Taylor Threatens to Impose "State of Emergency"

The Perspective

August 28, 2001

Is there a threat to Liberia's security? So says President Taylor who addressed the nation last weekend in a live television and radio call-in show dubbed "Issues with the President," using a trial balloon to test the public pulse, and perhaps preparing the way for a decision which has long been speculated to be in the making, President Taylor told Liberians that imposing a state of emergency was necessary in light of the current security and other conditions in the country.

According to reports form Monrovia, the Liberian ruler argued that the imposition of emergency "would enable the government [to] put into place the appropriate mechanisms for peace and security of the state. [He] asserted that the war in Northern Lofa County, the UN imposed sanctions against Liberia, among others, are conditions that warrant the imposition of the state of emergency by his government." The president continued:

"The fact that there exists war in Lofa, it constitutes a clear and present danger.

"When Liberians are taken from all over the country to go fight, when young men and women are dying on the battle front every day in Lofa, don't people think that there is a clear and present danger to the country. Danger in Lofa is danger in the entire country.

"When the United Nations imposed sanctions on Liberia, it provided for a state of emergency.

"When a major commodity of diamonds cannot be exported from this country, causing half a million of our citizens not to do what they normally do to support their family, it constitutes a state of emergency."

Mr. Taylor vowed "that he would not hesitate to declare a state of emergency if the national security council, which is currently studying the social, political, economic and security impact of the state of emergency gives him the mandate to proceed with the decision."

If Taylor's intent was to mobilize public opinion in support for such a decision, it is apparent that the opposite effect was achieved. Not only has there been a public outcry when the issue was first broached about few weeks ago by Cyril Allen, National Chairman of the National Patriotic Party (NPP), but Liberians have also roundly and vehemently rejected Mr. Taylor's call for such action. With Liberians wishing to rid themselves of autocratic and dictatorial rule, they are even more repulsed by the use of military decrees which would characterize an emergency situation.

Furthermore, political observers and Liberian constitutional experts disagree with Taylor's analysis and definition of what constitutes a state of emergency. One Liberian politician who preferred not to be named observed: "Taylor has long been looking for a pretext to impose emergency rule, and it appears like he has found it... granted the war in Lofa, it is more regional than national in scope, and there is no civil unrest in the country."

Legal experts also question Taylor's misreading and misinterpretation of the Liberian constitution. "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."

Article 86(a) of the Liberian Constitution states: "The President may, in consultation with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, proclaim and declare the existence of the state of emergency in the republic or any part thereof. Acting pursuant thereto, the president may suspend and affect certain rights, freedoms and guarantees contained in this constitution and exercise such other emergency power as may be necessary and appropriate to take care of the emergency, subject, however, to the limitation contained in this Chapter [Chapter IX, Articles 87 and 88]."

It is a fact that the government still controls more than 95% of the country and there is no grave danger to the country's territorial sovereignty. It is also a fact that there exists no civil unrest or potential unrest in the country. But more importantly, even where these conditions were to attain, legislative consultation would be needed to proceed with such a decision. But it is clear that Taylor is prepared to bypass the legislature (even though it is a rubberstamp) or usurp their power, and institute a rule by fiat.

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