As UNMIL folds up in just a matter of days now, there are haunting questions about the extent to which Security Sector Reform (SSR) efforts have succeeded in curbing tendencies towards lawless behavior on part of state security personnel.
We recall that there have been several reports of lawless behavior by state security forces including members of the military. The shooting and killing in 2011 of CDC partisans protesting the results of the elections that year were never addressed to the best of public recollection.
Similarly in 2014 during the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease, a little boy, Shaki Kamara, was shot by military officers deployed to quarantine overcrowded West Point slum community.
Little Shaki Kamara subsequently died from his wounds but little is known to have happened to the soldier responsible for firing the fatal bullet. In other instances, the Police has been accused of brutality and lawless behavior against journalists and other members of the public.
And such behavior has drawn the attention of international human rights watch dogs including the United States whose State Department reports, including its most recent instance, have often pointed accusing fingers at the country’s security forces, particularly the Police.
In some cases ranking officials of government have used the Police to intimidate and harass people for personal reasons. Concessionaires are also complicit because much too often the Police is ordered into action to suppress workers protests.
In most of such cases and, almost invariably, as the evidence attests, the Police has resorted to using live ammunition to fire on protesting workers. Never for once has it been recorded that the Police under such circumstances has used non-lethal force or ammunition to quell protests by unarmed individuals or groups.
It can be recalled that the prolonged 14-year Liberian civil war bore witness to a plethora of atrocities committed against unarmed and defenseless Liberians by state security forces as well as by armed non-state actors from various warring factions.
During those dark days a person could lose his/her life for something as trifling as a can of sardines. Some of those active in the commission of atrocities are today parading the corridors of power as if their past actions never mattered at all.
AS the United Nations Mission finally winds up, at the end of March, public concerns abound about whether the peace and stability Liberians have enjoyed for over 10 years can be supported and maintained by the country’s security forces.
The recent Liberia Airport Authority (LAA) announcement disclosing that it had ordered Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers to shoot on sight individuals tampering with facilities at the Roberts International Airport has heightened public concerns and apprehension about a return to the dark days of wanton violence and lawlessness.
This raises the question about command and control structures of the country’s security forces. Who can order them into action and under what conditions are they permitted to use lethal force?
Questions also abound about how much and to what extent human rights concerns are factored or mainstreamed into training and mentoring programs of the country’s security forces.
Can and should the Liberian people depend on and trust their security forces when any Tom, Dick or Harry can order them into action such as the “Shoot to Kill” orders issued by the Liberian Airport Authority or the ransacking of people’s homes on the orders of some big shot Representative claiming to be acting in the public interest?
Thankfully, the AFL Chief of Staff promptly distanced the Army from the “Shoot to Kill” order issued by the Liberian Airport Authority.
State security personnel must always be aware that they are bound by international conventions forbidding them to obey unlawful orders.
Needless to say it smacks of downright disregard and disrespect for the human rights and the rule of law. And this is not limited to the officials of the Liberian Airport Authority alone for other officials are also known to be culpable of such digressions of the law.
Should President Weah, however, fail to lead by example to honor the laws of Liberia, the people must seek redress through the Courts. Why? because short of a return to the ugly violent past, the law remains the only recourse but, only if the Liberian people remain vigilant and ready to nip this growing menace in the bud before it gets too late.
As the late veteran journalist and pamphleteer Albert Porte of blessed memory reminds us, “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”