Liberia: National Civil Society Council Calls on Government to Cease Coronavirus Violence

Police officers hold rattans at a checkpoint on the Gabriel Tucker Bridge in Monrovia on April 12, 2020

Monrovia – State Security forces must stop all violence against people during this state of emergency announced to stem out the deadly Novel Coronavirus disease the National Civil Society Council of Liberia has said.

The largest civil society group, a conglomerate of civil society groups, community-based organizations and grassroots institutions across the country, welcomed the decision of the government to defeat the coronavirus pandemic but urged state security actors to ensure the rights of people are respected.

“Unauthorized actions against peaceful citizens, even if well intentioned, will jeopardize the peace and undermine government’s efforts,” said Loretta Pope-Kai, the council’s National Coordinator.

Liberia has now recorded 59 cases and six deaths from coronavirus as of Monday.

Police spokesman Moses Carter had told Reuters news agency on Sunday that the police would use force if people did not respect the stay-home and other regulations of the state of emergency ordered by President George Weah earlier this month.

Footage and photos of security forces manhandling people on the streets and in markets have emerged on social media. One viral photo shows the wife of a former reporter of the Heritage newspaper, Theophilus Seeton, with bloody mouth after an alleged encounter with law enforcement officers in Gardersville. A collage of photos on Facebook shows large marks on a man’s back after being flogged by the police. Another man is seen with a bruised mouth from another ordeal with the police. And boy scouts in one video are seen compelling a man to lie down in a drainage. 

“Media reports alleging violence against citizens in Nimba, Bong and other counties reportedly by elements of the Joint Security Forces are disturbing,” Mrs. Pope-Kai added. “The security forces that have been called up to enforce these regulations must do so with a high degree of professionalism and respect for the rule of law.”

Pope-Kai further called on the government to establish a taskforce to receive and investigate complaints against state security over their enforcement of the measures announced in the state of emergency She said that would prevent human rights abuses and violence against citizens. “To succeed in the fight against COVID 19, the citizenry should be mobilized and encouraged to support the efforts of the government, acts of violence against citizens will make this impossible,” she said. 

She called for the removal of checkpoints set up by vigilantes and called on community people to desist from any further unauthorized action regarding enforcement of the state of emergency. She added that youths that make up the majority of these vigilantes were neither uniformed nor identifiable, and appeared to be operating outside of the national COVID-19 and state security response system.

However, Pope-Kai criticized the government for ignoring the country’s poverty profile in the imposition of the state of emergency and the measures put into place to enforce it. Liberia is the poorest country in the world, according to a 2018 study by the 24/7 Wall Street, a content partner of of USA Today.

“The plight of tens of thousands of Liberians living in extreme poverty in rural and urban communities and the extreme economic hardship they will have to endure because of the State of Emergency was neither acknowledged nor addressed in the declaration,” she said. “Women and adolescent girls, especially single-mothers facing these difficulties, will be particularly vulnerable to violence and, sexual exploitation and abuse.”

She called for the government to develop and implement measures to provide relief for citizens living in extreme poverty, especially women and adolescent girls she said were likely to face extreme hardship as a result of the state of emergency. She said, “This may be in the form of food aid distribution or subsidized rice purchases.”