Why Chairman Bryant Cannot Apologize for 13 Killed?

By John S. Morlu, II

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 1, 2005


In “The Unlawful and Wrongful Killing of 13 Liberians,” Mohamedu F. Jones made two central issues. First, he argued that the execution of 13 government officials on April 22 by the military junta of Samuel Doe was unlawful and wrong. Mr. Jones based his conclusion on international law and domestic Liberian law. Second, Mr. Jones argued that “Chairman Gyude Bryant, acting in his capacity as Head of State of the Republic of Liberia, to officially declare their so-called "executions" unlawful, and formally extend the nation’s apologies to them and their families in this 25th year of their murders.” I hope that I can muster the intellectual strength to inform the public about what I see as errors that Mr. Jones has made, not just a reproduction of historical facts to demonstrate a lack of fairness in calling for an official public apology. William E. Allen, Ph.D. and John F. Josiah, Esq. have done a good job in arguing the fairness issue.

But before I do that, I would like to take this time to make certain things clear. Mr. Jones is entitled to his opinion. I agree that the killing of the 13 people was morally wrong and an unnecessary act. I also believe that the death of more than 200,000 Liberians during the mayhem of more than a decade was also very wrong, unnecessary and inhumane. I believe further that the forcing astronomical numbers of Liberians forced from their homes, raped and abused during the war these were acts of total inhumanity. And that the suffering and human rights abuses of Liberians from the days of Joseph Jenkins Roberts to Charles Taylor were categorically wrong and blameworthy.

Undoubtedly, many Liberians have suffered too long at the hands of almost every elected and unelected leader of our beloved country. We cannot repay those people for what they have suffered directly and indirectly at the hands of our government. I agree with UNMIL Jacques Paul Klein’s statement on NPR’s All Things Considered on March 22, 2005 that it is unfortunate that no one has been prosecuted and brought to justice for the gross human rights violations that have characterized the country for decades. I extend my deepest apology and condolences to all Liberians for the untold suffering and abuses many of us have personally experienced. I hope and pray that we never again see a repeat of the past 157 years of failed leadership and abuse.

Now that I have made a public personal apology to all Liberians, I will turn the critical lenses on Mr. Jones’ arguments. Mr. Jones first goes into history and cherry picked a time period and a law that buttressed his point, as evidenced in his first paragraph. Mr. Jones argued, “On April 18, 1967, Liberia signed the United Nations’ Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 1976, after being ratified by the required 35 states, the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights became international law. From that point on, Liberia was bound by international law to adhere to the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a member of the United Nations.”

Mr. Jones could have very well picked a period in which a legitimately elected Liberian government used the power of the state to abuse the rights of its own people? Or he could have also selected to base his case on a different international law that Liberia was a signatory. Liberia was an original founding member of the League of Nations, which was established January 20, 1920. Article 23 (a), Covenant of the League of Nations states that members of the League “will endeavor to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women, and children, both in their own countries and in all countries to which their commercial and industrial relations extend, and for that purpose will establish and maintain the necessary international organizations.” President Charles D.B. King violated this covenant. In 1930, we know that President King resigned in order to avoid impeachment following publication of the Christy-report on the existence of forced labor practices in the country, and the involvement of high-ranking government officials. What not based an apology on this period? At the very least, we have a report that clearly demonstrates a violation of international covenant by an elected government of Liberia - Charles D.B. King.

Not surprising at that time, nearly all the forced laborers were indigenous people. Slavery was illegal at that time. I am sure Mr. Jones knows that. But the sugar farm in Farnando Po was a lucrative business that President King could not pass by without using his own people to get a piece of the pie. Never mind that President Charles King won the presidential elections with a landslide victory that gained him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most fraudulent elections ever reported in history.

How about using the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in requiring an apology on events that occurred in the 1970 under the True Whig Party? After all, the William R. Tolbert government was going to kill some members of the Movement for Justice in Africa for their public opposition to the government. I don’t think many Liberians would disagree that these people were wrongfully convicted and thrown in jail by Tolbert’s court. Tolbert also launched an attack on poor and hungry demonstrators on April 14, 1979 duped the infamous Rice Riot. The Tolbert government used the official security forces of the government to murder about a hundred Liberian demonstrators. The April 14 shooting and killing of unarmed and defenseless Liberians can only be compared to the Tianamen Square incident in China, where like in Liberia the government used the state security forces to kill its own citizens. Samuel Doe also did the same thing in 1984 when he sent the security forces on the defenseless students at the University of Liberia.

Anyway, in Mr. Jones’ broad interpretation of the United Nations’ Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, violent killings of the unarmed and defenseless University of Liberia students by the Doe government, the enslavement of Liberians by Charles D.B. King, and the human rights abuses under the dictatorial regime of William V.S. Tubman are also political and human rights violations.

Mr. Jones’ argument did not provide any historical precedence in which a legitimate government has apologized for acts committed by a military junta, much less a loosely put together Interim Government. Fortunately, Mr. Jones is a lawyer and lawyers rely heavily on precedence. I guess in the case of the 13 men, precedence is not necessary. In any case, some of us have not been alive for a very long time. But we have witnessed several countries that have had a violent overthrow of elected governments. I have not seen or read public apologies from subsequent governments. Mr. Jones can prove me correct.

As a matter of fact, Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant was not elected interim leader of Liberia by the people, so he cannot apologize on behalf of the people. Chairman Bryant was selected in Accra by group of warlords, not the Liberian people. It just boggles the mind that Mr. Jones would ask for an apology from an unelected Chairman. Is Mr. Jones telling us that Chairman Bryant is sympathetic to his position? After Samuel K. Doe, Charles Taylor was the next elected president. I wonder why Mr. Jones did not ask Charles Taylor to apologize to the 13 men. But even using Mr. Jones’ test of asking an Interim Government to apologize, why didn’t he ask the Interim Governments of Amos Sawyer, Wilton Sankawolo, David Kpormakpor, and Ruth Perry to declare the killing of the 13 men as wrongful and unlawful and ask for public apology?

I am also very surprised that Mr. Jones reached an unequivocal conclusion that these men were unlawfully killed when he has not tested such a sweeping assertion in the court of law. How do we know that the killing of these 13 men violated the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and hence international law? Please tell us where we can locate the court case, or an indictment that supports his conclusion. The international community has an indictment for Charles Taylor and others. But we have no proof that these men were unlawfully convicted under the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Mr. Jones argued further that “under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” He concludes again by asserting, “The rights of these men to life as human beings were summarily violated on April 22, 1980.” Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the same as the United Nations’ Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? Aside from the fact that I don’t understand the distinction between the two conveniences, Mr. Jones provides no legal basis for his conclusion. How do we know without testing the international laws, which he refers to? But lets move on the home front and see what he says again.

Mr. Jones argued, “based on the information available to the public at the time (and nothing has been revealed since to change this fact) there was nothing disclosed that would validate the killings as lawful and in conformity with the laws of Liberia. The killings were clearly arbitrary and wrongful under the country’s laws. Offenses of treason and corruption were governed by domestic law: no laws in Liberia provided execution as the punishment for corruption and charging these men (government officials at the time of the military coup) with treason was clearly something out of "Animal Farm." I agree. But then Mr. Jones should sue the Liberian government and prove his case.

Furthermore, why then does Mr. Jones want to hold the Liberian people and their government responsible for actions by some people acting illegally in a manner he refers to as “Animal Farm”? Better yet, one way to prove Mr. Jones’ Animal Farm theory is to sue the Liberia government to prove his case or pressure the United Nations to come out with an indictment, or at the barely minimum a public statement that the Samuel Doe junta was in violation of international law.

Right now, what he is saying is all opinion not proven in a court of competent jurisprudence. How can Chairman Bryant even contemplate apologizing on behalf of a whole nation when nothing has been proven even to the minimal test of preponderance of evidence? Let Mr. Jones forget about proven his case against the Liberian people beyond the reasonable standards; I just want him to meet the minimal level of test of preponderance.

So far, the only evidence that Mr. Jones has presented to the reading public is a BBC report of the killings on the beach. That’s not evidence. That’s a news report, period. Has Mr. Jones watched the gruesome murder of defenseless Samuel Doe at the Freeport of Monrovia? I am sure BCC has the recording. I have the tape if he would like to see it. It will make anyone sick after watching it. Samuel Doe was cut into pieces one by one, play by play on television. It was the most gruesome killing that anyone can ever watch. Even Prince Johnson now says he was wrong in the manner in which he brutally murdered Samuel Doe.

I am also taken aback that Mr. Jones only cavalierly acknowledges the death of more than 200,000 people. And why didn’t he choose to focus on the international laws against war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of war prisons. What I suspect is that talking in greater detail about the death of more than 200,000 defenseless Liberians would have required him talking about the need for a War Crimes Tribunal in Liberia, which is a politically dangerous topic in this election year. And also talking about the Geneva Convention on the rules of war would have forced him to ask for a public apology for the manner in which Samuel Doe was treated and killed. Prince Johnson at the Freeport captured Doe. Doe should have been treated as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention. But he wasn’t. History cannot change that. Mr. Jones can prove me correct. Why not an apology to Samuel Doe’s family?

Mr. Jones also failed to acknowledge that the Liberian people were the direct victims of the military coup, because the coup d'etat overturned the will of the people. I don’t know of any Liberian that elected Samuel Doe and his Liberian People’s Redemption Council (PRC) in 1980. How then can Mr. Jones expect that the victims apologize to the families of the 13 men for acts committed by a government not elected by them? Is this double punishment?

In 1980, Samuel Doe and his band of brothers were acting on their own in total violation of the Liberian Constitution and the will of the people. Forget that Samuel Doe and his PRC friends claimed to act on behalf of the people. Undoubtedly Mr. Jones knows that Tubman, Tolbert, Doe, Taylor and countless other leaders in Liberia and around the world have claimed at one point or another to be engaged in acts on behalf of the people. But we know that is not necessarily the case. It is also important to note that whenever we have a coup d'etat that over turned the will of the people, the constitution and the rule of law seized to exist. Yes, military juntas usually set up a tribunal to try former government officials.

Bluntly speaking, the Liberian Constitution and the laws of Liberia ceased to exist when Doe and friends overthrew Tolbert. And the Kangaroo Court camouflaged as Military Tribunal was not a competent jurisdiction under the constitution and laws of Liberia. Instead it was convened in contravention of the Constitution and the rule of law. It is surprising that Mr. Jones will even attempt to give it credence. I guess anything would do when a person tries to make a case where one does not exist. I am just surprised that Mr. Jones will build even part of his case on the PRC’s Military Tribunal.

There are two situations that come to mind when a legitimate government has apologized on behalf of the people: Germany and the United States of America. The German government apologized for the atrocities committed by Adolph Hitler for two reasons: Hitler and his Nazi criminal allies were convicted for crimes against humanity. Hitler was also an elected Chancellor via a coalition government, whose members were elected by the people. This gave Hitler the legitimacy as an elected leader of Germany. The United States government also paid restitution to Japanese Americans after their illegal and forced internment by the elected government of the United States. Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps because Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States’ government was concerned that Japanese Americans would support their native country.

If one were to use the model of post-war Germany and the United States, then Chairman Bryant would have to apologize for the atrocities and human rights abuses committed by our elected governments; not for an unelected government like Samuel Doe’s 1980 PRC. Charles Taylor killed so many Liberians between 1997 and 2002. Taylor was the elected leader of Liberia during that period. Many of us lost our people in Lofa as the result of Charles Taylor. Today, he stands as an indicted war criminal. The people elected Samuel Doe in 1985. His government killed lots of people, burned villages and abused the human rights of countless other Liberians. The Lutheran Church massacre was a case in point. President Tolbert wrongly convicted several political radicals who were opposed to his regime, and even went as far as sending in the military to shoot at unarmed and defenseless students at the University of Liberia. I don’t even want to go into the human right abuses of the dictatorship rule of William V.S. Tubman. I think the reader gets the point.

Mr. Jones brushed aside the fact that Liberia did not ratify the Covenant until recently. Mr. Jones argued, “From that point on, Liberia was bound by international law to adhere to the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a member of the United Nations. This was the case even though Liberia did not actually ratify the Covenant until September 22, 2004.” Is this just another area in which Mr. Jones has tried to circumvent reality to make a point? I could just as well rest my case now. But I will press on because the Liberian people need to know the truth.

I must admit that I am not a lawyer by long shot. I only took two classes in international law at the University of Virginia; but this much I know: signing a document does not carry as much weight as ratifying it. Ratification is only done by the first branch of government, the Congress of Liberia. The Congress is supposed to represent the will of the people. Any president can sign any piece of international convention, but in a democratic society, it must be ratified by the Senate to be binding on the country. Let’s take the case of the United States where some of us enjoy unblemished and unadulterated freedoms in many areas of life. Article II, Section 2, of the American Constitution states that the president “shall have the power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.”

What this means is that the U.S. Constitution’s framers gave the Senate a share of the treaty power in order to check presidential power, to give the president of the Senate’s advice and counsel, and to safeguard the sovereignty of the various states by giving each state an equal vote in the treaty making process. Today, the United States currently has 48-signed treaties that are yet to be ratified by the Senate. These un-ratified treaties are not binding on the people of the United States. It is important to note that some types of international agreements entered into by the executive branch can become a force of law without the advice and consent of the Senate. In America, these international agreements are called executive agreements, not treaties like the ones Mr. Jones has relied on; a distinction that has only domestic significance. I must add further that international law regards each mode of international agreement as binding, whatever its distinction under domestic law. Fortunately, Mr. Jones is not asking for international condemnation but rather an apology from the domestic government, making this distinction between executive agreements and treaties appropriate, making ratification a necessary must to be binding.

The Liberian Constitution has similar provision giving power to the Congress to approved treaties. Article 34. Section F states “the Legislature shall have power to approve treaties, conventions and such other international agreements negotiated or signed on behalf of the Republic.” I wonder why we have this in the Constitution. Can a Liberian Constitutional lawyer help me out?

Obviously, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush did not agree with Mr. Jones’ assessment of the situation that the killing of those 13 people was a total violation of United Nations’ Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a matter of historical record, former President Reagan invited Samuel Doe to the White House at least once. I wonder why President Reagan will sit and talk to a President who had violated international law. Maybe, it was due to Cold War politics, and President Doe was a reliable ally in the fight against global communism. Or could President Reagan have felt that the killing of the 13 people was an internal political battle that did not warrant international involvement? You decide! But the fact remains that the international outcry was not at the magnitude we are witnessing with the calculated murder of an astronomical number of defenseless Liberians by Charles Taylor and his criminal gang.

A better case for any apology could have been made for all Liberians. Every Liberian is a victim of the failed leadership and human rights abuses in our country. Some people more so than others. But whenever a Liberian is abused, we are all abused. I am and optimistic that Liberians will move beyond the past and build a better Liberia that will invariably prevent a repeat of past mistakes. We need a Liberia that is broad based - inclusive, accountable to the people, and that creates opportunity for all Liberians. NEVER AGAIN! I hope you agree!

Related Articles:

April 12, 1980-April 12, 2005: 25 Years of Challenges for Democracy, National Reconciliation, Unity, Peace and Stability

The "Logic of Necessary Mutual Exclusivity"

Apologies Require Historical Context: A Rebuttal to Mr. Mohamedu F. Jones
and Dr. Amos M. D. Sirleaf

The Unlawful and Wrongful Killing of Unspecified Liberians

The Unlawful and Wrongful Killing of 13 Liberians

"Where have we been" and "Where are we now?"

About the Author: Mr. John S. Morlu, II lives in Virginia, USA. He is the founder of the Liberian Institute of Public Integrity. He can be reached at jmorlue@yahoo.com