Why recruitment, drugging of child soldiers, and trade in narcotics are human rights issues
By Gabriel Wea Coleman (Freelance journalist)
To understand why the trade in narcotics is also a serious human rights concern, definition of the term is useful. The term “narcotic” is defined as “Any class of substances or drugs that reduces pain, induces sleep and may alter mood or behavior. The use of narcotics has positive and negative dimensions. On the positive side, recommended doses or prescription of the substance reduces severe pain following treatment or medical procedure on an accident victim or surgery on a patient in hospital.
The negative impact of a narcotic is in the change of a person’s mood or behavior after taking a dose of the substance, mainly if it is an over dose.
The change in mood or behavior could be calm, violent, aggressive, brave, daring, unreasonable, unsympathetic, etc. Then, there is substance abuse. Substance abuse is when a person takes drugs that are not legal, for example heroin. Heroin is addictive, and drug addiction is incurable.
Also, when a person uses alcohol, prescription medicine, and other legal substances too much or in the wrong way, he is abusing the substance. But there is a difference between substance abuse and addiction. Many people with substance abuse problems are able to quit or can change their unhealthy behavior. Addiction, on the other hand, is a disease. It means that an addicted person cannot stop using the substance even when his condition causes him harm.
That addiction is incurable is the main point of concern because many unspecified types of illegal substance have been pouring into the country since the start of the Liberian civil conflict. During the entire conflict period, child soldiers and would-be youth combatants were regularly dosed by commanders of the various belligerent forces of which they were members, under the instruction of the warlords, in order to harden them for battle.
Under the influence of drugs, the youths were extremely unreasonable, unsympathetic, brave, and daring, causing them to commit numerous and indescribable atrocities and carry out wanton destruction of private properties and public facilities. The human lives that were lost aside, what is also lamentable is the irreparable loss of an entire generation of young people, who when given the opportunity, would have risen to the task of playing their part in the development of Liberia.
The loss of such valuable human capital by the country is twofold: 1. many child soldiers and non-child combatants/youths lost their lives in the conflict. 2. Although some war-affected youths (i.e. drugged child soldiers & non-combatant youths) underwent drug rehabilitation (flushing of the drugs out of their bodies) and were de-traumatized, many others were not so lucky and so they have not recovered from the damaging effect of the drugs on them.
They remain drug addicts and are among the multitude of people currently suffering from chronic mental illness, whilst many more constitute the army of the hardened group of criminals who have come to be called “Zogos,” in Liberia. Still, thousands others make the Liberian brand of terrorists, the armed robbers that have looted/robbed, killed, maimed, and impoverished hundreds of Liberians, tourists, and foreign residents around the country.
As though the country’s woes regarding the destruction of its youths are not sufficient, there are persons in the society, Liberians and aliens who continue to ruin the youths of this land by selling illicit and addictive substances in various forms (i.e. in their original forms & in consumable substances like domestically made confectionaries such as coconut candy, groundnuts candy, milk candy, “kanyan” – a locally made biscuit-like mixture of pounded garri, roasted or patched groundnuts and sugar); as well as domestically made sugary drinks that children and youths in general nation-wide, love to drink nation.
The illegal deeds of warlords by the recruitment and drugging of child soldiers, and the further exacerbation of the situation by the trading in or supply of illegal drugs/narcotic substances by drug traders continue to destroy the indispensable fabric of the nation, its youths. These unpardonable deeds by warlords and their commanders on the one hand, and on the other, the trade in illegal narcotics by drug traders violate Article 15 section “a” of the Liberian Constitution which guarantees “the right to knowledge” and section “b” of the same article which speaks of “academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge…”
During most part of the 14-year long conflict, the vast majority of the youths, including child soldiers, were deprived of regular and normal schooling as the entire educational system was disrupted, evidenced by the killing of educators and the looting of all educational institutions. So, for more than 14 years, the manpower development of the country was halted, for after the war ended in 2003, it took some time to rehabilitate most, if not all institutions before normal schooling could resume.
Adding insult to injury, drug traders are continuing what was started by warlords, thereby reversing some of the gains made at rehabilitating war-affected youths with the drug problem.
Youths who have become hooked on drugs, rather than being assets to the country have become its most troubling liabilities. Why? Because they have become drug addicts and the condition of drug addiction is incurable. So, the condition renders them unproductive citizens – they aspire to nothing good, they do not behave or live like normal human beings, they do not think right, they lack focus – their only focus is to steal, arm rob and kill in the process of armed robbery if they must, as well as rape helpless victims of their devilish act.
The deeds of warlords and their generals, as well as the illicit drug trade that some people have invested in, also flagrantly violate the provisions of international human rights instruments including but not limited to the International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The IBHR at Part I, Article 26 states “Everyone has the right to education”; and at Part II, it states that “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedom.”
And, the ACHPR in Article 4, states “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” The provision of Article 5 of the ACHPR is “Every individual shall have right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man ……… shall be prohibited.”
Principal architects of the Liberian civil war, warlords and their generals should be held to account for damaging the youths of Liberia by their recruitment as child soldiers and drugging them to fight in the civil conflict, coupled with halting development of the country’s youths through prosecution of the civil war, thereby contravening provisions of the Liberian Constitution and international human rights instruments to which Liberia is signatory;
Government MUST fully empower the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) by doing the following:
- Provide adequate quality and regular training for all DEA officers in order to enhance their performance;
- Considering the risk to which DEA staff particularly those in the field are exposed, they should paid salaries that are commensurate with their responsibilities, enjoy health benefits and insurance, etc. so as to avert them being tempted to compromise their terms of reference;
- DEA staff members who betray the cause or principles of their job should be prosecuted and made to face appropriate punishment as determined by law;
- Well-equipped narcotic testing laboratories should be established in the three regions of the country to test and confirm whether or not substances arrested/confiscated are narcotic substances or contain narcotics, for example domestically made sugary drinks, groundnuts candy, coconut and milk candy, and kanyan. Sellers of these locally made food substances should be promptly arrested, charged, prosecuted, imprisoned, their business confiscated and closed down, and made to pay heavy fines so as to serve as a deterrent to persons who may be contemplating venturing into such criminal business;
- The testing laboratories should be manned and managed by persons who are well-trained in the science of narcotic drugs detection;
- The DEA should run a perpetual and robust campaign on the dangers associated with substance abuse and drugs use, in schools and communities throughout the country so as to dissuade young people from the use of illegal substances;
- The DEA, in collaboration with the Ministries of Health should conduct a nationwide survey to obtain data on the actual number of illegal drug users in the country, particularly the youth, so as to know the full extent of the problem in the country and find solution to it;
- All persons arrested, prosecuted, and found guilty of trading in narcotic drugs or substances should be shamed by parading them on television and posting their photos in the mass media in order to serve as a deterrent to others. And if the illicit substance trader is an alien, he should be deported to his home country immediately after serving his prison term;
- Trading in narcotic substances MUST not be a bailable offence.
Gabriel Wea Coleman is a freelance journalist; Former Team Leader, Statement Takers, UNDP Mapping of Human Rights Violations Project, Liberia, 2004-2005; Former Inquiry Officer, Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), 2005-2008; Regional Coordinator, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, Liberia, 1999-2003. He can be reached on mobile numbers: +231-(0)-77-771-2325 & +231-(0)-886-578-264 and via e-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]