Did Multiple Unsolved Murders Lead to Sannoh’s Resignation?

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Cllr. Benedict Sannoh has resigned as Justice Minister, an Executive Mansion press release announced late last Thursday.

The GoL did not cite reasons for his resignation, simply stating that Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had accepted his resignation and thanked him for his service.

Sannoh was the fourth Justice Minister to serve in the Sirleaf administration since it took office in 2006. He replaced Cllr. Christiana Tah, who parted ways with the Unity Party led government early August 2014, citing what she described as the “complete collapse of the rule of law” in the country. Tah was preceded by Cllr. Philip A. Z. Banks and Cllr. Frances Johnson-Allison respectively.

Sannoh was appointed Justice Minister late 2014, which puts the length of his tenure at just over one year. Prior to this position, he served as Deputy Minister of Justice for Economic Affairs, designated by then Justice Minister Tah, on May 1, 2012, to represent the Ministry of Justice on the Board of Commissioners of the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC).

The outgoing Justice Minister’s short-lived tenure has been marred by serious breakdowns in the Rule of Law as it relates to the Justice Ministry’s handling of major murder cases in the country — the murder of Michael Allison, a Petroleum law expert who blew the whistle on irregularities in the drafting of Liberia’s new oil bill; the murder of Harry Greaves, a staunch critic of the Sirleaf administration; and the murder of Victoria Zayzay, the 20-year-old pregnant mother who died in police custody.

The bodies of both Allison and Greaves were found on Monrovia beaches following their gruesome murders. The government of Liberia said they had drowned. After she was found dead in her police cell, Police said Zayzay had hanged herself. But a leaked autopsy report said she had not died of hanging. Her family recently buried her body in Brewerville after waiting five months for an official autopsy report they never received. There have been no signs of an investigation after both the Liberia National Police under Director Chris Massaquoi and the Justice Ministry under Sannoh promised justice. None of the three murders, for that matter, was investigated. Any autopsy reports received by the press were either “preliminary” (Greaves) or leaked (Zayzay). But no official autopsy or investigative reports have been released. The Zayzay family says their daughter’s blood is on the hands of the Government of Liberia.

Sannoh was also Justice Minister when Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) leader Simeon Freeman was placed under house arrest by military personnel after he expressed fear for his life as an opposition leader following the mysterious death of Harry Greaves. After Freeman cited the existence of a “hit list”, military personnel surrounded his house, barring family members and lawyers from leaving or entering the house for several days. Freeman was reportedly smuggled out of the country by a foreign mission, his case cited as a violation of human rights.

Following Freeman’s ordeal, political activists Vandalark Patricks and Archie Sarnoh were jailed for reiterating Freeman’s allegation of a hit list. They were later released.

As such, it is unclear whether the government of Liberia is under pressure from the international community (and the declining confidence of the Liberian citizenry) to arrest the situation, in which case more heads may roll.

It also remains to be seen whether an incoming Justice Minister will properly investigate these cases or whether, with Sannoh’s resignation, justice has effectively been denied.

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