-UNHCR-Liberia Country Representative
The Country Representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to Liberia says Liberians need to be proactive in order to speak on the many human rights and constitutional violations currently experienced in the country.
Dr. Uchenna Emelonye spoke on Friday, February 8, 2019, at the official opening of the Public Interest Law Office (PILO) and the Institute for Constitutional Research, Policy and Strategic Development, a civil society organization (CSO) involved with pursuing justice in the country.
He said the country needs a strong and independent civil society group to hold any government responsible in order for them to act within the scope of the law, to promote and sustain peace and freedom of the press.
According to Dr. Emelonye, there has not been any evidence that Liberian civil society actors have raised any legal issue before the Supreme Court about President George Weah’s commissioning of George S. W. Patten, Sr., as Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States of America.
On December 31, 2018, President Weah commissioned Mr. Patten as Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States of America, urging him to work towards strengthening and sustaining the long-cherished relationship between the two countries.
However, the appointment of Mr. Patten was made by President George M. Weah without the involvement of the Senate, who were supposed to confirm Patten, as prescribed by law. Many Liberians, including lawmakers, have described the President’s action as “a violation of Article 54 of the 1986 Constitution” which, among other things, provides that: “The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Senate, appoint and commission—(a) cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers; (b) ambassadors, ministers, consuls; and (c) the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts; (d) superintendents, other county officials and officials of other political subdivisions; (e) members of the military from the rank of lieutenant of its equivalent and above; and (f) marshals, deputy marshals, and sheriffs.”
In that regard, Dr. Emelonye observed, “I am surprised that with those debates not a single group has attempted in the interest of the public to take the matter before the Supreme Court for determination.”
He also used the occasion to assure the PILO and the Institute for Constitutional Research, Policy and Strategic Development about the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ readiness to work along with it.
Emelonye challenged the group to ensure that they take a stance in the interest of the public against any violation of the Constitution and to ensure that the rule of law is respected by all.
“You have to set the stage for the public to take a stance against any abuses of the rule of law and the constitution. You have to be a strong advocate and a voice to the voiceless and not to take a partisan stance,” he challenged the group.
In his intervention, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, President of the Liberia National Bar Association, said under his leadership the Bar will cooperate with the group to ensure that the government respects the rule of law and the Constitution.
Gongloe, a human rights advocate, said the group should expect that they would be working under difficult circumstances; “but you should keep to your objective, because the road will be tough and rocky. Working for humanity is [more] important than acquiring wealth.”
Cllr. Jallah A. Barbu, PILO Founder, said he was prepared to endure all of the responsibilities associated with advocating against constitutional violation.
“No amount of criticism will change us around and divert us from the objectives of PILO and partners,” Cllr. Barbu, a constitutional lawyer, promised.