Faith.

You will agree with me that judging the treatment of the Bility et al Saga by the government, the below listed provisions of the ICCPR are being violated, for which the Liberian Government needs to be held accountable.

1. Article 2 (3a). Government to ensure that Hassan et all claiming remedy shall have their rights thereto determined by competent court, but government failed to adhere

2. Article 9 (1). Hassan Bility and others are entitled to liberty but are deprived by the Liberian government through arbitrary arrest and detention and on grounds inconsistent with procedures as established by law.

3. Article 9 (2, 3, 4 and 5) are violated by the Liberian Government: Hassan Bility and others have not been informed of the charges against them; they have not been brought before any judge authorized by law within a reasonable time frame; even though their detention is unlawful, no court has rendered judgment to order their release from further detention.

4. Article 14 (1-4).. All provisions violated by Liberian Government

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the face of the blatant violations of both international and national laws relative to the Bility et al case, what justification can our government give? What surety is there to establish that there is rule of law in the country to protect and safeguard the interest of all, especially the governed who are often the most vulnerable? For me, the answer is clear and simple. I leave the rest to you to determine.

May God bless us all, I thank you!

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