Letter to The President: The Evils of The State of Emergency and How It May Perpetrate Evils of Old


Your Excellency, Mr. President:

On April 8, 2020, you, Mr. President, announced the imposition of SoE in Liberia. Mr. President, this announcement, if approved by the Legislature, will authorize you to interfere with the rights of citizens otherwise guaranteed by the 1986 Constitution and other laws. 

By: Cllr. Yafar V. Baikpeh, Contributing Writer

Mr. President, let me distract you to say what I know SoE to be- “a political power granted to or used by a public authority to deal with the circumstances of a particular emergency” (10th Edition, Black’s Law Dictionary, page 1358). Put in other ways – SoE is a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions or impose policies that it would normally not be permitted to undertake.

SoE is actually meant to alert us to change our normal behavior and orders you to somehow interfere with some of our rights. My question then is, since SoE can also be used as a pretext for suspending rights and freedoms guaranteed under a constitution or other laws, how far do you want go? I’m asking this question because majority members of the Legislature have proven unreliable. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t question the justification of your April 8, 2020 SoE Proclamation!! Not at all!

SoE under Liberian Law

The Constitution contains human rights provisions which prohibit arbitrary arrest, detention without charge or trial and torture or inhumane treatment of any person. This is extremely important and so, Mr. President, please pay keen attention. 

Article 86 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution gives you Mr. President, with the approval of the Legislature, the power to declare a SoE and, as such, you may ”suspend or affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees” contained in Constitution. However, Mr. President, Article 87 states that SoE does not include the power ”to suspend or abrogate the constitution, dissolve the Legislature, or suspend or dismiss the Judiciary” or to amend the constitution. Also, ”the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended”.

SoE under International Law

Mr. President, although international law may allow rights and freedoms to be suspended during SoE, International law also prohibits the derogation or suspension of rights like (i) right to life, (ii) rights to freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and prohibits (iii) slavery, (iv) torture, and (v) ill-treatment, during SoE (Article 4 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights; The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols 11 of 1977). 

Therefore, any suspension of the human rights provisions of the Liberian Constitution under the SoE would constitute a violation of Liberia’s obligations under international human rights law. Breach of international law may result into international crime and so, international prosecution. 

History of SoE in Liberia 

Between 1950 to date, Liberians, under different regimes, have had to live under stringent life during the imposition of about eight (8) SoEs.

1. In 1950: President Tubman proclaimed SoE and sent troops to Harbel after riots broke out at the plantation. That SoE that was meant to contain labor unrest remained in place until President Tubman was re-elected on May 1, 1951. 

2. In September 1961: President Tubman declared SoE to deal with a general strike and riots, wish remain in place until he was re-elected without opposition on May 7, 1963. 

3. On February 9, 1966:  President Tubman was granted SoE on February 9, 1966 for twelve months, which remains in place until President Tubman was re-elected on May 2, 1967. 

4. In April 1979: President Tolbert declared an SoE, which was approved by the legislature, for twelve months.  

5. 1985: President Doe declared SoE in Liberia on ground of the 1985 coup d’état. 

6. On February 8, 2002: President Taylor declared SoE in Liberia on ground that the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) was moving close to Monrovia, the capital and also pledged not to use the SoE to curtail civil liberties.

7. On August 6, 2014: President Sirleaf declared SoE in Liberia on ground of the Ebola pandemic. 

8. On April 8, 2020: President Weah declares SoE to help combat COVID 19 from Liberia. 

 Abuse of SoE Powers 

Mr. President, the power granted under SoE can be abused.  An example would be to allow the SoE to suppress opposition or use the SoE for political advantage in favor of your party, the CDC or to harass, arrest, ill-treat, torture, and commit other forms of human rights violations. 

Dr. Weah, the realities of today’s Liberia evidenced that the SoE is already being abused – the current 6,000 contact tracers are classical example of abuse and misuse of public authority. Mr.  President, let’s face it, you know that these 6,000 contact tracers are the 6,000 coordinators of CDC that were recruited and appointed by CDC for the upcoming mid-term senatorial election, right? Mr. President, assuming you are being misled, do your advisors have conscious? Why will they risk the peace and democracy of the nation with such decision?   This is SAD, Mr. President!!

Also, please do not use this SoE to lead this country into detriment by ordering your security forces to torture and ill-treat our people-they are victims of poverty and indeed enslaved by hunger. Liberia is poor and so are Liberians! 

Mr. President, this nation is concern and people are becoming weary of what may happen to them during this SoE.  In fact, para military groups connected to you are currently being mobilized and armed-a replay of civil war in Liberia!  We are greatly concerned and should be concerned. 

The scouts, who are mainly under-aged children, are being mobilized and authorized to harass, arrest, ill-treat, torture, and commit other forms of human rights violations. In fact, motorcyclists are also mobilized, recruited and empowered to brutalize people who are already victimized. 

Mr. President, don’t implement “one fits all strategy”. We are indeed concerned and weary!

Given the excesses and political machination deployed by leaders during SoE,  I recommend that you immediately:

1. ensure that all human rights guaranteed to not be suspended or derogated under International law including the right to life, the right not to be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion may never be violated during the period of the SoE;

2. explain through a clear and unequivocal message to the security forces that the SoE is not to be used as a justification for committing human rights violations and that those suspected of being responsible for violations will be brought to justice;

3. give immediate and public instructions to the security forces to end immediately all harassment, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, torture, and other human rights violations; 

4. end the recruitment and use of non-statutory organizations from the joint security operations during the SoE. Groups such as the scouts, motorcyclist union, etc. are not and should not be part of the joint security during the SoE.

5. Instruct your Joint Security and those enforcing the SoE not to violate the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict; the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols 11 of 1977, etc.

Mr. President, I honestly want the government and Liberia to succeed in the fight against COVID-19, but not to employ excessive and arbitrary mechanisms violative of the constitutionally and internationally-guaranteed rights.  Indeed, Liberia is weary of political manipulations during the impositions of this SoE!