National Independent Human Rights Commissioner Counselor Gladys Johnson has issued a decisive, enlightened and forthright report on the most unfortunate incident in West Point last August.
In that incident, the American-trained joint security forces comprising platoons from the Armed Forces of Liberia and the Emergency Response Unit of the Liberia National Police, got their opportunity to confront an angry crowd, and the men in arms went wild. Though not in combat with an armed enemy; the soldiers and police, apparently anxious to use their modern weaponry, opened fire on their own people. And most unfortunately, their first victim was a 15 year-old boy, Shaki Kamara, whose right leg they shattered with a deadly weapon. Unable to receive any medical attention, he bled to death.
Why didn’t the armed personnel rush him to the hospital and demand that he got the urgent treatment he needed?
But they were not yet done. They shot another teenager, Titus Nuah, in the stomach. This violence against impoverished children in West Point, Monrovia’s sprawling slum community of nearly 100,000, who can boast of no public schools, clinics or latrines, bespoke the heartlessness of a government which apparently cares little for its own people. (See our last Friday Editorial, and the cartoon).
It is to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s credit that she appointed the INHRC to investigate the whole incident. Now that the Commission has issued its report and made a number of sterling recommendations, we trust that the President and her government will waste no time acting decisively on those recommendations.
The first is that those involved in the indiscriminate shooting be prosecuted. This will set an example to soldiers, police and other armed security apparatus that they do not have to fit the description which President W.V.S. Tubman once gave to a young reporter about Tubman’s soldiers: “Be careful with them; they are mean men.”
In the early days of Ellen’s administration, when armed robbery was rampant, unarmed police cried for arms. Now that they and the soldiers have been supplied some arms, they have been accused of misusing them on civilians.
The INHCR has also recommended that President Sirleaf publicly apologize to Shaki Kamara’s family and compensate them. It also recommended that GOL arrange for Titus Nuah to be flown to Ghana for treatment of his stomach injury sustained from a bullet on August 20. Titus must not be allowed to suffer from his injury any longer. GOL should also compensate Sylvester Kromah who was injured by barbed wire while trying to escape the security forces’ deadly assault in West Point.
The Liberia National Police (LNP) should also apologize to Alfred Nagbe for violation of his human rights, recommended the INHRC, which also called on West Point Commissioner Miatta Flowers to apologize to the affected families.
We think that these recommendations are reasonable. We can understand how Commissioner Flowers feels about being asked to apologize, though she feels she has done nothing wrong. The main point, however, is that though she had absolutely nothing to do with the shooting and all the other wrongs done in West Point on that fateful morning, they happened during her administration and she should take some responsibility. Remember what we said in a recent editorial: an intruder holding a knife jumped over the White House fence in Washington, D.C. and entered the building. Only the dogs stopped him! The Head of the Secret Service, the body that protects the President of the United States and his family, had nothing to do with that incident. But she took personal responsibility for it and promptly resigned.
We should all take personal responsibility for the things happing around us, especially the people in charge, but even we, the ordinary people. If and when we see things going wrong in our country, the Constitution has given us, the ordinary people, the right to speak out and to write about it. We cannot, must not sit supinely and say and do nothing. The English poet says, “To sin by silence when we should protest, Makes cowards out of men”—and women.
That is why though Ellen was nowhere near West Point on that fateful morning of August 20, 2014, the fact is that it was her AFL, of which she is Commander-in-Chief. So, on their and her own behalf, she has been called to apologize.
That is what is meant by taking personal responsibility.