Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel privileged and honoured to be asked to deliver this Statement on the International Human Rights Day. I am therefore immensely grateful to the organizers of this event for the opportunity.
As you are all aware, the respect for human rights lies at the core of our collective existence and the very essence of our humanity. In the history and trajectory of a nation, there is an inextricable link between the respect for the fundamental human rights of its people and the level of its national development.
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris exactly sixty eight years ago, to ensure the universal protection of the dignity of all human beings, it became the minimum standard for relations between humanity, between the governed and the governors, between people of all races, religion and creed. Personally, I marvel at the simplicity yet profoundness of Article 1 of the Declaration. I quote “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”! (End of quote).
Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, to appreciate the weight and importance of the content of the Universal Declaration, we must take our minds back to the heroic and sacrificial acts of distinguished personalities such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Ghandi, Madam Rosa Parks of the Montgomery bus fame, Madiba Nelson Mandela, and Aung Sung Sun Kyi, Mother Theresa, all members of the human rights global Hall of Fame, who represent the struggle against the oppression of human beings and committed their entire lives to the struggle for the emancipation of their people and for humanity in general. Their calls for freedom for everyone and the struggles and deprivation that they have had to endure, sometimes resulting in the payment of the ultimate price, must cause us to reflect and appreciate the importance of freedom for humanity across the world.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the history of Liberia itself was founded on the very essence of liberty. The forefathers of this great nation left the predictable comfort of the United States of America in the early 19th Century to return home to the land of their forefathers. They placed emphasis on the dignity of the Black race and worked hard to make Liberia a home to all Africans. In spite of their laudable efforts at making Liberia a safe haven for all Africans, we must be true to ourselves in admitting that the prolonged inequality in Liberian society was largely responsible for the serious strains in society, which eventually led to the epochal events such as the 1979 ‘Rice Riots’, the 1980 coup d’état which ushered in the military regime of the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe, and eventually, the protracted civil war of 1989-2003. Several hundreds of thousands of West Africans have had to pay the ultimate price for restoring freedom and democracy to Liberia. History will definitely be kind to the initiative of the ECOWAS Authority to establish the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group in Liberia (ECOMOG) in 1990.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, as you will all recall, the outbreak of civil wars on the African continent coincided with the end of the Cold War in the late 1990s and like wildfire, ravaged a significant part of the African continent. For us in West Africa, the outbreak of violent conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and later in Côte d’Ivoire, as unfortunate as they were, made ECOWAS to reassess its efforts towards regional integration. Founded in May 1975 for the purpose of fostering economic cooperation between its Member States, ECOWAS, as a result of the aforementioned, however had to, in the early 1990s; adopt a ‘security-first’ approach to regional integration. It became clear from the late 1990s that for ECOWAS to achieve the goals of economic integration and prosperity in West Africa, it must first and foremost achieve a peaceful and stable region guided by the key principles of fundamental human rights and democracy and good governance. This made ECOWAS to prioritize the entrenchment of democracy and good governance across the region. As you all know, democracy and good governance and human rights are identical twins. Where one is found, the other must also reside. The foregoing therefore means that we must carefully nurture good governance and democracy in West Africa and in Liberia in particular.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the adoption of the Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peace Keeping and Security in 1999, the adoption of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance of 2001, and the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework in 2008 by the ECOWAS Authority, have helped to ensure that minimum standards on democracy, good governance and human rights, are complied with by ECOWAS Member States. The articles and sections of these aforementioned frameworks have served as the Holy Grail for good democratic practice in West Africa today.
Specifically on human rights, the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF), a normative instrument which has as its core aim the strengthening of the human security architecture in West Africa has fifteen components that are being implemented across the region at the Member State, ECOWAS Commission and Civil Society levels. Indeed, the ECPF has a specific component on Human Rights and the Rule of Law. Deriving from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Human Rights and the Rule of Law component of the ECPF seeks “to ensure equal protection and access to justice and social services for all before the law, and strengthen the institutions of human rights and justice in the region…” (ECPF, 2008: 33). Through the medium of the ECPF, ECOWAS seeks to facilitate the harmonization of policy and practice with regards to human rights, the rule of law and access to justice. ECOWAS also seeks to facilitate the adoption, reform and enforcement of national constitutions and human rights instruments to promote human rights, access to justice and social services for all. The operationalization of the ECPF will therefore go a long way in advancing human security in West Africa.
Another very important vehicle through which ECOWAS drives its regional human rights agenda is the Network of National Human Rights Institutions (NNHRI) which is a body whose membership comprises ECOWAS Member States National Human Rights Institutions. The Network’s Secretariat is situated in Abuja, Nigeria and it meets annually to review the human rights situation in Member States and to proffer responses to threats to human rights. Members of the Network are tasked with ensuring that human rights are mainstreamed into government policies and decisions. West African civil society organizations are active participants at the Network’s meetings where they usually present their own perspective on human rights issues and either affirm or contest the reports of the national human rights institutions.
Human Rights and Democracy: The Keys to Attaining Sustainable Peace and Stability in Liberia.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it is proven that in societies where democracy, good governance and human rights are respected, development is easily attained. Respect for diversity and the rights of people is important for growth and development for Liberia and the other fourteen ECOWAS Member States. In particular, protecting the rights of women and children is necessary for our collective well-being.
Despite the numerous challenges that it has faced since the end of the war and from the commencement of the President Johnson Sirleaf administration, Liberia has enjoyed a stable democracy and has become a place where people’s rights are respected and diversity valued. We must ensure that going forward; people’s rights are not denied them. More importantly, we must work assiduously towards strengthening our democratic institutions for this is the only way that we can actualize the Liberia of our dreams. We must ensure that the struggles of modern day heroes of Liberia such as the late Archbishop Michael Francis, Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, Ma Mary Brownell, Leymah Gbowee, Asatu Bah Konneh, Dr. Amos Sawyer, and several others, who dedicated their lives to the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia, must not be in vain.
Civil Society has a key role to play in ensuring that the rights of our people are respected by those in authority. Their role as the watchdogs and sources of alternative opinion on governance needs to be louder and clearer more than ever before. As we have achieved relative peace and stability in Liberia since 2003, the coming days are so crucial to the destiny of this great nation, Africa’s oldest Republic. With the inevitable departure of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the crucial presidential elections 2017, which will bring forth a new democratic dispensation, all eyes will be on Liberia from early next year. Indeed, we are entering a crucial year in the history of Liberia in a couple of days from now. All hands must therefore be on deck to ensure that Liberia never returns to the dark years.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, let me assure you that the ECOWAS Commission remains committed, more than ever before, in ensuring that Liberia remains on the firm path to recovery and stability. The ECOWAS Commission has identified Liberia as one of the four ECOWAS Member States that will benefit from the pilot National Early Warning and Response Mechanism (NEWRM) that it is putting in place. ECOWAS is also making concerted efforts to maintain a permanent presence in Liberia by establishing an Office of the Permanent Representative of the ECOWAS President in Liberia and in every ECOWAS Member State.
Let me conclude by reiterating that we must ensure to safeguard our hard-earned democracy in Liberia. That way, the respect for human rights and the freedom of all can be guaranteed. Again, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the organizers of this important event for the invitation. I thank you also, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, for listening. Liberia must rise again!