The Foundation for International Dignity or FIND, has alarmed that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s request for more powers to suspend certain rights of the Liberian people is a dangerous sign that threatens the country’s democracy.
President Sirleaf recently wrote the Liberian Legislature, seeking extra-constitutional powers to suspend about seven provisions of the Liberian Constitution, including Article 1 (Inherent rights of the people) and Article 15 (Freedom of expressing and free speech), among others.
Several citizens and human rights groups, including FIND, are appealing to the Legislature not to consider the President’s request for absolute powers to take unilateral decisions.
“This is dangerous for our country,” Woods told journalists in Monrovia over the weekend, saying, “Anything that has to do with absolute power that violates human rights is a bad sign for Liberia. She was elected to bring positive change; to restore hopes and not to dash them.”
The human rights advocate argues that the Government’s continuous stance against free speech and press freedom is damaging Liberia’s image, which she helped in building over the years.
Mr. Woods is the brother of ex-minister of public works, Samuel Kofi Woods, who resigned from the Government last year. He said President Sirleaf must know that democracy will be threatened in Liberia when citizens and the press are not given the space to express themselves openly.
He said the media has played a pivotal role in the war against Ebola and should not be distracted with constant harassments, threats and intimidation by the government. “Without the media reporting the affairs of the country and the Ebola crisis, most of the international partners and support would not have come here to help,” Woods noted and added, “It is very wrong and unfair for this very press to be under threat. It will affect their work.”
The FIND boss said the government must accept criticism to perform better in the national Ebola response, adding, the government cannot use force and guns, and silencing of the people with extra judicial powers to fight Ebola.
“No level of force against the people can fight Ebola,” Woods argued, adding, “We frown on the curfew, we frown on the state of emergency, and we frown on military force.”
Meanwhile, Woods has called for citizens’ engagement and the improvement of the health sector as well as a better welfare scheme for those working in the health sector.
“Any extra judicial power and seizing people’s rights will plunge the country back, and we are calling on the Legislature not to give the President that power.” He said power, in Article One of the Constitution of Liberia, belongs to the people, stressing that “We have given the Legislators our power to represent us…and they should use it wisely.”
Woods said FIND will remain engaged in advocating against vices that have the propensity to undermine the gains made in Liberia and against democracy. “No, we can’t go back to the ugly past to do those things the plunged our country into chaos, and we will keep talking against them even if we will have to die for it”, he vowed.