Liberia: Diplomatic Community Wants Clarification On Process Leading to Staging Democratic Protest

Monrovia — Liberia's Diplomatic partners are calling on the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC) led-government of President George Weah to 'urgently clarify' processes leading to the holding of demonstrations in the country.

The Ambassadors of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the United States (US), and the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations made the call in a joint statement issued in Monrovia over the weekend.

They urged government to clearly state various specifics, including timeline, locations and restrictions on the holding of demonstrations, or what can be brought to demonstrations or events.

"Multiple recent requests by large citizen groups seeking to demonstrate in central Monrovia underscore the need for the Government of Liberia urgently to clarify a comprehensive notification or application process for large demonstrations, to include what qualifies as individual, small, or large group protests, timelines, permissible locations, restrictions on what can be brought to events, etc." the statement notes.

The Diplomatic Partners believed that "transparent notification or application procedures for permits to hold large demonstrations, coupled with apolitical and content-neutral adjudications of said applications, can ensure that future events, which are normal and healthy in a democracy, efficiently allow protestors to gather, express grievances, and present petitions to the government".

They cautioned that any restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly should be consistent with Liberia's constitution as well as Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that: "The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than that imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health, or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

Regret for January 6 protest

The EU, UN, US and ECOWAS expressed regret over the abrupt ending of the peaceful assembly of thousands of Liberians who gathered on Capitol Hill to express their grievances.

It can be recalled that the Council of Patriots (COP) staged a peaceful protest calling on government to address recommendations contained in its June 7 petition submitted to the government.

Paramount among those proposals were a call for the dismissal and subsequent prosecution of Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, and the former Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), Nathaniel Patray for their roles played in the controversial US25m mop up exercise.

The aggrieved citizens also called on government to find solutions to curtail or minimize the voluminous economic hardship confronting vast majority of the already impoverished Liberian people.

The protest ended prematurely when security forces fired tear gas and water to disperse the protesters who attempted cooking in front of the Executive Mansion.

The International Community noted that though security forces acted professionally, the abrupt ending of the peaceful assembly was regrettable.

"We note with regret for all present on Capitol Hill on 6 January, that a protest ended abruptly after a day in which approximately 2,000 demonstrators had peacefully assembled and security forces had displayed commendable professionalism in executing their duties. While it is understandable why the Liberian government would find it untenable for a large group of demonstrators to block the primary route through the government quarter endlessly, to disperse the crowd without reasonable audible warning increased the risk of harm to citizens," the statement indicates.

Call to pursue the rule of law

The International Diplomats want Liberians to always pursue the rule of law whenever they feel that their rights are being violated.

"It is important for individuals in all democracies to be able to exercise their freedoms of expression, petition, and peaceful assembly. We note that, if individuals in Liberia believe that their rights have been abridged, there are possible judicial remedies accessible under Liberian law", the statement maintains.

They maintained that the review of administrative decisions by the courts can serve as an important mechanism in a democratic society to refine and clarify the interpretation of domestic laws and Constitutional rights.

They stated that citizens should also feel that their concerns can be heard and deliberated through their elected representatives in the legislature.

"The government and opposition political parties in Liberia have expressed a shared desire to build a democratic and civil society based on the rule of law and the welfare of all. We in the international community will continue to stand by Liberian citizens, and the government as they work together to strengthen core institutions, protect universal human rights, and endeavour to create opportunities for all Liberians to provide a better life for their families and communities".

Constructive engagements

Meanwhile, the International Diplomats have underscored the need for stakeholders in Liberia to recommit themselves to constructive engagements in this New Year.

They expressed the hope that the year 2020 will afford opportunities for substantive engagement, respectful dialogue, and reflection by those committed to improving Liberia's economic situation and strengthening political stability.

They maintained that with constructive engagements and consultations challenges would be addressed and progress sustained in Liberia.

"At the dawn of a new decade, we share with all stakeholders a hope for Liberia's promising future. To that end, we encourage all actors to recommit themselves to constructive consultations at the community, regional, and national level. It is only through such engagement that challenges can be understood and that durable progress can be made," the statement adds.

It continues: "As committed international partners, we and other friends of Liberia will continue to support efforts that yield meaningful results".

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