Liberia: Diplomatic Note, ‘Proper Channels’ Deciding COP Leader’s Extradition Fate

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ISSUE OF NON-REFOULEMENT: The convention protocol relating to refugees under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees subscribes to the core principle of international refugee law, which provides that no one shall expel or return against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom. The Convention is both a status and rights-based instrument and is underpinned by a number of fundamental principles, most notably non-discrimination, non-penalization and non-refoulement.

Monrovia – For human rights activists and civil society organizations advocating the release of the leader of the Council of Patriots, still in the protective custody of Sierra Leonean authorities, it all came down, Wednesday, to the issue of Mr. Henry Costa’s expressed fears of returning to Liberia.


Analysis by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]


Mr. Costa’s detention, according to Sierra Leonean civil rights campaigner, Abdul Koroma was controversial and illegal. “In fact, the government of Sierra Leone should not attempt to return him to Liberia because Mr. Costa’s life would be in imminent danger, Koroma told the BBC Focus on Africa.

Mr. Costa himself has made it clear, he would be killed if he is sent back. “I will be killed if I were to return to Liberia. I would be killed, so the Sierra Leonean authorities will have to know that. I will make that clear to them when I speak with them in the morning,” Mr. Costa stated in a VOA Daybreak Africa interview Wednesday.

Activist Point to Refoulment Principle

According to Koroma, Sierra Leone is under obligation to international laws, not send anyone to a country where he thinks his life would be in imminent danger. 

The convention protocol relating to refugees under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees subscribes to the core principle of international refugee law, which provides that no one shall expel or return against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom. The Convention is both a status and rights-based instrument and is underpinned by a number of fundamental principles, most notably non-discrimination, non-penalization and non-refoulement.

By daybreak Wednesday, Liberian authorities were confident that Mr. Costa would have been on an Africa World Airlines flight bound for Monrovia shortly after midday.  

As midday approached, it became clear that Mr. Costa would not be on the flight, because he was never put on.

Instead, FrontPageAfrica would later gather that the COP leader, who had spent the night at the Lungi International Airport in the custody of immigration authorities, from where he posted on his Facebook account, that he was being treated well, remained under the protection of Sierra Leonean police at a station outside the airport, as civil rights campaigners and lawyers entered the fray in hopes of securing his release.

It was later gathered that authorities at the Liberia Immigration Services were not forthcoming in some of the details provided to their Sierra Leone counterparts, regarding the true nature of the request to have Mr. Costa returned to Monrovia.

The COP leader, who was allowed the use of his phone while under the protective custody of Sierra Leonean authorities told the VOA’s Daybreak Africa that he fled to neighboring Sierra Leone in hopes of boarding a flight to Istanbul, Turkey and then to the US, when he was informed that the immigration authorities in Freetown had been alerted about his situation in Liberia. “When I tried to check-in, they called me up, very nicely – and they’ve been very nice, professional people. They raised some issues that there was information sent by the Liberian government or some source that I needed to not be allowed to board the flight. The immigration officers brought some police officers who accompanied me to the police station, they’ve been very nice to me. I’ve been held under protective custody. It’ not been seen as I’ve been arrested but of course my rights to move freely are curtailed but I’m not arrested but I am held under protective custody at the police station at Lungi.”


Allegations of  Threat

Mr. Costa explained that his main reason for leaving was because of an assassination threat. “On Sunday I received some help from some very top-level security in Liberia. They came to me and said, leave the country, there’s a plan to assassinate you. We know you can be stubborn but please do not be stubborn about this. We know about this plan and we do not want to sit here and allow it to happen. They facilitated my escape from the country. That is what happened, that is how I came to Sierra Leone. There’s an element which has been hired, people closed to the President to assassinate me.”

Mr. Costa said just two days before the protest which was supposed to be held on the 30th of December, he received a call and when he went to a meeting with folks from a very important diplomatic mission near Monrovia, he was informed of a plan to assassinate him. “So, I’ve been aware of that plan – and I’ve been protecting myself. There’s no case in the courts against me. I have not been charged with anything. But as I said, the Sierra Leonean authorities have been very reasonable, very pleasant and I hope that when I meet their bosses tomorrow, we would be able to square this thing out. There’s been no indictment, no prosecution, nothing, I have not committed a crime. So, that is why I made the move – I was warned to leave the country, my escape was facilitated by senior government security officials. I will not give their names.” 

Denial from President’s Office

President Weah’s office which had ignored Mr. Costa’s repeated claims of an assassination threat, finally addressed the matter Wednesday. 

The President’s office in a statement, dismissed the allegations and insinuations by the leader of the Council of Patriots, declaring that the Weah administration respects the sanctity of human life and the fundamental rights of people and would always do everything to protect all citizens and foreigners within its borders without discrimination. 

In the last 24 months, the President’s office noted, it has always demonstrated extreme tolerance by providing security for dissenting and agitating citizens and will continue to do so within the confines of the laws in the coming years. “While the Government of Liberia has no means to regulate public opinions, particularly those placed on social media pages, it would like to encourage citizens to desist from making inflammatory statements that have the potential to undermine the security of the state and endanger the lives of the people.”

Late Diplomatic Note from Monrovia

“We have submitted a formal diplomatic note through the proper channels to Sierra Leone in which we have catalogued several voluminous violations of Liberian laws by Mr. Costa. We have requested the government of Sierra Leone to extradite him to Liberia to face the law.”

– Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information, Liberia

Mr. Costa’s views have often drawn a fiery response from the Weah administration. 

In some instances, those responses have drawn government officials in thick of controversy. 

On Wednesday, Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon was forced to explain his way out of Facebook post insinuating that Mr. Costa ‘would soon die’.

Mr. Fahngon who was suspended last year over similar comments against government critics said the post was a misrepresentation of his person.

In the Classic Dee (not his real name) live video, the name Eugene L. Fahngon’s comment was among the many comments under the live video. The comment stated: “Henry Costa will soon die.”

Such statements according to Mr. Costa, is a key reason why he was forced to flee. 

Even as news emerged that President Maada Bio had ordered Mr. Costa’s release late Wednesday, supporters of the talk show host remained in limbo as authorities Liberia toughen their stance to have him returned to Monrovia. 

FrontPageAfrica would learn only late Thursday that the initial request to have Mr. Costa returned to the Liberian authorities was not at the highest level of government but rather, only between the Liberian Immigration Services and its counterparts in Sierra Leone. 

The government’s chief spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe, in an appearance on the BBC’s Focus on Africa, acknowledged that the administration had stepped up the effort to have Mr. Costa returned, through what he described as proper and official channels.

Said Mr. Nagbe: “We have submitted a formal diplomatic note through the proper channels to Sierra Leone in which we have catalogued several voluminous violations of Liberian laws by Mr. Costa. We have requested the government of Sierra Leone to extradite him to Liberia to face the law.”

Does Costa Fit the Profile?

“We just want to ensure that we fulfil his rights, he himself can attest to that, he’s been very well treated, we cannot take dictation from any other government, we’re a democracy, we value that.”

Mr. Mohamed R. Swaray, Minister of Information & Communication, Sierra Leone

Under the Sierra Leone Extradition Act of 1974, “no extradition shall be granted without the approval of the Attorney-General.

Under the Act, every fugitive criminal in Sierra Leone shall be liable to be apprehended and extradited in the manner provided by the Act. “All requests for the extradition of a fugitive criminal shall be addressed through the usual diplomatic channels to the Attorney-General who, if satisfied of the authenticity of the warrant in virtue of which the request for extradition is made, and that any other conditions on which, in the particular case, the extradition depends, appear to be fulfilled, may issue and endorse on, or attach to, the original warrant or request an Order as prescribed in the Form 1 in the Sixth Schedule, and the said Order shall be a sufficient authority to apprehend the fugitive criminal and bring him before a Judge or Magistrate.”

The crimes for which one can be extradited under the Sierra Leone act are: Murder, manslaughter, Counterfeiting and altering money or bank notes and uttering counterfeit or altered money or banknotes and other offenses relating to coinage and banknotes, forgery counterfeiting  and uttering what is forged, counterfeited or altered, embezzlement, larceny, obtaining money or goods by false pretenses, offenses by bankrupts under law relative to bankruptcy, fraudulent misappropriation and frauds by a bailee, rape, abduction, child stealing, burglary and housebreaking, arson, robbery with violence and bribery. 

The treaty states that a person can also be extradited for sinking or destroying a vessel at sea, assault on board a ship on the high seas with intent to destroy life or do grievous bodily harm, revolt by two or more persons on board a ship on the high seas against the authority of the master; offense in connection with the Slave Trade committed on the high seas or on land, kidnapping, false imprisonment, perjury and subordination of perjury, malicious or willful damage to property, offences against legislation  relating to dangerous drugs, offences against the person, 

Under the treaty, any offence of a nature or category similar to any of the above-mentioned offenses which is for the time being punishable in Sierra Leone, any conspiracy or attempt to commit any of the above-mentioned offences and the counseling, procuring commanding, aiding or abetting of such 

For Liberia, the fight is not over as the Weah administration appears to not be relenting as it urged its next-door neighbors Wednesday, to fulfill its international obligations to extradite Mr. Costa on the basis of Minister Nagbe described as his “criminal activities and not his political activities”.

Section Two states: “For the purposes of this section the expression “public policy of Sierra Leone” shall be taken to include —the interests of security, public order and good morals; and fundamental human rights and the principles of humane treatment generally accepted among civilized nations.

Last week, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) accused the Liberian Nation Police of breaking the rules of engagement by the use of force against “peaceful protester” when they dispersed them by the use of teargas and hot water cannon on Monday, January 6, 2020.

In a press statement, Atty. Bartholomew B. Colley, acting chairman of the INCHR called for an investigation of the National Police over the use of excessive of force by state security against peaceful protesters last Monday.

Pressed as to whether he was using diplomatic channels and Liberia’s diplomatic muscles to harass someone who’s clearly bringing the Weah administration to book, Mr. Nagbe said to the contrary, President Weah has shown that he is a democrat who has observed all of the tenets of the rule of law and democracy.  “You will realize,” he argued,  “that over the past several months since President Weah took office there has been several protests, the opposition is active.”

Minister Nagbe cited the fact that Mr. Costa who has become the de facto leader of the opposition,  has led several protests, but has never been arrested, boasting that there is not a single political prisoner in the Liberian jail under President Weah.

Liberia, S.Leone Divided on Extradition

The minister, however, said, when a public figure chooses to abuse the law and violate the law, the government is under obligation to ensure that that individual is brought to book because as a public figure, that individual is under even heavier onus to observer the law. 

The minister said the administration, late yesterday, catalogued all of the crimes Mr. Costa is being accused of in its diplomatic note to the Sierra Leonean government, “From insurrection in several ways to violations of the penal code of Liberia and also including, fraudulently acquiring Liberian travel documents.”

Minister Nagbe explained that it is important to go after Mr. Costa because of Liberia’s recent history where travel documents are being used for fraudulent activities. “We are concerned not just about this particular incident but all of the other laws Mr. Costa has committed. We have submitted to the Sierra Leonean government through the proper procedures and we are available for this to be discussed in open court. Our government has remained transparent, we have always followed the rule of law, even in our own country, where the code of conduct has ruled against Mr. President and he has abided by the decision of the court.”

Pressed as to whether he was not using the situation to victimized Mr. Costa, Minister Nagbe said the record of President Weah speaks for itself. “This president has not used his power as president to violate the rights of any Liberian citizen, let alone members of the opposition, the records are there. Let us look at the fact that we have no political prisoners, we have a vibrant press, most times, would not give us the opportunity to get heard, yet we don’t’ touch them, we don’t  violate their rights but when there is a fragrant  violations of the Liberian law, we are under violation to take action in keeping with the laws of Liberia and in keeping with international law.”

Despite Liberia’s insistence on having Mr. Costa returned to Monrovia, Sierra Leonean authorities appear to be unconvinced. 

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Mohammed R. Swaray, Minister of Information and Communication in the Maada Bio government declared that the Bio administration will not take dictation from any government regarding the ongoing saga involving the head of the COP leader. 

Said Swaray: “We just want to ensure that we fulfil his rights, he himself can attest to that, he’s been very well treated, we cannot take dictation from any other government, we’re a democracy, we value that. We have struggled far too long for democracy and this government is noted for its very strong democratic credential so we will not do anything on toward. So, as soon as we have gone through the process, we will do what we have to do.”

Pressure on both Sides

Mr. Swaray explained that immigration authorities in Sierra Leone received a call from its Liberia counterparts to cross check a few things regarding Mr. Costa. But the minister made it clear: “Henry is not in detention, he is enjoying the full human rights, we are a sovereign democracy, we don’t take instructions from other people. I can assure you that Henry’s human rights  and basic freedoms will be respected. In fact, he posted something on Facebook that he’s being well-treated, he’s not been coerced, he’s very well protected even though he’s in confinement. So, as a government we are doing everything humanly possible to ensure that we don’t interfere with his basic rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In both countries, the pressure is mounting. 

In Sierra Leone Wednesday, a conglomerate of seven civil society organizations in Sierra Leone  –  Campaign for Good Governance, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Human Rights Defenders Network,  Partnership for Justice, Network Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, Campaign for Human Rights and Development International and Amnesty International – issued a strong statement calling for Mr. Costa’s release. “Sierra Leone Government has an obligation under both national and international law to protect human rights, and should not be seen as facilitating the abuse or violation of such rights. Should the Sierra Leone Government extradite Mr. Costa to Liberia, it will be equally blamed for any abuses or violations to which he may be subjected. This will certainly have far-reaching implication for Sierra Leone’s human rights credentials and its international image,” the conglomerate noted.

In Monrovia, a collaborating Liberian Political Parties under the Coalition of Political Parties, expressed concerns about the growing state of insecurity beclouding Liberia in the wake of attempts by the Weah-led government to extradite Mr. Costa to Liberia and the ongoing effort to tie a gun to District No. 10 Rep. Yekeh Kolubah’s vehicle which was searched and seized during last week’s protest.

The four parties – the All Liberian Party(ALP), the Alternative National Congress(ANC), the Liberty Party(LP) and the Unity Party(UP) – in a statement Wednesday said Liberia is once again, returned to the dark days; our most recent history of respect for the rights of Liberian citizens has, once again, eroded.

The parties have also written the Government of Sierra Leone NOT to return Mr. Costa to Liberia.

GoL Pinning Hopes on Diplomatic Maneuvers

For Liberia, the fight is not over as the Weah administration appears to not be relenting as it urged its next-door neighbors Wednesday, to fulfill its international obligations to extradite Mr. Costa on the basis of Minister Nagbe described as his “criminal activities and not his political activities”.

The diplomatic note submitted late Wednesday, Minister Nagbe told the VOA’s Daybreak Africa, in an interview airing Thursday, will make the case for Mr. Costa’s extradition. “The legal paperwork that will include the charges will be forwarded to Sierra Leone. “We want him to come back to face the full weight of the law and we are requesting Sierra Leone to cooperate in keeping with the treaty we have with that friendly country.”

While his Sierra Leonean counterpart, Swaray suggests that the Maada Bio government is unlikely to keep Mr. Costa longer than necessary, Nagbe says the Weah administration is pulling all its diplomatic buttons in hopes of a reversal on the matter from Sierra Leone, insisting that it is not the wish of the Liberian government to dictate to another foreign government. “What we have done is to invoke the bilateral treaty of extradition that we have with Sierra Leone in hopes that Sierra Leone in keeping with this legal document that both countries signed, would repatriate and extradite Mr. Costa to Liberia.  We are not trying to control the government of Sierra Leone. Why would we want to control the government of Sierra Leone? We don’t want any country  to control Liberia so why would we choose to control Sierra Leone. The minister is right. So, we have urged Sierra Leone, in keeping with this treaty to perform its international responsibility to expedite and repatriate Mr. Costa.”

A matter which appeared to be nearing a speedy conclusion Wednesday, now appears to be alive for yet another day.

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