Senator Brumskine's Absolute Right to Travel

By Cllr. Mohamedu F. Jones

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 18, 2003

Charles W. Brumskine Photo © by The Perspective
Charles Brumskine Mohamedu Jones
The Government of Liberia acted properly within its authority when it retained possession of the diplomatic passport that former President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Charles W. Brumskine, submitted for an Exit Visa. It is unclear what the nature of the problem is with the other passport the former senator subsequently submitted for an Exit Visa, which was also confiscated. However, both the argument proffered by supporters of Senator Brumskine that since the use of diplomatic passports is a courtesy extended former legislators from "Tubman time," that Senator Brumskine ought to be allowed to continue to use it, and the suggestion by the Liberian Information Minister that Senator Brumskine somehow committed a crime by using the diplomatic passport, are ridiculous, and have no basis in reason or law.

If the Government of Liberia has extended a courtesy to former legislators and granted them diplomatic passports in the past, the government may certainly withdraw that courtesy at its discretion, either individually or collectively. A person who is issued a passport (diplomatic, official or ordinary) by the government, however, may continue to use that passport unless it expires or the government affirmatively declares that it is no longer valid, or they may not continue to use it - and therefore it could not offend the penal law for Senator Brumskine to submit a valid diplomatic passport under the circumstances that have been reported. Minister Goodridge's assertion that Senator Brumskine may have committed a crime is nonsense.

You do not have to support Senator Brumskine's campaign to be president of Liberia, and even if you think he contributed in significant ways to the very conditions that he now campaigns against, if you are interested in constitutional rule and democracy, you have to be concerned about what is happening with respect to his request to travel out of the country. That many other Liberian politicians appear to be mute about this very serious issue, which while not surprising to many observers of Liberian politics, it is further affirmation of these moribund would-be leaders.

As a Liberian citizen, Senator Brumskine has a fundamental constitutional right to travel. [Under Article 13(b), "Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to leave and to enter Liberia at any time."] This declaration means that the government cannot legally keep a Liberian from leaving the country or returning to it. In addition, Senator Brumskine also has an international legal right to travel. Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." This means that the government of Liberia is obligated to provide the necessary documentation for the exercise of the right o travel.

Even if the government argues that Article 13(b) of the Liberian constitution does not prohibit the government from regulating travel (such as with the use of an "Exit Visa" - which I assert is unconstitutional), it however cannot deny the right to travel nor unreasonably delay it. There are simply no circumstances under Article 13(b) that the government can legally keep a free Liberian from leaving the country. The argument that the Exit Visa is meant to keep criminals from leaving and avoiding prosecution is bogus. Actually, the way to keep criminals from leaving the country is to make every effort to arrest, charge and prosecute them. Which "wanted" criminals is likely to apply for an Exit Visa in the first place? The Exit Visa is an unwarranted restriction on travel by Liberians (and foreigners in Liberia) with legitimate interests in traveling out of the country, and it ought to be administratively ended immediately and subsequently repealed by the Legislature.

It is reported that Senator Brumskine has applied for an ordinary passport. He is absolutely entitled to such a passport. The government cannot legally deny him an ordinary passport, and it may not unreasonably delay its issuance either. If Senator Brumskine is not issued an ordinary passport in 30-45 days of his application at the most, the government is in effect violating his constitutional right to travel. As to an Exit Visa, it ought to be issued to him no more than 48 hours after his request and submission of the requirements.

The media stories reported out of Monrovia in respect to the government's tired shenanigans regarding Senator Brumskine - these are the exact tactics employed by failed African leaders over the last 40 years --are neither surprising nor unexpected. In these actions, the Liberian government is disclosing that it will use (or is it abuse) its authority in meeting political challenges to President Taylor. This is further affirmation, as if any one needed one as such, that President Taylor has neither the political will nor ability to govern free and fair elections in Liberia.

The Liberian people and politicians must request the United Nations to conduct the Liberian elections, and bring united pressure upon the government to make the formal request to the United Nations. Those Liberian politicians, including Senator Brumskine, who would participate in President Taylor-managed elections, and believe that they have even the remotest chance of being "free and fair," are delusional. It is inconceivable that the Liberian President could preside over "good" elections. Actually, he has already demonstrated that he will not do so under any circumstances through his statements and actions.