The memorial service of the late Judge Emma Shannon Walser was held on 9 June 2021 at the Lady of Lebanon Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, Tubman Boulevard, Monrovia, Liberia.
There has been considerable reporting on it, thanks to Togba-Nah Tipoteh’s two articles in the New Democrat and the Daily Observer. As such, I will not be repeating here much of who Judge Emma Shannon Walser was about and the significance of her Judgeship and ruling for the rule of Law in Liberia.
But there was a significant aspect that was not brought to light, namely the reaction by Liberian Women to the Joint Resolution by the Legislature that removed the Judge. Liberian women across the society – market women; Senior and elderly women; with young professionals (like myself at the time) constituted ourselves into a group called Concerned Women for Justice. We went to the Legislature with a 500 plus signatures petition protesting the action taken to remove Liberia’s first woman Circuit Court Judge of Montserrado County. It was unprecedented.
We called the media and I read the petition some 42 years ago. Leading the initiative of structuring the petition and galvanizing signatures were the Cassell Sisters (Ernestine and Clara; Lotte-Mai Phelps (now deceased) – and myself – Olubanke King-Akerele).
Amongst the Elders’ signatures were Ma Martha Johnson (Mother of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf); Jeanette Howard King (widow of President C.D.B. King); Cllr. Leona Chesson, (mother of Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh and wife of the then Minister of Justice); Ma Beh, head of Liberia Market Women. We were invited into the Chambers of the Legislature by the Sergeant-at-Arms, to present the petition.
The significance of all of this was when President Tolbert took the Petition into cabinet and said- “the women of the country are against me.” But all we wanted was Justice.
Fast forward – although the Petition did not result in the redress we expected, at the crafting of 1986 Constitution, the crafters stipulated that to remove them, judges are to be impeached, thus due process must be granted for the removal of Judges. This was not done during the removal of Judge Shannon Walser, as a Joint Resolution was passed by the Legislators and she was not given the opportunity to be heard, or to defend herself.
The net result is that in the effort to remove Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, the legal procedure of impeachment had to be followed, even though there remained some serious issues with the other rules governing impeachment and the trial, to the extent that Justice Ja’neh took the matter to the ECOWAS Court and was vindicated about his appeal against the Liberian Supreme Court’s ruling. Clearly what the Concerned Women for Justice did, 42 years ago, had “seen its face.”
Accordingly, we are today 42 years later, calling upon the Legislature to repeal the joint Resolution and reinstate the Judge by the time of her 92nd birth anniversary on 24 July, 2021.
Subsequent to this release, women of Liberia intend to follow-up with a formal Petition to the Legislature asking for the repealing of the joint resolution. We pray that that Petition will be successful.
At the same time, we call on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to apologize, investigate and report its findings to the Family of the late Judge and to the Women of Liberia for its absence from her memorial service and for not reading the Gazette by an official of the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, as is customary and for which she was entitled.
In their absence, I had to come to the defense of the Government of Liberia and, as former Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, read the official Gazette in that capacity.
May the late Judge’s soul rest in peace and perpetual light shine on it.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs