Human Rights Defenders' Response to Justice Minister Johnson
Posted October 25, 2002
24 October 2002
Cllr. Lavela Koboi Johnson
Ministry of Justice
Republic of Liberia
Dear Hon. Johnson:
In reference to your letter of 24 October 2002 instant (ref.: M LKJ/MOJ/GOL/180/’02/RL), in which you raised three counts, attention of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders have been drawn and would like to respond thus:
1. In count one of your letter, you requested to "know the various organizations forming the Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders so as to be able to make an informed decision thereof". While we are not sure of what level of knowledge you are requesting, may we take this time to attach the list of the organizations forming the Coalition. At the same time, may we observe that it is unfortunate that the Minster of Justice would still want to know the organizations forming the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders after holding meeting with the very organizations on the 9th of October 2002 in the conference room of the Justice Ministry in the presence of the Director of Police and the Minister of Defense.
2. In count 2 of your communication, you asserted that the status of Hassan Bility and others have been determined as Prisoners of War (POWs) of LURD by a tribunal. You further maintained that the Coalition reference to Hassan Bility and Sheikh Sackor as "fellow defenders" clearly informs the Government of Liberia about the Coalition level of involvement in the matter for which they were arrested. While we view this assertion as a scare tactic to cow us into undue submission and silence, we wish to draw your attention to the realities: Are you not aware that Hassan Bility, through his participation at the Press Union of Liberia as well as his critical editorials and commentaries, has denounced lawlessness, abuse of power and human rights violations while at same time advocating for press freedom and justice for all in Liberia? Doesn't the fact that we, also, as advocates of the very principles of freedom, justice and equality which Hassan Bility advocated constitutes the basis to refer to him as a "fellow defender"? Are you not also aware that Shekh Sackor, as Executive Director of the Humanist Watch, has been advocating for the fundamental rights of mankind? Doesn't this squarely place him as fellow defender?
Furthermore, Mr. Minister, we take note of your information that government has determined the status of Hassan Bility and others as POWs. As you may be aware, there are international laws that guarantee the rights and privileges of POWs as well as their treatment. The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949 as well as the 2nd Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention relative to Non-International Armed Conflict is very clear on this question.
Unfortunately, sir, you will have to face the critical decision of accepting the glaring fact that the Government of Liberia has not shown any evidence of respect for any provisions of these instruments of international humanitarian law, which have been ratified by Liberia as far as the Bility et all saga is concerned. Further, sir, the mere determination of status as POWs does not constitute a charge, conviction or guilt.
In the same vein, the fact that Hassan Bility and Sheikh Sackor were arrested in Monrovia while carrying out their respective organizational duties squarely places the burden of proof on the government to prove the POW status as far as the definition of POW is concerned under the Geneva Convention.
3. In your last count, you claim that our call for the respect of Rule of Law cannot be genuine in that we have clearly shown our support for LURD. Regrettably enough, sir, we don't share your inclination in this regard. The Coalition has resolved to and we will declare a week of solidarity in sympathy with the plights of Bility and Sackor.
Lastly, that we have requested the Justice Ministry for permit for the peaceful solidarity march is a matter of courtesy and not a matter of legal requirement under the laws of Liberia. What we are required to do is to inform the Justice Ministry of our intentions and request for security that is the legal requirement, sir!
Thanking you ever so much, we remain,
IN THE SERVICE OF HUMANITY
J. Aloysius Toe
Liberia Coalition Of Human Rights Defenders
Milton & Richard Building
152 Carey Street,