25 February 2013

Liberia: Govt. Bridges International Protocol

Grand Gedeh district #3 Representative Alex Chersia Grant has warned that the move by the Liberian government to extradite eight Ivorian refugees accused of being mercenaries is a bridged of international protocol.

Representative Grant told journalists in Monrovia last Friday, that such action has the propensity to ruin Liberia's international image, thus creating a picture of non-compliance to international instruments signed as a member state of the United Nations (UN).

Calling on the government to re-align its position to international expectations, the Grand Gedeh Lawmaker asserted that reconsidering the extradition of the alleged mercenaries was crucial to the solvability of the Sub-region.

Monrovia Magisterial Court and Criminal Court "A" have been given jurisdiction over a case involving eight Ivorian refugees accused for the same offences and their requests for them to be tried in Liberia denied.

Representative Grant noted that his concern borders on international laws and peculiar circumstances in Ivory Coast which caused thousands of Ivoirians to flee their country of origin seek asylum in the Republic of Liberia-a reason for the government to accept them.

He averred that government's acceptance of the refugees in 2011 was in accordance with a 1951 Geneva Convention which deals with the status of refugees and a 1969 Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.) Convention-that governs specific aspects of refugees' problems in Africa.

Quoting Article 33(1) of the UN 1951 Convention which is captioned, "Non-refoulement,   Representative Grant argued that no contracting state including Liberia shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his or her freedom would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

According to him, the Ivorian conflict carries a weight of both political and tribal factors in which those who felt that their political beliefs and tribal affiliation would engender conspiracies and endanger their freedom and safety, fled their homeland in search for international protection in a "contracting state" under the strength of the U N 1951 Convention.

Representative Grant who is also the Chairman of the House of Representative Committee on   Repatriation, Relief and Resettlement asserted, "Though Article 33(2) of the UN 1951 Convention says "the benefit of the present provision may not, however be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particular serious crime constitutes a danger to the community of that country (country of asylum)." However, in the instant case concerning the refugees, there appears to be no final judgment as regarding the guilt of the accused persons and hence, returning them to the country from which they fled, constitutes a danger to their freedom and safety and thus a gross violation of international laws."

He added, "Section 15 of the Act to make Provision for Refugees and to Establish the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), approved on November 1, 1993, says: "subject to the provisions of this section and of section 13 and provided the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is consulted and renders his opinion in writing, the minister to whom the administration of the immigration act has been assigned, after consultation with executive director, may order the expulsion from Liberia of recognized refugee or protected person if he considers the expulsion to be necessary or desirable on the grounds of national security or public order; etc.

Contrary to this provision and in violation of the1951Geneva Convention, suspects Komande Mohegnan Varkey, Martin Djikezon Guei, Nemlin Terek Atbtiube, Toure  Badison Julien, Martin Djikezon Guei, Nioule Frank Olivier, Nioule Ourogbo Edward, and Nioule Junior were removed from the protection of the UNHCR without seeking the written opinion of the UNHCR Representative. Further, the accused persons have not demonstrated actions deemed to be a threat to the national security of the Republic of Liberia. As far as both national and international laws are concerned, the accused have not been tried and convicted for the offences for which they are being extradited. These accused persons who are refugees or asylum seekers should therefore not be sent back to a nation that will put at risk their existence. If there are justifications for expulsion, they must be given an opportunity of a third country. This must, however, be a result of due process of law."

He recalled, "It can be recalled that the Government of the Republic of Liberia accused some Ivoirians, particularly of the Krahn tribe-known in Ivory Coast as Guere and forcefully returned them home for persecution. Those who were forcefully returned are currently languishing in prisons in Ivory Coast without a single appearance before any court. It is my opinion that the Government has to be cautious how it takes certain decisions that make its citizens and others vulnerable."

There can be no doubt expressed here that the nature of the Ivorian crisis is one of a political nature. Hence, the offences for which these refugees are charged may stem from displaced vengeance and political reasons. Under Article IV of the extradition treaty, the Liberian Government is not under obligation to grant the wish of the Ivorian Government.  I therefore call upon the Government to halt any further proceedings against the accused persons and revert to processes ratified by Liberia under the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1969 O.A.U. Convention. We must respect international instruments and not act on sentiments.

Representative Grant expressed disappointment in the LRRRC -an institution charged with the responsibility to protect refugees over its has continuously "doom founded and complacent" posture about the alleged gross violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention, relative to the status of refugees and the Liberian refugee Act of 1993.

"The LRRRC has the Statutory Mandate to inform and advise the government on issues affecting refugees and as Chairman of the House Committee on Refugees, Repatriation Resettlement and Relief Services; I have not received a single briefing sentence or an opinion statement on radio or in newspaper on this marathon case from the commission to indicate they are committed to their mandate. Further, I have not received any briefing on refoulement case (under the pretext of Extradition) of 41 refugees, asylum seekers and protected persons from Grand Gedeh County on 23 June 2012.  I personally doubt the seriousness of the commission's commitment to protect refugees," he concluded.

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