7 November 2012

Liberia: Exercise Maximum Restraint


Today, November 7, 2012 is set aside by the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) to memorialize the death of its partisans during a violent clash with riot police officers on the eve of a presidential run-off election on November 7, 2011.

The main opposition political party staged a boycott of the run-off poll, and protested the dissolution of the National Elections Commission (NEC), claiming that the Commission had taken side.

Partisans of CDC took to the streets vandalizing properties and impeding the movement of road users as well as obstructing the free flow of traffic, thereby instilling fear in the people.

However, riot police officers from the Liberia National Police Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and Police Support Unit (PSU) responded in an attempt to restrain the violence, but the police reaction intensified the situation when they fired tear gas at protesters, which triggered a stampede, thus leaving several persons injured and at least one pronounced dead; although the CDC claimed that about three persons may have been killed.

The CDC says it is observing the day by assembling peacefully on the grounds of its headquarters to remember their dead partisan(s) as part of its constitutional rights as enshrined in the organic law of the land.

Citing legal reliance, the CDC argued that it does not need permission from the Ministry of Justice to assemble. However, the Liberian government through the Ministry of Justice maintained that the CDC did not request for permission to march, and as such, no group of individuals will be allowed to march without a permit.

We See this disagreement between the government and the main opposition party as a recipe for tension, and if this matter is not treated with caution, violence could erupt again with lives and properties put at risk.

On the basis of the decision from the Justice Ministry and the defiant posture by the CDC, the Liberia National Police should be encouraged to exercise maximum restraint and professionalism, even in the face of 'provocation' in dealing with partisans of CDC to avoid another bloody day. The police need to monitor the situation closely and keep in contact with the leadership of CDC if their partisans attempt to march.

We also encouraged officers of the UN Mission to bolster the LNP by monitoring and reporting possible provocation, attack or brutality from either side. Our emphasis is placed on officers of Police Response Unit because about four years ago, an investigation proved that excessive force was used against supporters of the CDC which ultimately led to the dismissal of Police Director Marc Amblard and the suspension of several senior police officers.

We believe that the police must exercise maximum restraint and avoid all kinds of bravado - in this case - we think it would help to build camaraderie, not only between government and the opposition CDC, but also, between CDC supporters and the police, which is necessary in establishing an environment of trust in the opposition community.

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