Where is Thompson Adebayo?

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

October 12, 2001

Just a little over a month ago, the dictatorial government of President Charles Taylor issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Thompson Adebayo, the Executive Director of Liberia Watch for Human Rights (LWHR). His "alleged" crime - calling on the Liberian government, through a press release to, among other things, disband the country's feared security outfit, ironically called the Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU).

Obviously fearing for his life, the human rights activist went underground only to emerge a few weeks later. Accompanied by Counselor Frances Johnson-Morris, Acting Director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), he turned himself in "peacefully" to the nation's top cop, Police Chief, Paul Mulbah.

But since then, nothing has been heard from and about him. And it is very disturbing, to say the least, that everybody seems to have forgotten about Mr. Adebayo, who, in no small way, has apparently "sacrificed" himself bravely for the triumph of human rights in Liberia.

Because of the repressive nature of the Taylor government, there are good reasons to be seriously concerned about his personal safety and well being, especially at this time when the whole world is correctly focused on America's "new war" against international terrorism.

But Mr. Adebayo's rights cannot and should not be denied, because as the Liberian Constitution clearly states: "Every person arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty-eight hours. Should the court determine the existence of a prima facie case against the accused, it shall issue a formal writ of arrest setting out the charge or charges and shall provide for a speedy trial. There shall be no preventive detention." [Article 21 (f)].

Moreover, when he was handed over to the police, Chief Mulbah did inform the JPC that "in case the matter reaches the courts, the rights of Mr. Adebayo would [have been] protected as enshrined in the Liberian Constitution." Or so we thought! But Mr. Adebayo's continued incarceration by the Liberian authorities without "due process" makes mockery of the whole practice of democracy in the country. It also brings into question the "sincerity" of the Taylor government regarding its "professed" intention to uphold "basic human and constitutional rights" as supposed "democratically elected" governments do.

The fact that no "official" word has come out from the morally bankrupt National Patriotic Party (NPP) government in regard to Mr. Adebayo's case, leads one to somewhat believe that his life could be in total jeopardy, especially if he's in the custody of the dreaded ATU. It's like throwing a "live" person into a lion's den, isn't it? The thought of Samuel Dookie and countless others immediately come to mind.

"Civilians detained at the ATU cells in Monrovia [are] regularly whipped and forced to carry out hard labor, including, breaking rocks. Some [are] humiliated by being smeared with mud and forced to sit in the sun to get dry or by being slapped in their faces after being ordered to inflate their cheeks", says a recent Amnesty International (AI) report. So, one can imagine what the poor fellow is going through even as I write this article and America seeks JUSTICE far away from home.

Although the AI has repeatedly urged the Liberian government to "take steps" to curb such abuses, but it is not likely that the stubborn Taylor regime would pay any attention to the advice.

so, when we say that the Taylor government really doesn't "fit" into the US worldwide coalition against terrorism, we're "wisely" basing our views on how the government continues to abuse the "basic" human rights of individuals unlike other members in the group.

When we mention that the Taylor government just "doesn't fit" in "freedom's coalition" against world-wide terrorism at this time, we simply mean that Liberia has not yet met the least requirement of a democracy - to abide by the Constitution like most nations that are on the US' side. Abiding by the Constitution means affording each individual (not necessarily only: Liberian citizens) the "fundamental right" to the due process of law.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the government's resolve (or lack of resolve) to pursue a "perfect" human rights record as some of Mr. Taylor's diehard defenders would want to make it seem. We are sorry; we're not that naive!

Frankly, I would be the last person to suggest that the Liberian government should have a "perfect" human rights record in order for it to be accepted as a "full" member of the US-led coalition on terrorism. I definitely know better than that! But the truth is that the Taylor government is not even making the desired efforts to improve its own dismal record, as it should be doing. The present regime, instead, continues to abuse the rights of its citizens with impunity, something "shockingly" different from most members in the coalition.

Like humans, we know naturally that no nation can have a "perfect" record on almost anything, including, human rights. But what most nations do, especially those that are on the US' side, they "strive" diligently to protect individual human liberties as much as possible. This is the "one" thing that distinguishes them from the repressive and "strange" Taliban that have no regard whatsoever for innocent human lives, not to say that the lives of Palestinians are less important.

Of course, all nations, including the great US have problems, but certainly NOT the kinds of problems being perpetuated in Liberia by the current NPP government. Had Adebayo been in the US or any other "democratic" country for that matter, he would have had his day in "open" court by now. Even condemned killer, Timothy McVeigh, had his day in court, didn't he? Therefore, give Mr. Adebayo his day or set him free!

On other issues, how is it that the police waited until the warrant was issued for his arrest before telling the public that "Mr. Adebayo is not a Liberian citizen and as such, it was illegal for him to have gotten involved into the country's (Liberia's) internal matter"? Doesn't it sound more like incompetence rather than Mr. Adebayo's deliberate attempt to circumvent Liberian laws? What has happened to Liberia's stance on so-called Pan Africanism that the government media had lavishly praised President Taylor of championing? When did the government know that his (Adebayo's) organization had not "met the full requirement as a legal establishment under the Liberian Constitution?" These are all legitimate questions that citizens in a "functioning democracy" often ask, and anyone who doesn't understand how the "democratic process" works would have a difficult time later to enjoy "freedom" when it is finally achieved in Liberia someday soon.

In building its world-wide coalition against the evil force of terrorism, the US, of course, would in its own "interests", embrace some nation's that have "questionable" or "shadowy" human rights records. But this is not new. Neither does it mean that the Taylor government should now relax instead of using this opportunity to change its "ugly" ways.

Amazingly, some of Taylor's "blind" supporters truly believe that by sending a congratulatory message to the Liberian government for showing sympathy towards the Americans regarding the September 11 tragedy, the US embassy in Monrovia had confirmed Liberia's place amongst nations of the "free world". Isn't that laughable! What it really means, though, is that President Taylor has been given yet another chance to "clean up his act", because "freedom" will ultimately prevail over his brand of "repression".

The current Liberian government could send a "clear" signal about its intention or desire to change for the "good" of the country, by showing the willingness to resolve the Adebayo case and other outstanding cases involving various human rights abuses in the country.

In this regard, we would like to appeal to the Liberian National Bar Association to "please" pursue the interests of Mr. Adebayo and others to ensure that they get a "free and fair" trial if, and when, the NPP government can gather the necessary courage to bring charges against them, notwithstanding the Bar's own "legal" problems. But the Bar can't definitely afford to shrink from its responsibility to uphold the laws of Liberia no matter what, especially at this crucial time in the nation's history.

In the same breath, we would also like to appeal to the AI and other organizations to make every attempt to join the Bar in seeing to it that the human rights activist not only gets "due process" immediately, but that the Taylor government abide by all "standing" international conventions regarding same.

And if the government fails to cooperate, then it should be seen as NOT being a "complete" part of the US-led "freedom coalition" against terrorism.

Lately, we've been hearing about ATU members attending a seminar on "international humanitarian law". That's very good and we welcome this move wholeheartedly. But many Liberians strongly believe that the government's decision to send the ATU members to this "highly desirable" seminar was mostly influenced by the issues that have been raised "repeatedly" by Mr. Adebayo and other human rights activists both in and out of the country. Hopefully, they'll (ATU) also learn how to live with the Liberian people in peace, putting the LAW above everything else.

Again, if Liberia wants to "completely fit" into the US coalition against terrorism, it should either give Mr. Adebayo and others who are languishing in jails their DAY or simply set them FREE. That's what any "reasonable" person would mean by "fitting in", don't you think? I do, and so do many others! Above all, Liberia should seize this "golden" opportunity to finally redeem itself and rejoin the community of "civilized and. truly democratic" nations.

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