Liberia: U.S. Justice Department to Prosecute Those Behind Shipping of Arms from the U.S. to Liberia
MONROVIA – The United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy, has warned that there is no shortcut to the Liberian presidency and has at the same time assured the public that those seeking to destabilize the country would be brought to book under the U.S. Justice System.
Report by Lennart Dodoo and Jaheim T. Tumu
Amb. McCarthy made specific reference to those behind the illegal shipment of military-grade weapons from the United States to Liberia through the Freeport of Monrovia.
The United States Ambassador made the disclosure when he spoke at the Archbishop Michael K. Francis Intellectual Discourse on Peace and Social Justice on Thursday.
Said Amb. McCarthy: “Let all who wish to destabilize the country with threats of violence and intimidation understand that a better Liberia lies at the end of open discourse, respectful debate, and free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections. Shortcuts will never work.
“Let me also make it crystal clear that any person hoping to destabilize Liberia by sending weapons illegally from the United States will meet the full force of law enforcement on that side of the Atlantic. I assure you that Embassy Monrovia will strongly urge the Department of Justice to prosecute this and any similar crimes to the fullest extent of the law.
“Liberia, a republic for over 175 years, understands the fruits of democracy better than most countries on the globe. I am confident that through the investment by civil society working hand in hand with the media and elections officials, the citizens have every reason to anticipate a healthy campaign season with results that accurately reflect the will of the people.”
The weapons were discovered in a container at the Freeport of Monrovia during the first week in January by the Liberia Revenue Authority Customs Service, the Liberia National Police and other members of the security apparatus.
According to the Inspector General of Police, Col. Patrick Sudue, through joint security efforts, they managed to confiscate the container which was shipped to Liberia by a Liberian residing in Texas, United States identified as Boye Benjamin Baker. He reportedly works for American Airlines.
“We had the intelligence so we went to the Freeport and confiscated the container, opened the container – the first few boxes that were searched, we saw some heavy weapons, a lot of them, we’re talking about military weapons. As we speak the container is sealed up, we’re going to search the entire container,” he said.
Col. Sudue disclosed that at least 15 assorted riffles were discovered so far. “But those 15 weapons if you get them you can destabilize this country because those are high-ferocity-powered firing weapons. We’re talking about weapons that use 20-caliber rounds, 30-caliber rounds – those are not joking weapons,” Col Sudue said. Several rounds of ammunition were also discovered.
Col. Sudue said the Police were focusing the investigation on the motive of the shipment and were also trying to establish if there were previous unnoticed shipments to the country.
“We need to know who are those behind the importation of those weapons and who were those going to use the weapons,” he said.
Upon the discovery, three people were arrested in connection with the illegal shipment of the arms. Barbra Debba of Old Road community who was to receive the consignment was among those arrested. The broker identified as Melvina was also arrested. During the search of the consignee’s home (Boye Baker) in Brewersville, more weapons were discovered in the ceiling. Also found hiding in the ceiling is a man identified as Tamba who was also taken into police custody.
“Electoral Magistrates are corrupt”
At the same event, Vice President Jewell Howard-Taylor has accused National Election Commission’s county magistrates of being corrupt and has called on the NEC to either rotate or replace them before the October presidential and general elections.
VP Taylor said: “The internal dispute resolution processes are not free and fair and those who look at it, and I can tell you, most of the electoral magistrates are corrupt. They need to be rotated, they need to be changed, whatever NEC needs to do. That will provide an environment where people feel that they are free to participate”
The Vice President further disclosed that during elections, Magistrates are often paid in advance to ensure certain people come out victorious, thus making it difficult for complaints to be taken seriously, whenever foul play is observed.
She, however, called on religious leaders, to play a pivotal role in ensuring that internal disputes involving NEC Commissioners are resolved to avoid hindrance during the elections.
“The issue of internal dispute resolution must be taken very seriously and the issues of people that have stayed so long. People have been in that position since 2005. They are their system and they will tell you upfront I am the system,” she started.
“If you don’t deal with me, you are not going to win. Indeed people don’t win. Not because they have lost but because the system is jeopardized from the beginning. The Election Commission needs to look carefully at what to do about those people,” she said.
She further said, “I hope they will open their doors for some intervention before it gets too late. There is a conflict at NEC. Some of the commissioners don’t see eye to eye, and because of that, the system could be blocked or set aside and in the end, the government will be responsible.”
Respect the Rule of Law
At the same time, delivering the keynote remark at the forum, the Former Special Representative of the President of ECOWAS, Ambassador, Babatunde O. Ajisomo said the lack of prosecution for electoral offenses and the lack of accountability have come with a risk of creating a culture of impunity, where political actors feel emboldened to engage in misconduct without fear of repercussions.
Amb Ajisomo asserted that the lack of prosecution not only undermines the integrity of the election but also sends a message to political actors that such misconduct should be accepted.
He indicated that for peace to become more sustainable during the electoral cycle, people must adopt non-violent ways to resolve their issues and differences.
According to him, NEC and security agencies must ensure that an equitably facilitate level plain field is made available to all candidates and political parties throughout the 2023 electoral process.
He warned politicians to refrain from undermining the people’s understanding of the legitimacy of the elections, especially on social media.
Said Ajisomo, “A significant step to ensure that all political parties adhere to these principles could be the renewal of the Farmington Agreement of 2017, which committed all signatories, including the major political parties ‘to a free, fair, transparent and non-violent election in Liberia.”
He further expanded: “A 2023 Peaceful Election Agreement should include a commitment to guidelines on the proper use of social media ahead of and immediately after the elections.
“NEC, the LNP, and security agencies, as well as the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary, must work closely together to ensure that electoral offenses are investigated and those found guilty are held accountable for their actions.”
Ajisomo urged NEC to continue holding regular dialogue with parties through the platform of the Inter-party Consultative Committee (IPCC) within the framework document.
He explained that the judiciary as the final arbiter has a crucial role to play in settling electoral disputes with care and caution to consolidate democracy and the rule of law while urging civil society and faith-based organizations to promote civic education and monitor the electoral process.
“All these stakeholders must work together to ensure that electoral misconducts are identified, investigated, and addressed swiftly and that the citizens’ right to choose their leaders are respected,” he said.