Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Liberia: Reaction to human rights violation

by Akwasi Atta Amoah

The issue of human rights violation has been receiving attention in the West African countries, particularly those under military regimes in recent times. The public flogging of two government officials in Monrovia on October 23 has evoked mixed feelings in the public.
As the Republic of Liberia anxiously awaits a return to civilian rule, the democratic processes have been put into severe test and it is a healthy sign that citizens can voice their criticism of human rights violations by certain persons or state agencies.

Since the ban on political activities was lifted last July, Liberians have been jealous of their freedom and are bent on defending them - whether the human right violations come under the guise of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, police-cum military brutality, public flogging or forced salary cuts for development projects.

In the end the government of Commander-in-Chief, Dr Samuel Kanyon Doe should take credit for allowing free and frank discussions and criticisms in the news media on arbitrary actions by individuals placed in responsible positions.

The ordered public flogging of two government officials in Monrovia on October 23 has evoked mixed feelings in the public and raised questions about human rights in a decent society.

This is against the background of the arrest and detention of Dr Amos Sawyer, leader of the Liberian People's Party, and lecturer at the University of Liberia, and certain individuals including Major-General Nicholas J. Podier Jr. now retired speaker of the Interim National Assembly.

The November 5 issue of the Daily Observer in Monrovia carried stories which has dented the credibility of state security agencies as far as human rights are concerned. On the front page was the headline "Shooting on Old Road" in which the paper recounted shooting incidents and traces of blood in a house owned by a Mrs Edith Dinklage on Sunday night.

The back cover of the publication had the headline and the picture of a murder suspect who had allegedly died in prison cells.

In his first public statement Dr Amos Sawyer who was detained for 55 days following his arrest on August 19, denied any knowledge of a coup plot as alleged by the Government. He said his detention without charge and subsequent release shows "the weakness of character in many men," claiming that he was interrogated only once and that was after 10 days in detention.

According to Dr Sawyer at no time was he "tortured or manhandled" while he was in detention but indicated that there were still some unanswered questions surrounding his detention and subsequent release.

However, if the University don did not suffer any physical molestations the spectacle of public flogging on Broad Street, Monrovia brought in its wake questions about the dignity of the individual and the rule of the law.

Last month two government officials of the Ministry of Finance, Henry Williams and Peter Mulbah, were stripped of their shirts, handcuffed to light posts and given 25 lashes each by military personnel acting on the orders of the Finance Minister, G. Alvin Jones.

Such subtle forms of human rights violations, military-police brutalities against the civilian population and arbitrary arrests and detentions of citizens with different views are not confined to Liberia alone but other countries as well.

Newspaper reports on the incident quoted the Minister as ordering the dismissal of the two officers and causing their indefinite detention at the Post Stockade Military prisons to face prosecution for allegedly embezzling over four thousand dollars belonging to the state.

In the "People's Forum" in the Sunday Observer (November 4, 1984) some citizens voiced their feelings. Here are excerpts: Mr S. Raymond Horace, a veteran lawyer opined that public flogging was a denial of the due process of the law. Another lawyer, Jusu Wood, said any penalty for the commission of a crime should come from a court of records within the Republic of Liberia.

According to him no administrative officer has the right to order the public flogging of anyone. A person under the rule of law, is assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubts.

The President of the Red Cross in Liberia, Mrs Linni Kesselly, in her contribution said the Red Cross is committed to seven basic principles - humanity, impartiality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universal- ity. The first on the list, she pointed out, is humanity and questioned: does public flogging promote human dignity? She stressed that we certainly cannot condone anything that negates or compromises any of these principles.

Mr Daniel King, a civil servant thinks otherwise. To him if anyone "steals he should be publicly flogged. Stealing from government, in the view of Mr King, has become a kind of sport for dishonest people. "I don't know much about the law but what I do know is that this stealing business is too much now. This should be a good lesson. I support it one hundred percent," Mr King emphasized.

The President of the National Bar Association, Mr Ephraim Smallwood, would not talk, "I have no comment. I've chosen to remain silent on the matter." But the Archbishop of Monrovia, Right Rev. Michael R. Francis, declared his stand and said unequivocally that public flogging of individuals based on mere allegations is inhumane and humiliating.

"I don't think it serves as a deterrent but is intended to cause mixed feelings among the public, thus leaving the victims with a sense of hate, not only for the persons who ordered the punishment but for society as a whole Anyone who has allegedly committed a crime should be placed before the court. This is why we have the law. the Archbishop queried.

But while the public continues to debate rhetorics of the Archbishop on the law, the sleeping neighbourhood of Monrovia was awakened on Saturday night (November 3) by a terrible outburst of gun-fire that lasted far into the night. Newspaper reports claim that there was a lot of blood sprayed on the top of the step leading to Mrs Dinklage's kitchen door in the rear of the house.

It is curious how it took officials almost a week to give a statement on the incident which set the whole of Monrovia and its environs on rumours, some of which claim that some high level personalities have been shot and wounded in the incident.

According to the Ministry of Information, a plot to destabilize the Liberian State and destroy the people by terrorists from abroad has been foiled by the joint security of Liberia. The Joint Security, the statement revealed, had received prior information from friendly sources that some terrorists had arrived in Liberia to destabilize the government by killing innocent citizens, government officers and Head of State, Samuel K. Doe, in an attempt to establish a different form of government.

Having received the tip-off the Security approached the home of Mrs Dinklage under the command of the Chief of Staff of Liberia, but were met by a hail of gunfire which lasted well into the late hours of Saturday night. The Ministry's statement released on Friday November 9, said when the exchanges of gun fire ended, three soldiers were wounded along with two of the terrorists. One terrorist was reported to be at large. If these were the bare facts of the incident, why should there be official silence over it for all that long, as rumours continue in defiance of the belated statement?

Surely, there are certainly more questions than answers that could be provided. However, the death in prison cells of the suspect who allegedly shot and killed his nine-month pregnant wife at Tubmanburg in Bomi County also raises questions about human rights and the treatment of suspects at the hands of security agencies.

Samuel K. Doe: closing his eyes to the brutalities.

The suspect, Solomon Lactro, a 29-year old private contractor in masonry was reported to have died from wounds allegedly sustained following his arrest in connection with the death of his pregnant wife, Martha Kai. Shortly after his death the victim was buried by police alongside his wife at the Tubmanburg cemetery.

The doctor-on-call at the time of Solomon Lactro's distress has not been available for comment, but it is doubtful whether a post-mortem examination to ascertain the cause of death was performed before the indecent rush to bury Solomon.

While eye-witnesses maintain that after Solomon Lactro was picked up he was mercilessly beaten and subjected to torture and other forms of brutality, the police flatly deny this charge. Bomi County Police Commander, Major Wilfred Nelson told the Daily Observer that the police were aware of no evidence of any brutality meted out to Solomon. We had been giving him food, but he had refused to eat" Major Nelson pointed out.

Another area of concern to the people of Liberia is the arbitrary salary cuts. This according to a reader's letter to the Editor, Daily Observer (November 5, 1984), is inconsistent with democratic norms. He said development is beautiful and everyone would like to see it, provided that the participation of its people is done voluntarily and in an atmosphere of trust and understanding.

Such subtle forms of human rights violations, military-police brutalities against the civilian population and arbitrary arrests and detention of citizens with dissenting views, which are not confined to Liberia alone, seem to be on the ascendancy in many African countries.

This trend is quite unfortunate and disquieting. With the ratification of the Organisation of African Unity Declarations on Human Rights in Nairobi last month by 26 countries it is hoped that Africans themselves will now show more concern about human right violations and refrain from acts which enslave us in our own countries.

talking drums 1984-12-10 Cocoa New Strategy needed