–As State of Emergency takes full control
The government’s state of emergency declared on April 8, 2020, has taken full effect with joint security comprising the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the Liberia National Police (LNP), the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS), Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), the Liberia National Fire Service (NFS) joined now by the Monrovia City Police and the Boys Scout Club enforcing it by touring around Monrovia and other areas of restriction to ensure that people abide by the health protocols and especially the SoE declaration.
As this goes on, the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform (CSHRAP), a conglomeration of rights advocacy groups in Liberia, is cautioning the government to also observe in this period of a state of emergency to ensure that all human rights abuses that may be carried out by security personnel ahead of the enforcement are fully investigated and perpetrators identified and prosecuted in line with the law and international statutes that Liberia is a signatory to.
A statement issued by the rights group in Monrovia on April 13, 2020, notes: “The State Party (the government) should take measures to (a) ensure that any process of derogation from the Covenant complies with Article 4, (of the ICCPR) and to that end develop national guidelines on the implementation of a proclamation of State of Emergency; and (b) effectively investigate all allegations of human rights violations committed during the state of Emergency of 2014, with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice and providing victims with effective remedies”.
Additionally, the statement said, “The national guidelines should spell out the responsibilities of the government as a guarantor of human rights, the role of the International Community and the Civil Society Human Rights body in the fight against the Coronavirus (pandemic) in Liberia. Retrospection on instances from the Ebola crisis suggests that the government of Liberia is not sufficiently capacitated to address this grave nature of the coronavirus on its own without a well-coordinated plan and collaborating efforts from both national and international fronts.”
Since the state of emergency was declared and it took effect ahead of legislative concurrence or rejection on April 10, reports have emerged about brutality meted by state security with the Liberia National Police already dominating US State Department’s Human Rights Report about Liberia ahead of the brutality. Officers of the Monrovia City Police are also named in the brutality and harassment.
In Ganta, Nimba County that is also locked down, residents have been calling on local radio stations and complaining that men in black uniforms claiming to be law enforcers are harassing and forcing them to go indoors instead of sitting out in the vicinity within which they live.
Some have complained that their money and cell phones have been taken from them, while others say they have been beaten by those men. Ganta Detail Commander, Adolphus Zuah confirmed the incident and said it was done by people claiming to be officers of the Community Watch Forum and the Ganta City Police; which City Mayor Amos Suah also confirmed but with a clarification that the person ahead of this harassment is a dismissed officer who is “Impersonating.”
The CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform on the issue of guideline for observing the state of emergency is urging the government to spell out or specify conduct of the central role of state security forces in the COVID-19 response to enhance the SoE directives so that the West Point shooting in 2014 that led to Sheikh Kamara’s death cannot be repeated.
“To further ensure a professional response by the security forces, the CSO Platform calls on the Government of Liberia to clearly outline in the guidelines to the police, military, and joint security leadership, to strictly adhere to the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials during the State of Emergency to provide protection during the COVID-19 pandemic, to facilitate appropriate response and to avoid social unrest related to basic provisions,” said the group.
In furtherance, the CSO Platform said, “The Basic Principles state that law enforcement officials must use nonviolent means as far as possible before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must use restraint, minimize damage and injury at all times, and respect and preserve human life. The authorities should ensure that credible allegations of human rights violations and corrupt practices by members of the security forces, regardless of rank, be investigated and that those responsible will be disciplined or prosecuted”.
The group further acknowledged that International Human Rights Law requires restrictions on human rights in the interest of public health when emergency meets requirements of legality, evidence-based necessity, and proportionality.
While the group acknowledges also that the government has taken some steps to foster fight against the virus, it says there are still serious challenges some of which involve the protection and safety of health workers.
It urged the government to consider the human rights issues in the National Human Rights Action Plan to ensure that people’s right to health and other rights are respected fully at this time of state of emergency.