Liberia Risks Sanctions if ECOWAS Ruling on Justice Ja’neh Is Ignored

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MONROVIA – The President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, Edward Moako Asante, has threatened that the regional body would consider the imposition of sanctions on the Government of Liberia (GOL) if it fails to adhere to the latest ruling from the court on the illegal impeachment of the former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Kabineh M. Ja’neh.

The ECOWAS Court was set up to monitor human rights abuses in the region.

In March 2019, former Associate Justice Jan’eh was impeached by the 54th National Legislature for granting a Writ of Prohibition petitioned by petroleum dealers in the country to stop the government from collecting levy/taxes of US$0.25 (road fund) imposed on the pump price of petroleum products.

Twenty-two Senators voted to remove him, four voted against his removal, while three abstained from the process.

Following the ruling, Mr. Ja’neh filed an exception to his impeachment to the ECOWAS Court sitting in Nigeria.

On Tuesday, 10th November 2020, the Court ordered the Republic of Liberia to pay Counsellor Kabineh Muhammad Jan’neh, the sum US$200, 000 ( two hundred thousand dollars) as reparation for moral prejudice suffered for the violation of his rights.

The Court also ordered the Liberian government, to restore, calculate and pay to the Applicant all his withheld entitlements, including salaries, allowances and pensions benefits as from the date of his impeachment to the date of notification of this judgment.

According to Justice Asante, the two-pronged judgment or ruling from the court has mandated the reinstatement of Mr. Janeh, and as such, the Liberian government is under obligation to do so.

He made these comments when he spoke to James Butty on the Voice of America (VOA) Day Break Africa program on Thursday, November 12.

He noted that though the court has ordered the reinstatement of Mr. Janeh, the Liberian government appointed another person in his position as soon as he was removed, adding that in the sense of the court, “they should pay him all his salaries and allowances as he was in duty up to the time that he retires at 70, as they do, and then to proceed to also pay him his pension”.

Non-compliance posture?

He pointed out that since the court’s ruling, the Liberian government has failed to appoint a focal person, through whom the judgments from the court can be enforced.

“They (GOL) have also shown a certain posture that they do not actually respond to the court’s judgment. But then, we’ll keep fighting and we will keep publicizing as you have done. Now, it’s on VOA; it’s going all over the place that the Liberian government, they are doing this, removing judges and all that”.

“And we are going to tell the president of the ECOWAS Commission whose duty is it to make sure that States comply with the judgments of the court; and we are also giving them six months within which to do that; otherwise, legally ECOWAS is working and working well; they could even apply sanctions against Liberia for noncompliance with the judgment of the court. So, these are the avenues we are looking at”.    

Justice Asante pointed out that the status quo of the ECOWAS Court calls on member countries to appoint focal persons within their own countries, from mostly the Attorney General’s or Solicitor General’s offices to receive the orders and judgments of the court and make sure they enforce them if it is about compensation or restitution, they will see to it that they are enforced. 

“But then, those people work for governments. Therefore, we are suggesting that our judgments, automatically, once we file it within the country, there should be legislation so that you can go and file within the local jurisdiction of the court; and you file it, it becomes a judgment just as enforceable as any local judgment”.

Detailing missteps

Speaking earlier, Justice Asante detailed numerous missteps taken by the Government of Liberia (GOL) to illegally impeached former Associate Justice Kabinah Ja’neh from the Bench of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

According to him, Mr. Ja’neh was “unjustly or wrongfully removed by impeachment from the Supreme Court of Justice.

He pointed out that the pleadings from the Republic of Liberia stated the decision to impeach Mr. Ja’neh was political and as such, the ECOWAS court shouldn’t have jurisdiction to override their political decision

He disclosed that the court’s ruling into the case in favor of the impeached Associate Justice was intended to discourage political maneuvering or interference into the courts in the region.

“Reading political meanings into it, we didn’t want this kind of impunity to happen, for politicians to have a way, because the position of judges should be insulated all the time such that politicians should not have the penchant of removing them at any time they wish because maybe they may not be singing their songs and all that”

He added that during the pre-impeachment stages, the proceedings were cleared that the removed justice was not invited or listened to, a point at which the actual charges were formulated by Mr. Ja’neh’s lawyers against the Liberian government.

Senate acted on “silver platter”

Justice Asante maintained that by law, or even by the procedures of Liberia and going by straight legal procedures, Mr. Ja’neh was not accorded due process.

“He (Janeh) should have been invited, or his comments, the defense actually should been taken there for the House of Representatives to know, ascertain, whether or not they should even dismiss the entire proceedings or to proceed. That was not done”.

He indicated that the House of Representatives also “virtually concluded” on the charges that were made against Mr. Janeh, a move that made it very easier and straightforward for members of the Liberian Senate to go ahead and get the charges against Mr. Janeh on a “silver platter” without any input, or defense from the judge.

 “And the court found that these were seriously against his right to fair hearing. That was very pivotal because the party must be given right to counsel, right to be heard and all that. And therefore, the court had no choice but to say that they infringed on his rights, violated his right to work, right fair hearing and even right to his dignity as a Supreme Court judge”.

Delaying enforcements

Justice Asante is on record for expressing dismay over the failure of countries in the region to adhere to judgments from the court.

Since 2003, the court has received 466 cases and delivered 121 judgments.

According to him, most of the cases filed were about human rights violation.

He, however, expressed concern about the lack of enforcement of the court’s judgments.

To strengthen enforcement, Justice Asante proposed that, national parliaments or legislatures should pass laws to enable the ECOWAS Court to file its judgment with a country, with said legislation making it possible for the ruling to automatically be filed with the local courts.

It remains unclear whether or not the Coalition for Democratic Change led government of President George Manneh Weah will adhere to the ruling from the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the wake of claims and counter claims over the violations of the country’s constitution and other international laws.

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