Liberian Legislatures Seek To Deny Diaspora Liberians The Right To Serve Their Country – Part II


As Dual Citizenship Debate Continues Proponents of Proposition continue to argue that the amendment of Article 28 is merely seeking “to confirm and restore the citizenship rights of natural born Liberians” who reside outside of Liberia. To the contrary, Liberians do not lose their citizenship under any Liberia law by reason of naturalizing in another country. What this amendment will do is deny Diaspora Liberians who seek naturalization due to life situation. It further seeks to prevent Liberians from holding any appointed position in Government, including heading scientific institutions, like JFK Hospital, CARI, Universities (just to name a few).

By Francis K. Zazay, [email protected], Contributing Writer

Additionally, the proposition seeks to make it harder to ratify the alien and nationality law by constitutionalizing it, when the law could have simply been ratified, either through the courts or by legislative action. In reality, the Legislature is now saying, contrary to all other norms of modern governments, that whenever the issue of nationality laws are discussed, the constitution must be amended, as if to suggest that the process does not come with huge cost, contrary to what is done in one of its most favored neighbors, Ghana and many decent civilizations of the world.

Customary and Tribal Law Implications Interestingly, Proposition 1 did not consider the judicial remedy provided under Article 65 when it sought to amend Article 28. Rather, Proposition 1 is a shocking reaction to two Supreme Court Rulings, Re: Alvin Teage Jalloh vs Olubanke King-Akerele, relative to the constitutionality of the Alien & Nationality o Liberia, and the Supreme Court’s ruling of October 7, 2011 on the migration issues, in the case seeking to deny some politicians from contesting elections. Article 65 states in part that the Judgements of the Supreme Court shall be final and binding and shall not be subject to appeal or review by any other branch of Government. In a wanton disregard to the constitution, the action of the Legislature appears not to recognize the duties of the Court, when it ruled on immigration issues, which is why Proposition 1 has become a hot topic.

Additionally, Proposition 1 does not consider our cultural norms as stated in Article 65 of the Constitution when it recognizes the application of both statutory and customary laws in accordance with the standards enacted by the Legislature. Under our tribal custom and arrangement, all members of the tribe are always members of the tribe, except under other extreme conditions. For example, where a tribal member dishonors the custom of the tribe, goes against the societal norms of the tribe, is expelled by reason of the gravity of the crime committed.

As you can see, our customary laws in Liberia do not reject a returning member of the clan, simply by reason of acquiring nationality in other country, except where the person expressly states so. This is due process, as recognized in Article 20a. For example, does someone who was a Lorma, Bassa or Kru, no longer Lorma, 2 Bassa or Kru, by reason of taking up another country’s citizenship? To the extent that such is not the case under our tribal laws, the proposition on dual citizenship is unfound, given that it will immediately be at odds with our customary laws the moment it becomes constitutional.

Dual citizenship, as it is known, is the nationality status of a person with citizenship of two countries concurrently. That means the dual citizen, at the same time, has legal rights and obligations relating to the two countries. The right and obligations include, mandatory national services, taxation, and etc. In the State of Israel for example, a dual national is not considered a “foreign citizen under Israeli Security Service Law and is therefore, subject to a mandatory military service”. In the United States, it is left to the individual, upon answering to the question of whether they have denounced their citizenship to the US, just as under our tribal laws and our current constitution under Article 20a.

Therefore, a U.S. citizen may naturalize in a foreign state without any risk of losing his US citizenship. The same is with France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and many of Liberia’s long-standing allies since independence. According to my research, many of the countries named above have dual citizenship arrangements with countries with whom they have particularly foreign interest and where most of their citizens travel, reside and do business. Due Process As long as a Liberian does not formally tell a Liberian court, a chief, an embassy, etc that they no longer are a Liberian, that person remains a Liberian regardless of whether they are naturalized elsewhere. Our tribal laws and practices and Article 20a of the constitution are clear on this point when it provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law. There is therefore, fundamentally, no need for Proposition.

Instead the Legislature should be thinking about how to have its diaspora population make some minimum tax contribution and seek to find ways to make them remain Liberians at all times, by designing programs of inclusions! Liberians do not lose their citizenship by any standard simply because they naturalized in another country. Under the current arrangement per Article 20a, a citizen who decides not to be a Liberian can do so through a formal hearing consistent with due process. What Proposition 1 seeks is to take away the due process rights of the person and instead, literally, go on knocking at the doors of its diaspora citizens, seeking to know who in the household has changed their citizenship. This amounts to policing diaspora Liberians and therefore, lacks moral discretion. Fundamental Rights 3 A Liberian has the fundamental right to seek enjoyment of life and liberty.

As a Fundamental Right, it is provided under Article 11a that All persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining and security of the person and of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution. As we all know, our right to liberty as enshrined in our constitution was challenged during the course of our 15 years civil war. People were passing all over Liberia killing fellow Liberians. There were no schools for kids to go to school, hospitals were closed or destroyed, no jobs, no happiness, other than chaos. Liberians, in their desire to pursue happiness, sought refuge elsewhere because their government had failed to produce that happiness, security, liberty, etc, as required under Article 11a of the constitution of Liberia.

The Supreme Court, under the late Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis, ruled on the migration that took place between the periods 1979 to 2005. That period ushered Liberia into turbulent times, forcing many to flee into exile. While in exile, the Military Government of Liberia sought to exclude the political elites of that time, many of whom were Americo-Liberians or Americo-Liberian oriented.

To achieve their sinister goal, the Military government included in the draft constitution, after it was drafted and submitted, a residency requirement of 10 years, prior to holding any elected position in the country, in addition to the citizenship clause. Article 52(c) of the constitution requires a Liberian to be a resident in the Republic ten years prior to his/her election, provided that the President And the Vice-President shall not come from the same County. Many Liberians saw this proposition to be problematic for the fact that the attending situations leading to the migration of Liberians in their numbers, was caused by the government. The question then became, whether in a situation where the Government of the Republic of Liberia, fails to protect its citizens, to the extent that they are forced to leave and seek greener pasture in foreign land, the residency clause apply! Under Article 11b of the Constitution, it is provided that All persons, irrespective of ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin or political opinion, are entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. As you can see, Article 11b does not exclude the right to pursue and maintain the security of the person, nor did any section of the constitution exclude that right.

The Johnnie Lewis Court clearly recognized this implication! In addressing this issue, the late Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis, on October 7, 2011 ruled in the case seeking to deny some politicians from contesting presidential election in October 2011. In that ruling, the Court ruled that “…on account of the civil war and its devastating impact on the lives of the Liberian people at different periods of the nation’s history, which necessitated the flight of citizens from the country, it is 4 our opinion that the framers of the 1986 constitution could neither have contemplated, nor intended that Liberians faced with the state civil crisis be ‘resident’ because at some point in the future, they may want to run for the office of president,”.

Additionally, and prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Liberian Political leaders and people themselves had attempted to oppose this clause in various actions, knowing that enforcing it would have excluded them from participation in the nation’s political process. The Court concluded that Article 52 applies only to Constitutional period as it was contemplated and intended by the writers of the Liberian Constitution (1986). The Chief Justice was merely quoting history, so as not to recycle bad decision. As you can see, Justice Jonnie Louise exercised judgement in rendering that opinion, an action that the Legislature did not do. He reasoned that had Government exercised prudence in managing Liberia, its citizens would not have experienced the level of divesting civil war that caused them to be spread helter-skelter, and in different countries. The learned Justice was merely interpreting Article 11b, because it did not exclude the right to pursue and maintain the security of the person, nor did any section of the constitution exclude that right, as granted under Article 11a.

This argument brings to mind whether, Article 65, the Legislature may seek legislative action, on situations and issues already decided by the Court. Conclusion Proposition 1 has not survived any test of intellectual scrutiny, other the desire of regulating fellow Liberians.

By constitutionalizing it, the framers of the law intend to make it harder for amendment. The normal practice for improving alien law is that it is managed through amendment to the immigration laws or by actions of the court system and not amendment to the constitution. A failure to revert to the norm, poses the risk of denying returning Liberians their fundamental rights and also runs counter to Liberia’s customary laws. The legislature should instead seek to attract professional Liberians, along with their children back home, just as the Government’s goal with the Providence Island initiative. Author: Francis K. Zazay is a current resident in Liberia and formerly an active member of the Liberian Diaspora in Minnesota.