Media Foundation for West Africa Responds to Ghana's Threat Against Liberians Living in Ghana
(A Letter to Ghana's Foreign Minister)
August 16, 2002
Hon. Mr. Hackman Owusu Agyemang
Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS PRESS STATEMENT ON LIBERIANS
Our attention has been drawn to a publication in The Statesman newspaper (Accra) of Wednesday, July 31, 2002, of a news item reportedly based on a statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The statement, according to the newspaper, referred to a meeting in Accra on July 22, 2002 and claimed that some Liberian politicians had expressed “negative views” on political developments in Liberia at the meeting.
The government of Ghana, according to the statement, would “not allow the territory of Ghana to be used as a platform by other nationals to attack the persons of their Heads of State and or their governments.”
The statement reiterated the Ghana government’s policy and “principles of good neighbourliness” and would not countenance any breaches to these. The story, by implication, was an accusation of political wrongdoing against the meeting of July 22, its participants and the organizers.
As the organisation which held an international meeting on the Human Rights Situation in Liberia on July 22 and 23 in Accra, we would like, respectfully, to explain to you, Honourable Minister, and to the government of Ghana, the objectives of and proceedings at the meeting. We would also like to make some comments on the statement attributed to your Ministry.
The Media Foundation for West Africa is a human rights organisation that works to promote, advocate and defend press freedom and freedom of expression in West Africa. The organisation also works to promote the development of media professionalism. It is a non-governmental organization registered under the laws of Ghana on March 20, 1997.
Since it started operation, the MFWA has intervened in numerous cases of abuses and attacks on the rights of journalists and media in nearly every country in the region and elsewhere on the continent where such violations have occurred.
Our methods of work include publicizing abuses, alerting public opinion, mobilizing interventions through petitions, protests and appeals (as may be appropriate), and providing legal defence. We also engage in investigation of cases and trends.
We publish a bi-monthly magazine on these issues, and also publish several other material on all aspects of media and free expression as we may find necessary.
In the short period of our existence, our work has attracted favourable attention and collaboration from reputable international and national human rights organizations. We have also an Observer Status with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
Therefore, we have gained a reputation that we are proud of; will maintain; will build on; and that we will work hard to protect by acting transparently and truthfully to the principles and ethical norms of human rights advocacy work.
The Media Foundation, being a human rights organization, therefore, does not take sides in the political activities of partisan political entities in their contest for power. But we do, and will always, take sides in all cases where, when and if the human rights of individuals, groups and communities are under attack or threat.
This is why we organized the meeting referred to above on July 22, 2002. We organized this meeting as a logical continuation of a consistent work of investigating, commenting on, petitioning, appealing against, protesting against, publicizing and raising alerts about the nearly daily violations of the human rights of journalists and other citizens of Liberia from almost immediately after we registered as a non-profit human rights advocacy organization.
In 1998 and 1999, the MFWA, in collaboration with the Centre for Democratic Empowerment of Monrovia, the Press Union of Liberia, and the Carter Center held a series of roundtable discussions with representatives of all the security agencies of President Taylor’s government. The aim was to stop, by appeals, the brutalization of journalists by security agents of that government.
Nearly every week we send out Alerts concerning one violation or another in that country.
We have worked with the Press Union of Liberia and independent human rights lawyers to provide legal defence for journalists arrested on false charges of treason based on their exercise of their professional duties.
We organized the meeting in Accra to work out a plan to initiate an international campaign to put pressure on the government of President Charles Taylor to improve the horrific situation of human rights abuses by his security personnel. This program was publicized and open.
It was attended by the following reputable organisations:
1. The Liberian National Bar Association
2. The Press Union of Liberia
3. The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Liberia
4. ARTICLE 19, Africa Office, Johannesburg
5. The Media Institute of Southern Africa, Windhoek
6. The Civil Liberties Organization, Lagos
7. The Media Rights Agenda, Lagos
8. The Inter-African Union of Human Rights Organizations, Ouagadougou
9. (RADDHO) Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme, Dakar
10. The West African Journalists Association, Dakar
11. The International Council on Human Rights Policy, Geneva
12. The International Media Support, Copenhagen
13. The Amnesty International, Ghana Branch
14. The Ghana Bar Association
15. Professor E. V. O. Dankwa, former Chairman and, Member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
16. ABANTU for Development, Accra
17. The African Security Dialogue and Research, Accra
18. The Ghana Committee on Human and People’s Rights, Accra
Honourable Sir, you can see that contrary to the Ministry’s statement of the presence of “some Liberian politicians”, the Liberians there belong to known, respected professional and human rights institutions and not political parties.
The meeting was co-organized with the Centre for Democratic Empowerment. And that is a non-partisan democracy advocacy organization founded and based in Monrovia by the country’s wartime Interim President, Prof. Amos Sawyer, a man reputed worldwide for his commitment to non-violent means of resolving the crisis in Liberia and in the Mano River region. The Executive Director who represented the organization at the meeting, Mr. Conmany Wesseh, is actively involved in finding peaceful means of resolving Liberia’s problems mostly created by President Taylor’s inhumane and violently repressive policies.
The July 22 meeting was not about President Taylor’s person. So nobody made any attacks on his person.
Certainly, it involved, as the statement put it, “negative views” about “political developments” in Liberia under his rule, in-so-far as these “developments” constitute horrendous abuses of the human rights of Liberian citizens as well as those of Ghanaian and other citizens residing in Liberia.
The meeting launched a dossier, a compilation of the best known cases of abuse since President Taylor took office in 1997. The published document is enclosed here for your examination. So also is a copy of the conference communiqué.
Besides the MFWA, such reputable international organizations as the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch have at one time or another in recent months publicized cases of atrocities against the Liberian people by President Taylor’s government.
Our dossier is based on investigation conducted over three years. And we are ready to defend each and every case as authentic and verifiable.
Sir, we of the MFWA regret very much that your Ministry would put out a statement that gives the impression of defending a highly discredited regime, and that has a high potential of casting a negative image for the Ghana Government in the eyes of human rights organizations, and in the eyes of those governments that are trying to find ways of improving the horrible human rights conditions in Liberia.
Knowing the ferocity with which Mr. Taylor deals with Liberians who express any independent views whatsoever about the deplorable situation in their country, we find your Ministry’s statement regrettable for the following reasons as well.
The statement would be useful evidence and a weapon for Mr. Taylor to attack, even arrest and detain the Liberians who attended the meeting.
For the teeming Liberians who see Ghana as the most favourable haven from Mr. Taylor’s persecution, the statement is a threat that would frighten them, thereby creating the impression that the Ghana government would collaborate with Mr. Taylor’s government in their persecution.
Already, over the past year and more, we have been receiving reports from Liberians of harassment by Ghanaian immigration officials whenever they arrive at our ports. The statement from the Ministry tends to serve as a confirmation that there is some unpronounced policy against Liberians, and that only Liberians serving Mr. Taylor’s government interests are welcome to Ghana.
We would like to suggest also that the government of President Taylor has not done anything to show that it has any regard for “good neighbourliness”. There is a mass grave in a suburb of Monrovia called Bardnersville. It contains the bodies of Ghanaians massacred by Taylor’s NPFL. The Ghanaians were killed and thrown in there when the Ghana ECOMOG contingent arrived during the civil war. Harassment and attacks on the Ghanaian community in Monrovia by Mr. Taylor’s security personnel are a regular occurrence. Mr. Taylor’s acts and policies of destabilizing countries in the region are well documented and known all over the world.
As an organisation based in Ghana, we found the coming into power of the NPP government as a welcome development. We saw it as a major positive development for the expansion and strengthening of human rights in Ghana as well as in all the countries in our region.
Let us assure you that we still believe that the NPP government can make major contributions to the expansion of these noble ideals in our region.
We are writing to you, Sir, also because we want to propose to your government to make efforts to:
1. Contribute to improving the horrific human rights situation in Liberia;
2. Make a pronounced, active, open policy for the promotion of human rights as a key foreign policy objective in our region;
3. Try to apply the AU/NEPAD “Peer Review” challenge by directly challenging President Taylor to stop the ferocious attacks on the rights of his own citizens; and
4. Grant us audience with your office, and if need be even with the Cabinet, to brief the Ghana government on the human rights horror that Liberia under President Taylor has become.
Honourable Sir, we have written this rather long response to your Ministry’s statement with the object of explaining to you what our meeting on July 22-23 was all about. We hope that, as a government that came to power on a campaign of human rights, your government will see our work as a source of information and resource in pursuit of your own promotion of those ideals and principles in our country and region.
And we are ever ready to work with you in this noble cause.
Prof. Kwame Karikari