Monrovia – The Council of Patriots (COP), through its Chairman, Henry Costa has termed as ‘undemocratic and unconstitutional’ the proposing of separate dates by the Government of Liberia (GOL) and Ambassadors of the United States, European Union, United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the holding of its ‘peaceful assembly’ in the country. The Liberian government, through the Ministry of Justice previously vowed not to issue permit to citizens to stage protests until January 30.
But following the intervention of Liberia’s international partners, the government somersaulted and a new protest date of January 5 was proposed and requested by ECOWAS, EU and the United States barely a day after a closed-door meeting was held. However, the COP rejected the proposed date for religious reasons at a news conference held in Monrovia after the planned protest failed to take place on Monday, and announced Monday, January 6 at the new date for the ‘peaceful assembly’.
But in reaction, the EU, US, UN and ECOWAS Diplomats, in a Joint Statement issued in Monrovia on Tuesday, proposed Saturday, January 4 as the new date for the protest. They pointed out that the decision was reached to postpone the protest after examining the various recent statements issued by the Government of Liberia and the Council of Patriots on the planned demonstration and following further extensive and encouraging discussions with all stakeholders on the postponement of the demonstration.
No constitutional backing
But addressing a news conference in Monrovia on Thursday, COP Chairman Henry Costa pointed out that the group has rejected the January 4 date set aside by the government and its international partners, and is maintaining January 6 as the planned date for the protest. He noted that the decision taken by government and the Diplomats to impose a date on the COP for the holding of its ‘peaceful assembly,’ without the inclusion of the COP in the closed-door meeting held, has no constitutional backing. Costa maintained that citizens have the right to peacefully assemble to petition their government in keeping with Article 17 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, and government also has the responsibility to provide security for its citizens.
The Constitution is the organic law of the land
Article 17 of the 1986 Liberian constitution states that: “All persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions and other organizations.
“Under our constitution, the government does not decide when the people assemble. In fact, it would be inimical to the protection of civil liberties and rights when the government has to decide when you-the citizens, can come out to express your democratic right. It is undemocratic and unconstitutional that the government should dictate to its citizens when or when it cannot express itself,” Costa stated.
He added: “The COP maintains that its alternative date- after December 30 was denied us-our alternative date that was pronounced on the morning of December 30th-Monday, January 6, is the same date that we intend to peaceable assemble. International Community intervened; we gave in as we’d given too much. We have exercised the highest level of reasoning; we’ve been cooperative and respectful of our international partners and we think it is unfair to us and it undermines our constitution that the government has to decide what date a citizen can express him/herself. Monday of next week is when we will come out in our numbers to assemble and petition our government.
Costa maintained that the COP would be setting a ‘bad precedent’ if it proceeds to accept date proposed by government for the holding of its protest. He added that citizens would be subjected to seeking the consent of the government to exercise their constitutional right enshrined in Article 17 of the constitution in the future if the COP falls prey to the current situation.
“The COP could like to state here categorically that if we were to agree on the desired date of the government, the COP would be setting a bad precedent; it would mean that in the future or going forward anytime any citizen wishing or desiring to assemble or protest would have to wait for the consent of the government or wait for the government to dictate to them when they can assemble; and that could undermine our constitution” he noted.
He continued: “The citizenry has the right to assemble at all times and the government has the responsibility to provide security for them at all times. That’s the reason why we paid taxes with which the military, police and para-military are raised and paid so they can provide security for us at all times”.
For some times now, the government has complained about the lack of resources to presently provide security for protesters. But the COP Chairman maintained that government remains under obligation to protect its citizens, and as such, it should shoulder its responsibility to do so on January 6.
“If the government has the resources to provide security for us January 4, the government should also have the resources to provide security on January 6. Anything you can do on January 4; you should be able to do on January 6. The government does not have a choice when it comes to providing security for its citizens. It is a fundamental and constitutional responsibility of the state to protect all citizens at all times,” he added.
Costa maintained: “We are afraid that our country is slipping into an abyss of ruthlessness, lawlessness and disregard for the constitution. And we the COP, do not want to be active participants in the violation and abuse of our constitution”.
Intl. Partners have limitations
The COP believes that its latest decision taken to maintain January 6 for its peaceful assembly does not in any way disrespect representatives of the International Community working in Liberia. He said the International Community, particularly the United States, cannot compel citizens to do things that are not in line with their constitution. “No one here is disrespecting America. This is our country. We have certain rights in this country. The United States recognizes that. The United States knows that as much as we appreciate them for what they have done and continue to do here-there are limitations to what they can tell us not what they cannot tell us,” he stated.
Costa noted that the COP has consistently accorded courtesy to the International Community, but standing by its proposed date set aside for the protest only shows that Liberians are standing up to defend their constitution.
“To say that we the people maintain and insist upon the 6th of January-it’s not an affront to the International Community. It is the people simply expressing themselves and standing up to defend their constitution. It is not disrespect. You don’t have to respect the United States, but you can cooperate and reason with them. Which is what we’ve done. We’ve accorded the highest level of courtesy to the International Community and we will continue to engage with them. But when it comes to our rights, we are Liberian citizens and we decide when to exercise our rights”.
The COP was accused by the Chairman of a group calling itself Independent Council of Patriots (ICOP), Rufus Neufville, of allegedly receiving the amount of US$200,000 to call off its planned December 30 protest.
Mr. Neufville, a former lawmaker of Montserrado County, is a former member of the COP, who was reportedly expelled for ‘secretly recording the meetings of the group’ during his stay.
He has been rallying Liberians to maintain the peace and stability of the country by denouncing violence. Neufville levied the allegation barely few hours after the COP planned December 30 protest failed to take place. At the news conference, Costa denied that the COP received money from government to call-off the protest.
“If we had taken money, will we be announcing a protest for Monday, January 6? There is no breakaway fraction of the COP. The individual was expelled; but the mistake we made, we did not make a public pronouncement that he was expelled,” he noted.
Assurance of protest call-off
Costa, however, assured that the COP would call-off its planned January 6 protest if steps are taken by President George Manneh Weah to act on the demands penned in the June 7 petition delivered to the government.
President Weah has reportedly promised to address concerns raised by the COP during his Third State of the Nation Address at the end of January. But the COP, through its Chairman, Costa believed that the timeline given by the Liberian Chief Executive is too far for the group to accept.
The COP Chairman further vowed to ensure that Liberians remain in the streets until the Liberian leader addresses the demands of the group. Among other things, the group is calling for the prosecution of Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah and the former Governor of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), Nathaniel Patray over the roles played in the controversial US$25 million mop up exercise. The group also wants government to find solutions to the immense economic constraints confronting Liberians.
It remains unclear whether or not the Liberian government, through the Ministry of Justice will give the go-ahead or ensure the provision of security for the COP on January 6 since in fact, the government has previously complained about the lack of resources to support the protest. The latest decision reached by the COP appears to be a slap in the face to Liberia’s international partners, who have been exerting efforts to cooperate between the government and executives of the COP. When the protest takes place as planned and scheduled, normal working, learning and academic activities would be paralyzed for a while, until the country returns to normalcy. Obediah Johnson/FPA
The Council of Patriots or CoP Chairman, Henry Costa speaks at a news brief