Free the Nation, Free the People
(A Statement By Nvasekie N. Konneh
September 20, 2002
This Statement was read by Mr. Nvasekie N. Konneh, Acting Chairman of the National Civil Right Movement (NCRM) during the People's Rally, which was held in Washington, DC on Monday, September 16, 2002 in opposition to the Taylor regime's violation of the civil and constitutional rights of the Liberian people. Find below the entire statement:
Presidents and members of the various community organizations present, friends and well-wishers, members of the media institutions present, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, we must give thanks and praises to All Mighty God for making it possible for us to gather here today in good health and with the strength to demonstrate for a cause that is so great and beautiful. This impressive crowd has already indicated that our cause for gathering here is just and timely. If it were not right, God would not have blessed us with this numbers. While we must thank God, we must also thank each and every one of you for having the courage to come over here in the cause of freedom, justice and equality for all Liberians, irrespective of tribe or religion.
We are purposely gathered here today to show our concerns for what's going on in Liberia. As we are aware, today in Liberia, the government is holding Journalist Hassan Bility and others and it’s calling them “terrorists and illegal combatants.” One would have just thought that the government arrested Bility only because he happens to be a journalist who was critical of the government. If he is being detained on this basis, what about the other 19 persons being arrested since then? Almost all of those other Liberians arrested happen to be of the Mandingo ethnic group. Are these other people arrested simply because they happen to be of the same ethnicity as Hassan Bility? If not then what? From what we are seeing, it’s fair to say that the government is on the rampage against the Liberian people, especially those of the Mandingoes ethnic group.
By harassing, arresting and detaining people simply because they happen to belong to certain ethnic group is wrong. It was wrong yesterday and it’s wrong today. As we said recently in one of our press statements, we don’t want the government of Mr. Taylor to repeat the historic mistake of the early 1990 when the government forces started selectively targeting the Manos and Gios because some of their members were supporting the NPFL, the rebel movement Mr. Taylor was leading. Just as it was wrong then for the government forces to carry out selective targeting of the Gios and Manos, it is wrong today for Mr. Taylor to target the Mandingoes and Krahns simply because some of their members may be sympathizers or active participants of the LURD dissident group.
As we all know how wrong a collective guilt can be, we must stand up today and speak with one voice that collective punishment for whatever reason is wrong. The last time this kind of ethnic witch hunting took place was when the government went on the rampage against the members of the Krahn ethnic group. There were thirteen of them detained until Taylor felt the pleasure to release them. Their only crime was being members of the Krahn ethnic group. This time around, it's the Mandingoes' time to be treated the same way and Charles Taylor draws his satisfaction from this kind of thing because for whatever reason, most Liberians will keep silent while he's doing it.
For those who may be wondering why this ethnic witch-hunting is taking place, let us look at the very beginning when the rebel movement headed by Mr. Taylor had as its primary targets, not just the government of Mr. Doe, but the Mandingo and the Krahn ethnic groups. The Krahns were targeted mainly because Doe happened to be one of them. The Mandingoes were targeted because they were successful business owners. From their targeting of the Mandingoes as business owners, one may clearly say that the NPFL of Mr. Taylor was an anti-progressive movement against the prosperity of individual citizens. Its armed men went from village to village, town to town and from cities to cities hunting and killing the Mandingoes and the Krahns in the name of liberation from tyranny. This is not a hidden secrete. It's out there for all to see.
This act of ethnic cleansing which the NPFL was carrying out while most unaffected Liberians kept silent gave birth to ULIMO as a force of resistance and self-preservation for the hunted groups. After seven years of war, which was prolonged because of Mr. Taylor's ambition to be president, Mr. Taylor's de facto rulership over all of Liberia was legitimized through the election of 1997. Most people thought that with his election or selection as president, Mr. Taylor would give priority to the process of reconciliation and reconstruction. Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor has continued with his original agenda of ethnic witch hunting. Just as in 1990 when he was a rebel leader, Mr. Taylor is today carrying out a systematic campaign against the Mandingoes. Seems to be there are no difference between a rebel Taylor and a president Taylor. One would have thought that president Taylor has learnt some lessons from the rebel Taylor. However, from what we are seeing today, nothing has changed. President Taylor of today is the same as rebel Taylor of yesterday.
What we are seeing today with the arrest and detention of Journalist Hassan Bility, Ansumana Kamara, Mohammed Kamara and others is the repeat of history of the war Mr. Taylor introduced in Liberia. A war of ethnic cleansing. Given this fact, are we supposed to be sitting silently and doing nothing? The answer is no. That's why we are here today to tell Mr. Taylor that he is wrong for falsely accusing our people, and keeping them incommunicado. This is a clear violation of the Liberian constitution. The question is, how could a president be a violator of the constitution instead of being its protector? Why should someone violate the constitution simply because he's sitting in the executive mansion?
We are here today because Mr. Taylor has intimidated our people so much that for fear of their own lives and security they can't hold any rally or demonstration in Monrovia or any part of Liberia to condemn him for the humiliation he has brought on them. The last time there was any anti-government demonstration was a year or two ago when Mr. Taylor sent his dreaded security forces to break up a non-violent demonstration on the University of Liberia Main campus in Monrovia, Liberia. Since here in the United States we are not subject to Mr. Taylor's jungle justice, we must tell him in the strongest possible term that he is wrong for holding Hassan Bility, wrong for holding Sheik Sackor and wrong for holding all other persons as hostages. We will not hesitate to tell Mr. Taylor that he is wrong for illegally detaining these people. He is violating these people's constitutional rights to the due process of the law.
This is what we are telling the president, prove your case Mr. President or set the captives free. The court has asked you to prove your case but you have ignored it because you have no case to prove. In the real sense of the word, you are guilty and this is why you are afraid to go to the courts. This proves one thing, only criminals are afraid of going to court and that's what Mr. Taylor has become. He is himself a criminal who is afraid of the court in this case.
As it is widely reported, there are 19 people, mostly Mandingoes currently held incommunicado. We believe there may be many, but according to the reports by MODHAR (Movement for the Defense of Human Rights) the people being held are as followed:
1. Hassan Bility
2. Mohammed Kamara
3. Ansumana Kamara
4. Mohammed Sheriff
5. Salia Kamara
6. Verbulay Jallah
7. Abraham Sando
8. Vayabatee Konneh
9. Menyu Kamara - Former Senator, Bong County and member, Unity Party
10. Abu Konneh - Student, University of Liberia
11. Sheikh K.M. Sackor, Executive Director Humanist Watch - Liberia
12. Alhaji Amara Kromah
13. Morris Kromah
14. Prince Uzoma
15. Junior B. Gidding
16. Abubakar Seeklike Kamara
17. Maputu Kromah
18. Mohammed V. Dukuly
19. Abraham Sando
These people have been held far beyond the constitutional provision of 48 hours. So their detention is a clear violation of the Liberian Constitution. And the violator in this case happens to be no other than the so called president of Liberia, Charles Taylor. This man does not value Liberia and its people. This is why he will treat them any way he feels like because he believes we will do nothing. He believes he can do anything and get away with it with impunity. If that’s what he’s thinking, he is lying. He will answer to his crime against our people some days.
Let's look at some facts of this matter and we are going to quote from an article published on the Perspective Website on the 20th of August 2002. This article is about the press conference held in Monrovia by the Executive Director & Project Officer of MODHAR (Movement for the Defense of Human Rights), Mr. Aloysius Toe. In that press conference, this is what he says: I seize the opportunity to address you on two crucial issues: 1. The indiscriminate and arbitrary arrest and subsequent detention of people (mostly Mandingoes) without charge; 2. The so-called “unlawful combatants” phrase under which Hassan Bility and others are languishing in jail without charge or trial. I must firstly admit to you that the conduct of our government and its security forces with regards to the two issues mentioned above is tantamount to bringing into disrepute the integrity of our legal system nationally and globally and has further negated our popularly acclaimed phrase to the effect that indeed ‘Liberia is becoming a country of men, and not a country of laws’ to the extent that even the most powerful writ of habeas corpus in our land is being rendered meaningless by the law enforcement body of our country.
Somewhere in the same article, Mr. Toe goes on to say and I quote, "Ladies and Gentlemen, it is our candid opinion and a realization of fact that the manner and form in which the government of Liberia continues to deal with the case involving Mr. Hassan Bility, Sheikh Sackor and others constitute willful attack on Article 20 (a), Article 21 (c, f, g and h) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution. Similarly, the government by her actions has violated Articles 6 and 7.1 b of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ratified by Liberia), the Geneva Convention and its optional protocols (all instruments of International Humanitarian Law which referred to Armed Conflict) also ratified by Liberia as well as Articles 3, 8, 9 and11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
As we see all these human rights abuses going on in the country, one may wonder where are the so-called Liberian politicians? If you have been following the developments surrounding this issue, you will see that most of them are being completely silent. They are too busy running up and down holding political meetings here and there only because they want to be presidents. They have reduced themselves to just “presidential politicians.” The question we have for them is, how in the hell you want to be president when you don't care about some Liberians being illegally detained? Tipoteh, Baccus Mathew and other politicians are in Monrovia dinning and winning with Mr. Taylor at the so-called conference for reconciliation. None of them make the mistake of mentioning anything about these 20 persons in jail. What about Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and other politicians in the Diaspora? The truth is they are all silent. We are seeing the true colors of the Liberian politicians. They are only interested in the presidency but don't give a damn about the human rights abuses of those that should be voting them to power. So we are urging you to ask these politicians if you are members of their parties to tell you why they are silent about the illegal detention of their fellow Liberians.
It’s time that we stand up as a people to this brutal regime which is violating our human rights everyday. Our silence when one group of our country is harassed or detained sends the wrong message to Mr. Taylor that it is right to oppress us.
In an ideal society, justice is colorblind/ethnic-blind. That’s how we must be in Liberia. The violation of the right of any single one of us must constitute the violation of the rights of all of us because if it’s not you today it could be you tomorrow. A while ago we were silent when Taylor falsely accused and illegally detained 13 prominent citizens of Grand Gedeh County. We were silent when the former interim president Dr. Amos Sawyer and Commany Wesseh were almost killed by the mob of former combatants of the NPFL with the knowledge and consent of Mr. Taylor. Having being silent for all of the above, Mr. Taylor is now going after the Mandingoes in their homes in the middle of the night. Should we still be silent? I know you will agree with me that we be silent no more. With a single voice we must be able to tell Mr. Taylor that enough is enough.
Thank you all and may God bless you.