‘Don’t Just Condemn, Bring Perpetrators to Justice'

Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe and Rev. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr. both agree that the Constitution of Liberia gives all citizens the right to peacefully assemble and petition their government for the good of the country


— Gongloe, Council of Churches demand more from Gov’t in July 26 violence investigation

More statements of condemnation are pouring in against the violent attack meted on UL student protesters that took place in Monrovia on Independence Day. But beyond condemnation, are weightier concerns that those responsible do not go with impunity.

The latest two statements released on Thursday, July 28, are demanding that the ensuing investigation of the matter be met with accountability and transparency. The statements, though separate, appear to intently pressure the George Weah administration to ensure that the attackers do not go with impunity as has happened with several other unsolved acts of gruesome violence — including deaths — in the past. 

On Tuesday, July 26, the day when Liberians were celebrating the nation’s 175th independence anniversary, a group of students from the Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP), of the University of Liberia (UL), assembled at the gate of the American Embassy, West Benson Street, Monrovia, to protest against the Weah Administration’s handling of the country. Their slogan, “Fix the Country”, apparently raised the ire of an opposing group aligned with the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change, called the CDC-COP (Council of Patriots), who showed up on the scene and disrupted the SUP protest action in the full glare of police who were also on the scene. The SUP protesters were dispersed and pursued by their CDC-COP opponents, and the whole situation turned bloody. A member of the SUP group, Christopher Sivili, who could not get away in time, was stripped naked across the street from the Embassy and severely beaten, an act that was live streamed on Facebook, with the faces of the attackers in full view. 

It is not clear why the CDC-COP chose the same time and venue as the SUP group to carry on their counter-protest, but the Government of Liberia, in a statement nearly 24 hours following the incident, said that both groups were in violation of a law that required all public protests to acquire a permit from the Ministry of Justice. The government also condemned the violence and announced an investigation into the violence, but was quick to ask any eyewitnesses to come forward. 

But according to human rights lawyer Tiawan S. Gongloe, in any country governed by the rule of law, the protest action on the part of student Christopher Sivili and his colleagues is a legally protected right guaranteed by the Constitution and international human rights instruments. 

“Sadly, under the Weah-led CDC government,” he declared in a statement yesterday, “the lack of respect for the rule of law and human rights is fast turning Liberia, a constitutional democracy, into a fascist state, evidenced by the current lawlessness in the country.”  

Therefore, Cllr. Gongloe has announced plans to take “legal action” against the Government of Liberia for the brutality meted out against the peaceful protesters. 

“We will institute the appropriate legal action to hold accountable those responsible for this mindless display of such a devilish force against the peaceful and law-abiding students of the University of Liberia,” said Gongloe, who is currently in the United States galvanizing support for his 2023 presidential bid. 

Cllr. Gongloe disclosed his affinity with the SUP student protesters, himself “a former Acting Chairman of the Student Unification Party (1981) and a past victim of state-sponsored brutality. Therefore, he said, “I cannot sit by idly, and allow the gallant men and women of the Vanguard Student Unification Party, to be victims of state-sponsored terrorism.” 

“We call on President George Weah, not only to condemn this act of savagery but to take the appropriate steps to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes committed against these peaceful citizens,” he said. “President Weah has no other choice in this matter because the first and most important function of any government is to protect its citizens.” 

A separate statement, signed by Rev. Samuel B. Reeves, Jr., president of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), declared that the investigation of the violent attack should not be left in the hands of the Government of Liberia alone. 

“The Council of Churches acknowledges condemnation by the government and its call for the Liberia National Police to investigate the violence,” the LCC statement said. “We, however, pray that the investigation should be inclusive of national respectable stakeholders and done very speedily so as to bring credibility to the investigation and set an example of accountability, against unprovoked criminal acts and unnecessary violence, while proclaiming to the world that no one is above the law and that such actors of violence will not enjoy impunity at the expense of other citizens. 

“Therefore, those individuals who are vividly seen in the video carrying out such acts of  unprovoked violence on their fellow Liberian Citizen, should be speedily brought to  justice. 

This Press Release from the Council of Churches also encouraged the Independent  National Commission on Human Rights to get fully involved because such a vicious deportment falls within their authority to investigate and report what appears to be an obvious case of human rights abuses. 

The Council release furthered that in a  Democratic environment, everyone is not expected to share the same political views. 

Both the Council of Churches and Gongloe tend to agree that the Constitution of Liberia gives all citizens, or a group of citizens, the right to peacefully assemble and petition their government for the good of the country; therefore, there should be no action by anyone and/or group to prevent such a constitutional right. 

However, according to critics, the statement from the government, citing the law requiring a government-issued permit before the protest, appears to place equal responsibility on the SUP and the CDC-COP in spite of the violent dominance of one group over the other. 

Gongloe, in his statement, cited “the high frequency of unexplained deaths and government’s declining ability to maintain law and order,” which he said “undermines public trust in the ability of the Government of Liberia to sustain the peace and create an enabling environment for free political activities, progress in the reconstruction of Liberia and the economic development of Liberia. We call on President George Weah to stop the continuing erosion of the gains the Liberia people have made in sustaining the peace and building a democratic society.”

“Such acts and being of violence have no place in today’s Liberia and are condemned in the highest terms by the LCC; we, therefore, call on all to do likewise,” Rev. Reeves said in the statement.  

“The LCC, therefore, calls on the student community to remain calm and exercise patience as the Council would endeavor to ensure that the rule of law is upheld at all times. The Council also calls on all Liberians in and outside of the country to remain calm as we together stand for non-violence and justice for the rights of all its citizens. “We call on President George Manneh Weah to stop leading Liberia on the path to another state of anarchy,” Gongloe said.  “Liberians do not want to be reminded of the ugly past of the use of forces such as the NDPL Taskforce of the 1980s and the SOD and ATU of the Taylor era.”