Atlanta, GA November 14, 2011: We, the members of The Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy (COL), a policy and research-oriented think tank and advocacy group, comprising Liberians of a diverse range of professional backgrounds, residing in the U.S. and Canada, issue this statement to strongly condemn the wanton murder of a number of unarmed Liberians at the November 7, 2011 peaceful rally of the CDC and to call for the immediate dismissal and eventual prosecution of Police director Marc Amblard. We condemn the continuing closure of media institutions in Liberia by the Sirleaf administration and reject the president’s shameful justification that this act was committed to “prevent the incitement of further violence and protect lives”.
COL Professionals also calls on the people of Liberia not to recognize the results of the just-ended presidential round-off elections declaring Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as winner and president of Liberia. This run-off election is a sham and undercuts all efforts to establish a solid democratic foundation badly needed for a postwar society.
We believe that the Liberian people have the right to assemble and voice their concerns on issues pertaining to their political, economic, social and cultural survival, without being threatened or victimized by acts of state-sponsored violence from their own government. The unleashing of lethal force on unarmed citizens by the Liberian police on the “Bloody Monday” of November 7th was monumentally disturbing not only because of the loss of lives suffered, but also because it represents an ominous sign and neglects some ugly lessons from our history.
This bandit-like act of a national police force shooting deadly bullets at their fellow citizens is reminiscent of what happened in 1979 when the police, under instructions from director Varney Dempster and Justice Minister Joseph Chesson, opened fire on peaceful Liberians protesting an increase in the price of rice. We all know that the 1979 rice massacre and the violent police attitude of that day sowed partly the seeds of the subsequent security collapse of our nation in the 1980s and beyond. Does President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, of all people, a Nobel peace laureate, really want to be counted in the same class with those past Liberian leaders who presided over the oppression and massacre of their own people? In order for Madam Sirleaf to avoid sliding deeper into that most despicable class of African dictators and perhaps salvage what is left of her sagging legacy, her government must ensure that the “independent” commission of inquiry set up to probe the Bloody Monday incident be truly impartial. She must not make the same mistake that previous Liberian presidents made by listening only to sycophants whose primary aim is to maintain the status quo. Liberians and the world are closely watching how this incident will be settled.
Our country should not have at the helm of its security apparatus someone who has clearly shown a lack of understanding of the fragility of our emerging democratic culture. The current police director, Marc Amblard, has consistently demonstrated a blatant propensity toward the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians. Liberia cannot afford to have such a character at this precarious stage of its democratic development. We recall that during a demonstration by students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System on March 22, 2011, in solidarity with their teachers who had laid down their chalks to demand higher salaries and other benefits, the police brutalized several students, causing life-threatening injuries. Just as in this latest November 7th incident, Amblard declared then that the police were “justified to use force to ensure stability”. How useful and valuable is stability when it must be achieved at the cost of the oppression and murder of the very people it seeks to benefit? COL believes that there is no justification for such a gangster-like and trigger-happy attitude, as exemplified repeatedly by this police director. In the aftermath of the March 22nd incident the president set up an investigative committee headed by former Solicitor General Tiawon Gongloe. That committee recommended the dismissal of Amblard. But for whatever reasons, Madam Sirleaf refused to implement the Gongloe report, describing it as “too harsh and risky to enforce”. This time around, however, the president must act immediately by dismissing this blood-thirsty character before it is too late for our nation! Justice must be served for the families of those murdered Liberians whose only crime was to exercise their fundamental human right of free speech and assembly.
COL views the midnight closure of media institutions in the country as an affront on the cardinal rights of freedom of press and speech by free people in Liberia without court orders. President Sirleaf’s arbitrary use of Executive powers’ privilege to clamp down on targeted media houses that have provided a semblance of press freedom, by allowing a democratic space to the opposition and the Liberian people to air alternative views and voices of dissent at variance with the ruling Unity party, further reinforces a blatant abuse of power and a denial of the peoples’ right to free speech. In the absence of any imminent threat or danger to the state that would have warranted the exercise of ‘emergency powers’, the president’s action and what is clearly a ‘back-door’ use of this power, represents a clear violation of the constitution. The recent court proceedings in the country area cover up by the government to save face when in fact they unilaterally close down these media institutions without the right of due process. Yet again this action by the president represents the re-emergence of a throwback era of the days of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor when the Liberian press was heavily censored and was given no breathing room to report on what the people actually thought about their government and those who governed them. And yet again we are witnessing how hangers-on of an old era, hiding under the cloak of the “rule of law and order”, are now hell-bent on trampling on the constitutional rights and civil liberties of their fellow citizens. The country can ill-afford to return to this old era and this must not be allowed to happen in this day and time.
Finally, COL is calling on all Liberians and international partners not to recognize the results of the just-ended Second-Round elections that declared Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia since indeed the process was questionable. The CDC and majority opposition parties had a set of grievances and in the absence of finding a resolution to their concerns the NEC forced a questionable election which was boycotted by more than 60% of the Liberian people. That the overwhelming majority of Liberians decided not to vote in the round-off elections showed that the people were unwilling to give a mandate to the standard bearer of the UP, thus rendering the process illegitimate. Liberia’s fragile democracy is now under threat, and a peaceful and acceptable way forward is needed to restore confidence in its electoral process. The forces of justice and peace should now be deemed more important than the forces of mere electoral victory. We, at COL professionals, therefore join voices with all Liberians and democratic forces and institutions, both within and outside the country, in calling for a way out of this serious political impasse now threatening Liberia’s volatile march toward democratic and economic progress. It is unimaginable that, at this critical juncture, the Unity Party and president Sirleaf would even think of experimenting with a ‘winner-gets-all’ leadership arrangement, especially one that would merely exist on such a narrow social base as reflected in ourrecent electoral outcome. The pathto the future of Liberia, therefore, lies not in our usual zero-sum approach to politics but in a formation of a Government of National Unity that reflects a serious political and institutional accommodation for all major opposition forces and stakeholders in civil society. COL believes that peace and stability, founded on social justice and inclusion, is more sustainable than that which is enforced through armed banditry camouflaged as the pursuit of “rule of law”. We will continually work toward the achievement and maintenance of political, economic, and social stability in our country, but will never hesitate to oppose any means designed to impose stability at the cost of the very human lives of our people.Let us put Liberia first!
James Kpanneh Doe
ACTING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Coalition of Liberian Professionals for Grassroots Democracy (COL)
Isaac T. Settro
Deputy Executive Director, COL
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