The Legal Consultant of the Liberia Law Society, Liberia’s renowned Human Rights Lawyer, Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods, II, is warning that the state of emergency in Liberia should not be used by government and its security forces as a shadow or pretext for the violation of individual and collective rights. Woods notes that a state of emergency imposed to address a health crisis should not be used to shoot people and to restrict press freedom and freedom of speech.
Speaking to journalists in the United States, Attorney Woods condemned the shooting death of Shaki Kamara, a youth in West Point, by soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia, as well as the closure of the National Chronicle Newspaper; terming these actions as overreaching, heavy handed and unwarranted.
Woods is therefore calling on the Government of Liberia to commission an Independent Inquiry into the circumstances leading to the shooting and killing of Kamara and the bullet wounds suffered by another citizen. Woods also called on the government to re-open the Chronicle Newspaper and halt all further intimidation of the Press, including the restriction on the freedom of the Chronicle’s publisher to travel.
Atty. Woods insists that the Independent Inquiry should also examine the constitutionality of the blanketed state of emergency, the use of the security forces during this national health emergency, as well as their deportment and exercise of force. He noted that the work of the independent panel must also consider the future role of security and military personnel in non- military crisis, and the improvement of the psychology and capacity of security forces to deal with matters of civil engagements.
The human rights lawyer also strongly criticized the declaration of the state of emergency, noting that it lacks specificities as to its purpose, scope and limitations, as required by the Constitution of Liberia.
He questioned the constitutionality of the President’s declaration of a state of emergency; noting that while Article 86 (a) of the Constitution grants the President the power to declare a state of emergency, Article 86 (b) clearly states that:
“A state of emergency may be declared only where there is a threat or outbreak of war or where there is civil unrest affecting the existence, security or well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger.”
Woods noted that the best way to deal with the Ebola emergency while at the same time avoiding a constitutional crisis, stigmatizing the country and population and giving security forces the perception that they have the liberty to trample the rights of citizens is to use the Public Health Law, as opposed to the imposition a sweeping constitutional state of emergency with no specific objectives, targets and benchmarks. “How can we impose a national state of emergency, quarantine entire swaths of our population, restrict the movement of our own people, but at the same time criticize other countries and even airlines for imposing similar restrictions on our citizens,? Woods argued.
Woods maintained that the Ebola crisis is a national public health emergency that must be dealt with as such but noted that political decisions and considerations continue to dominate real health decisions and programs. In a health emergency we must listen to the health experts and health workers to guide our decisions and actions and revert to other legal/constitutional actions only where the public health law proves inadequate.
“Without any doubt, the Government’s policies and actions appear uncoordinated, fragmented and fraught with contradictions. This has led to increased distrust in our national government and lack of national ownership of the on-going fight against the Ebola Virus”, the renowned human rights activist averred.
Atty. Woods noted that some of the recent policies of government constitute what he terms as “moral sin and ethical transgression against the poor and weak in our society,” emphasizing that government must return to the drawing board to review some of those policy options, in the hope of restoring confidence and re-energizing the fight against Ebola.
He has recommended the review of all policies and parallel actions to address the suffering of the poor. This includes the current restrictions on freedom of movement, health interventions, humanitarian intervention and other issues.
“As a nation and people, now is the time for us to begin to address with urgency, the moral, legal and ethical imperatives to heighten the fight against Ebola, restore the hope of our people, and assure them that THIS TOO SHALL COME TO PASS, Woods, observed.
Lamenting the death of Dr. Abraham Borbor whom he referred to as a schoolmate, Atty Woods expressed his condolences to the bereaved family and maintained that the Liberian Government is under obligation to conduct a full-scale medical inquiry on the use of the experimental drug (ZMAPP) and bring to closure any doubt associated with its application.
Atty Woods then laid out a number of recommendations that he argues could help restore confidence and energize the fight against the deadly virus, Ebola.
- Review all actions and the term of reference of the National Task Force and restructure the national framework for policy, action and implementation.
- Prioritize the needs and demands of health workers and practitioners. Those at the forefront of this fight continue to complain of neglect thus victimizing the foot soldiers.
- Review and restructure and National Health Team led by the Ministry of Health. Bold decisions need to be taken in the regards;
- Government must provide an initial financial update on all income, contributions and expenditures made to the fight against Ebola to date;
- The Government of Liberia must now develop task-sharing pathways assigning unto itself the monitoring and evaluation component of the fight while existing INGOs and their national counterparts including the Liberian Red Cross must be empowered to do the implementation;
- 85% of Salaries, allowances and benefits in high brackets (Executive, Legislative and Judiciary) must be sacrificed for three months during the emergency to provide for the poor. This is real sacrifice demonstrate that they too can sacrifice to help rescue our country.
- All non-essential civil servants must be retrained and redeployed to assist with the fight against Ebola. The crisis with volunteers won’t be occurring if the already paid civil servants are re-deployed.
- No negotiations and sale of oil blocks and concessions. Any decision in this regard will be viewed with utmost suspicion and seen as a pretext for the state of emergency. No further sale of any oil blocks should be encouraged. The current moratorium should be maintained;
- All senior government officials must volunteer as social workers in their communities and in other areas of expertise on the field to create awareness but to also demonstrate exemplary leadership in the midst of a national crisis;
- Provide a full political, social and economic analysis and report of the full implications of the Ebola Crisis. This must create the conditions for a national consultative process on these issues especially any looming constitutional crisis that may arise as a result of the Ebola Crisis. The Liberian People must be prepared to anticipate the consequences of the crisis for employment, agriculture, general cost of living, provision of goods and services, health services, education, infrastructure, etc. In the midst of crisis, we still need to plan and better still during crisis.
- Establish more Ebola Isolation Centers and ensure standard improvement for all centers; In addition, urgently address the demands of Health workers, provide incentives and other logistics for them nationwide in order to motivate and ensure their return to abandoned hospitals, clinics, and health posts;
- Improve the pace of testing and develop a clear quarantine strategy with the full involvement of health and other emergency response subject matter experts.
- The International Community must act with utmost urgency to address an attack on its conscience. The international bureaucracy which stifles emergency must surrender to this human tragedy. All of the donations and commitments must come and come soon to save lives. No more Liberian deserves to die.
Atty. Woods , who is currently in Washington DC, has been talking with policy makers, members of congress and several advocacy organizations on the situation and also the future of Liberia and revealed that consultations are taking place both locally and internationally address all aspects of this crisis. Woods said he will be returning to Liberia shortly.
It can be recalled that recently Woods held a press conference in which he called for a consultative conference to address the looming anger and national discontent and the need for Liberians to use the July 26 Celebrations as a period for fast and prayers. Woods also called for the cancellations July 26 celebrations and for funds earmarked for the pomp and pageantry to be directed to the fight against Ebola.
In another development and in support of the appeals made by Dr. Jerry Brown of ELWA, he has donated a laptop through CASE-Liberia and will sending some drugs to assist the treatment center.