Airport statement ‘ordering’ AFL to use lethal force against theft of RIA equipment receives public condemnation
Liberians, especially those on social media, were shocked when a public announcement emanating from the management of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) ordering officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to shoot on sight or, in other words, shoot to kill (S2K) anyone trespassing on the premises of the Roberts International Airport (RIA), reached the public-sphere on Wednesday.
Justifying its decision, the LAA said it observed, with grave concern, that criminals are bent on entering and are attempting to steal very important equipment from the RIA. This, the announcement noted, would have crippling effects on the operations of the Airport.
The announcement, signed by LAA, noted: “The Management of the Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) wishes to inform the general public that additional security have been put in place at the RIA.” This, according to the LAA, is to secure the premises of the Airport, especially the aerodrome or the airside, from theft and unlawful interferences.
The new measures include stringent patrols by officers of the AFL at every entry point of the aerodrome or airside at RIA; authorization to the AFL to shoot on sight anyone who attempts to steal any of the navigational equipment within the premises of the RIA. In view of these new security measures, the RIA advised the public to keep away and not to unlawfully interfere with the aerodrome at any time as these measures will be strictly applied to the letter.
The AFL responded, saying that it was taken aback by the announcement as it had no connection to such a pronouncement. AFL Chief of Staff, Major General Prince C. Johnson, III, promptly distanced the army from the LAA’s statement. He said though the AFL is there to protect the RIA, the AFL “does not take orders from the Airport Authority” and has reached no agreement with the LAA in such regard.
When contacted to ascertain the authenticity of the announcement that went viral on social media, LAA General Manager, Will Bako Freeman, confirmed that the document was a product of his entity. He however admitted that “because the current one is causing a lot of confusion in the public,” since it was released, the LAA is working with the AFL and other stakeholders to rephrase the announcement.
Freeman however indicated that the document did not say AFL officers should shoot people. “This is a misunderstanding of the content of the document. We want that disregarded because we are working on another one to be released tomorrow [today],” he told the Daily Observer yesterday.
AFL Chief of Staff confirmed that a revision of the statement was underway, with the involvement of the Assistant Minister for Public Affairs at the Ministry of National Defense, Sam Collins. Said revision is expected today, March 22.
Meanwhile, the LAA’s measure has received a barrage of condemnation, not just from the public but also some veterans of the security sector.
A retired security veteran who worked with the government of Liberia for over 30 years noted that there exists no such order as “S2K” and that law enforcement agencies can only fire if they’re being fired upon. In some cases, he noted, law enforcement agencies’ hands are tied by national human rights laws or commission, as well as global instruments that we, as a country, are signatories to.
“Everyone is entitled to be taken to court and arrested on specific grounds if it is deemed that s/he has committed a crime,” the veteran noted, adding: “If a group of people rioting using sticks and stones, the police or any paramilitary group can only suppress the agitation using non-lethal weapons.”
Quoting universal police security law, he said “even if a group deemed to be terrorists and armed AK-47s are in front of a police team—The police still have to make sure they use non lethal methods unless fired upon by them.
“Using lethal force in only self-defense or to avoid a grave public killing, an officer takes the liability on him the moment he puts his hand on the trigger. If the situation is worth a long investigation then he will fire to protect himself and those around him.
“Once you fire even one round in the air or at a person, you are liable for an inquiry. The moment he shoots, the control room is to be notified and also the chief of police of that area. They will investigate the issue, and determine under what circumstances the rounds were fired.
Needless to say if you’re not a cop, you will be jailed and investigated,” the veteran, who requested not to be named, explained.
A top UNMIL official, expressing surprise at the LAA’s announcement on social media, asked, “Is it ever OK to defend a policy or measure that can mean the loss of human life in order to protect material things?
“It makes unclear the more truthful and important dimensions of S2K policies, mistakenly implying that loss of human life is effective at protecting equipment. It also neglects the negative consequences, which extend beyond ‘externalities’ and into the realm of unethical policy,” he said.
It can be recalled that the last time officers of the AFL were given an S2K order was during the height of the Ebola outbreak in the country. They were instructed to exercise such order along the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia, in the case of any forced or illegal entry into the country at the time.