Dual Citizenship!?

A constitutional referendum was held in December 2020, featuring dual citizenship for Liberians.

We’ve had it for two years, didn’t know we had it, and spent millions on a referendum about it that we did not need... because we already had it.

After a colossal flop at the 2020 Constitutional Referendum, in which President Weah sought to legalize dual citizenship for Liberian citizens, it appears that the President has just realized that his wish was granted long before he knew how to go about obtaining it. 

Nevertheless, congratulations are in order. 

In a press statement issued Wednesday, October 13, Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie announced that a decision of the Supreme Court of Liberia had nullified a section of the Alien and Nationality Law that automatically takes away the citizenship of any Liberian who acquires another nationality despite not being party to the case.

The decision is a fulfillment of the “long-held desire of the President to ensure Liberians of all persuasions, who left the country due to the civil war, are not deprived of their rights and privileges in the land they regard as home,” Minister Rennie said. “This is Victory for all Liberians.” 

The announcement follows three weeks from a September 22, 2021 communication from Minister of Justice, Frank Musah Dean, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dee-Maxwell Kemayah, informing him of the Supreme Court decision. The communication also mandated the Foreign Minister to adjust its operations to accommodate all Liberian-born individuals who request Liberian passports. 

In a WhatsApp chat exchange, Minister Dean told the Daily Observer that the communication to the Foreign Minister was prompted by reports that “some Liberians with dual citizenship were being denied Liberian passports.” 

However, the practicality of the Court ruling by the government, does not confer a right to dual citizenship, rather it instructs the government to comply with the principle of due process of law before depriving any Liberian of his/her citizenship. 

And there is an oddity.  Liberians in the diaspora will have to prove that they or their parents are natural born Liberians. 

Also the issue of the parameters of dual citizenship for Liberians has yet to be settled. For example, will Liberians with dual citizenship be eligible to hold elective office or occupy sensitive government positions? And will the Government of Liberia be able or allowed to track who has dual citizenship and who does not?

What the Government of Liberia’s press release didn’t say was that the Supreme Court’s decision was made nearly two years ago, on December 23, 2019, twelve months before the failed referendum. 

The case came about when a naturalized American, A. Teage Jalloh, who was born a Liberia citizen, was barred from obtaining a Liberian passport by the Weah administration, citing Sections 22.1 and 22.2 of the Alien and Nationality Law, published on May 15,1973.

Jalloh, who was born in Liberia, was told by the Liberian embassy in Washington, DC (USA) that he needed a non-immigrant Liberian visa before he could be permitted to enter Liberia. 

But Jalloh took issue with the government's stand and filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Liberia, challenging the decision. In his suit, Jalloh argued that Sections 22.1 and 22.2 of the Alien and Nationality Law, which were enacted before the adoption of the 1986 Constitution, as repealed by Article 95(a) of the 1986 Constitution, are inconsistent with the due process clause of Article 20(a).

Section 22.2 of the Alien and Nationality Law allows the citizenship of a Liberian to be revoked “solely from the performance by a citizen of the acts or fulfillment of the conditions specified in [Section 22.1].” Among the enumerated acts of Section 22.1 is “(a) Obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application…”

But after claims and counterclaims between government lawyers and Jalloh’s legal team, the Supreme Court in 2019 agreed with Jalloh’s argument that Article 95(a) of the Liberian Constitution allows for the continuation of laws predating the enactment of the 1986 Constitution, “in so far as it is not inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution…” 

However, Jalloh’s concern was that revocation of citizenship under section 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law impacted constitutional due process as outlined in Article 20(a).

Article 20(a) of the Constitution grants 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.”

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the petition is hereby granted. Section 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law, to the extent that it provides for loss of citizenship solely on account of the performance by a citizenship of acts or fulfillment of the conditions specified in Section 22.1 without the institution by the Government of any proceedings to nullify or cancel citizenship in violation of the due process clause under Article 209(a) of the 1986 Constitution, is hereby null and void without any force and effect of law,” the Judges ruled.

However, the government did not act on the Court ruling until after one President Weah signature project, the 2020 referendum, which included a proposal on dual citizenship, was massively defeated during the December poll.

That defeat forced the government to look at the Court ruling, despite remaining mute on the matter for nearly two years. In his communication to the Dean of the Cabinet, Foreign Minister D. Maxwell Kemayah, last month, Justice Minister, Frank Musa Dean advised that henceforth, a Liberian by birth who obtains naturalization in a foreign country will only forfeit his Liberian citizenship as a result of a “due process” of law, meaning that the individual would have to formally renounce their Liberian citizenship. 

In the absence of a formal renouncement (in court of law), a Liberian citizen who has naturalized in another country reserves the right of entitlement to a Liberian passport.

Min. Dean then mandated his counterpart at the Foreign Affairs Ministry to ensure that the implementers of the revised regulations governing the administration and issuance of Liberian passports "take due note.”

Min. Dean further said that based on the Supreme Court’s decision, all Liberians remain Liberians unless divested of their citizenship by order or judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction.“Yes, it includes children born in other countries to Liberian parents,” the Justice Minister told the Daily Observer via WhatsApp.