Seeking Justice For Hassan Bility and the Others
By James W. Harris
August 1, 2002
As I set out today to write this article, I “unknowingly” found myself many times stopping to pause and take a very, very deep breath, wondering whether or not my colleague and fellow journalist, Hassan Bility, is still alive (as he should) or really dead as the credible international human rights crusader, Amnesty International (AI) has reported lately.
Well, it has actually been more than a month now since dreadful security operatives of the ruthless Taylor regime in Monrovia seized him and then made it public, through their loudest mouthpiece, Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, that they had abducted the local Analyst newspaper editor along with Mohammed Kamara and Ansumana Kamara (it is not immediately known whether these two are related) for allegedly operating a “cell” in the war-ruined nation’s sea-side capital city of Monrovia with the sole purpose of assassinating the President (Charles Taylor). Had these suspiciously false charges been made anywhere else other than Liberia, this would have simply been a laughing matter - but it really isn’t!
Or, if Hassan Bility had been just another ordinary Liberian citizen who cared less about what was happening to his now war-ravaged country, then it all would have died down quietly by this time just like that. But the fact is - he surely is not! His problem with the sitting Taylor government is simply that he has dared to expose what was going on wrong daily in the general Liberian society in his newspaper which had rightfully gained fame by publishing stories on corruption and other vices in the government, etc. That is the main reason why they decided to snatch him away (and maybe silence him) - not because he had abandon his chosen profession as a budding local journalist that had allegedly become the leader of a “terrorist cell” as the faceless regime had claimed (a charge that’s very surprising to his close friends, not to mention his immediate family members that know him so well).
And as we have seen on numerous occasions, the National Patriotic Party (NPP)-led government of Mr. Charles Taylor continues to stonewall on the vexing question of Bility’s and the others’ eminent release from “illegal” detention in several of the war-decimated nation’s jails (dungeons) that has yet to meet international standards as called for under various conventions signed by the pariah government.
To add “insult to injury”, it’s sad [really sad] to think that no one, not even the great United States that usually pretends to cherish human life, can apparently do anything about it - zip…narda!
Meanwhile, the brutally repressive regime continues to engage in massive “WITCH-HUNTING” of innocent citizens there unabated, clamping down very hard on human rights defenders, civil society leaders and, of course, prominent opposition figures residing in the war-torn country.
The latest examples of this madness are the “illegal” search of the home of Monrovia-based longtime opposition leader, Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh, the 1997 Standard Bearer of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP) and Mr. Roosevelt Jayjay, a local activist, respectively. Since then, the President’s fearless security forces have picked up more citizens as Monrovia rapidly descends into paranoia and chaos. The abrupt arrest and wrongful detention of Mr. Sheikh K. M. Sackor, executive director of the Humanist Watch Liberia (HUWAL) and human rights activist, Dixon Gbla of the group, Liberia Prison Watch, are the most recent examples and victims of the regime’s schemes. Mind you, all this is occurring at a time when the NPP government says that it is promoting peace and reconciliation - a serious contradiction of the highest order!
Frustratingly, the law-breaking NPP government in the besieged capital city also continues to defy common sense by strongly refusing to even produce the “living bodies” of the men (especially, Bility) as ordered previously by the presiding judge of Criminal Court “B” at the Temple of Justice (Injustice), Wynston Henries.
Of course, it did not come as a surprise to anyone following the ongoing ‘Liberian drama’ that Judge Henries too would have quietly washed his hands of this case, stating basically, that since the President (Taylor) himself, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), had already declared them (Bility and the Kamaras) to be, what he (Taylor) called, “unlawful combatants”, his court could no longer prosecute the case any further.
More than anything else, though, what the Judge’s (Henries’) ruling clearly signifies is that in Liberia today, President Charles Taylor’s words are THE LAW and, additionally, the three branches of government - namely, the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative, respectively - that were meant intentionally to be “separate but [and] equal” under the present Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, are truly ONE and the SAME! The judge’s ruling ‘clearly’ supports this view since there’s no ‘independence’ of thoughts between the three branches of government as spelled out in the above document (the Constitution).
If there ever was a chance for the other two branches - the Legislative and Judiciary - to recover their constitutional roles in the Liberian society [which they have apparently given up long since to the Executive (Taylor) by way of their lack of ‘independence’ or usual silence on very critical issues facing Liberia], then their so-called leaders may as well step up now and defend the nation’s existing Constitution, particularly, on issues such as this involving life and death. There’s no way around it! Certainly, they just can’t stand aside and allow this government, one of the most brutal worldwide in recent memory, to continue using them ONLY for its own good because that’s totally wrong.
That’s why it is very, very important that in any future elections, Liberians must be careful of not only WHO they put into office as President, but also WHO they may vote for to represent them in the Legislature, and by extension, the Judiciary. That could be the difference between our country truly moving towards a viable democracy or remaining stuck right where it currently is - allowing the Executive branch to continuously dominate the others. We should always remember that our tragedy has also given us the golden opportunity to change our country for the better by building our institutions from scratch.
But if there is any such thing as JUSTICE (and I must submit, there is), then no other group of people is deserving of it than Liberians, obviously, including, Hassan, Mohammed and Ansumana, who, many believe, are either now dead or held “forcibly” [against their WILL] incommunicado in several of President Taylor’s death chambers.
It may be recalled that immediately following their arrest, the AI, the world’s foremost advocate of human rights and various other abuses, declared in an unusually strongly-worded press release that: “Amnesty International [had] expressed fears that Hassan Bility, the editor of the Analyst Newspaper [in Monrovia] and two others may have died as [the] result of TORTURE [emphasis mine at the bloody hands of Mr. Taylor’s agents] in detention”, and added that, “ The three were arrested on 24 June, 2002, and have been held [forcibly and unconstitutionally] incommunicado [ever] since.”
Now, do anyone or I have reasons to cast doubt on this stunningly sad declaration by the AI? Obviously, not! The burden of proof definitely falls on the government as it has been ordered once again by the General Court Martial Board of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to produce the “living bodies” of these otherwise brave men on Wednesday, August 7, 2002 at EXACTLY 11:00 a.m., under a writ of Habeas Corpus [meaning, ‘you should have the body”] brought by a collective group of outstanding human rights defenders, including, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, the National Human Rights Center, and Legal AID, Inc., among others.
The tremendous courage shown by the men and women representing these organizations to pursue this case to the very end is something that is highly commendable, especially considering the ever-present threat to their personal lives as well as members of their immediately families. That’s why I’m strongly urging the international community, especially the AI, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations (UN) and even the US to lend them their fullest support by keeping the necessary pressure, including, the current sanction regime, on the brutal Taylor government to ensure that these people are somehow protected.
As the matter of fact, the international community should realize immediately that it is no hidden secret that the NPP government or even the President himself seem to be encouraging the usually wicked behavior put on display continuously by members of the various branches of the feared security clique that literally run the war-wrecked country. They [security] and the government seem to have all but adopted a ‘code of silence’ as battled hardened former rebel commanders are instantly being rewarded - like in the recent case of General Benjamin Yeaten, who was promoted to the position of Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff of the AFL after the recent supposed battle of Tubmanburg - for their willingness to die for Mr. Taylor [clearly not Liberia] really for nothing. Do you think that Taylor and his collaborators would ever want to share power or their loot with anyone else? Come on, think about it!
By rewarding them, the President has not only lost his sense of “moral and constitutional” duties to protect the innocent lives of ALL citizens and foreigners alike in the country, but for the most part, he and his bankrupt government seem to be thoroughly convinced that they can do anything and get away with it scot free. Amazing, isn’t it! So far, that appears to be true, though.
In spite of this harsh reality, we dare not give up the campaign to keep the memory of these men, and others that are in their shoes, in the limelight until something is done. Aside from praying daily for them, particularly, our colleague, Hassan, we in the media [Liberians and others] should do all that we possibly can, individually and collectively, to keep the spotlight on this heartless government (Taylor’s) until their fates are determined and JUSTICE served in this troublesome case. That should be our sacred pledge!
As journalists and proponents of democracy, we should never forget that each of us could become victims just like them, with the knowledge that whatever has befallen them could possibly happen to us anytime for the same reasons - standing up [albeit helplessly] to the despotic and apparently criminal regime in Monrovia.
Maybe history just won’t repeat itself in the case of Mr. Taylor and Liberia, but we surely have seen enough to be deadly concerned about the depressing state of affairs going on there.
While I surely won’t want to waste my very valuable time giving a litany of abuses and atrocities meted out to Liberians and generally Africans (mostly civilians) in the entire Mano River sub-region [simply because they’re well documented for anyone that’s interested to know], I’m constrained to mention the names of two of President Taylor’s most prominent victims - Messrs. Samuel Dokie [who I happened to have gotten acquainted with on the telephone following the mysterious death in Monrovia of my only maternal brother unfortunately a Taylor loyalist] and the late Vice President [ironically under President Taylor], Enoch Dogolea who were alleged to have been murdered savagely by thugs of the ruling NPP’s security brigade.
Except that one has been sleeping ‘soundly’ like Rip Van Winkle for the last ten or so treacherous years, the abrupt circumstances surrounding their respective deaths should be well known to all as up to this very day JUSTICE has been denied them!
It is in this context that I’d like to leave you with these ‘sobering’ words by Pastor Martin Niemoeller of the former Nazi Germany, which I think, are absolutely appropriate for the situation that we face in our country today in regards to Bility, the two Kamaras and many others that are yet unknown.
He said: “They [the Nazi] came first for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for ME, and by that time nobody was left to speak up [and then the Liberian government took them away]”.
And so, seeking JUSTICE for Bility and the countless other victims of President Taylor’s continuing ruthless dictatorship is no more a matter of choice, but of utmost compulsion and necessity. Therefore, we really must keep the light focused and shining on his repressive regime as long as we possibly can for the future good of our beloved country and for Hassan’s sake!