Cllr. Theophlius C. Gould, president of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, a human right lawyer, have expressed diverse opinions on Article 87 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which talk about suspension of rights under a state of emergency.
Article 87 states that “Emergency powers do not include the power to suspend or abrogate the Constitution, dissolve the Legislature, or suspend or dismiss the Judiciary, and no constitutional amendment shall he promulgated during a state of emergency. Where the Legislature is not in session, it must be convened immediately in special session and remain in session during the entire period of the state of emergency.”
But, Cllr. Gould, when he addressed the opening session of the October Term of the Supreme Court of Liberia, maintained that Article 87 is often being misunderstood arguing, “emergency powers do not include the power to suspend or abrogate the Constitution.”
But, “Your Honors, as you know better than we, the suspension referred to in the Article has to do with the suspension of the entire constitution or the abrogation of the entire Constitution, and not that the President cannot suspend certain rights as per Article 86.”
He added that “There is no contradiction and we urge our citizens where ever they may be placed to understand this and not to grand stand on a non-issue.”
Disagreeing with the president of the LNBA, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, who presents himself as a follower of the constitution, argued that his colleague was in error in the interpretation of the Article.
He draws on the strength of his argument on Article 1 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which states “All power is in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefits and they have the right to alert and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the rights at such period, and in such manner as provided for under the Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and fill vacancy by regular elections and appointments.”
”Our President,” Counselor Gongloe emphasized, “has no power to suspend the entire Constitution neither to restrain the rights of the people except that granted it by the people as provided for in Article 1.”
He maintained that
“It is time to speak about government handling of the fight against the deadly Ebola virus disease, which is gradually showing sign of a dictatorship, military state or arbitrary rule.”
The article, the human rights lawyer noted, “allow individuals freedom to be higher than the dignity of the country.”
“In this present crisis,” Cllr. Gongloe contended, “suspending a right is not the solution to our problem; instead our solution is to use persuasion, education and other strategies to ensure that the people and the community take the campaign to stop the [spreading of] disease in the country.”
The human rights lawyer insisted that “government is the problem” and that ordinary Liberians should be recognized in the fight against the virus.”
He took great care to emphasize that the only way to combat the virus is to initiative a collaborative effort among all Liberians and not to suspend their rights.