A joint statement of the Ambassadors of ECOWAS, the European Union, the United States, and the UN Resident Coordinator in Liberia issued here over the weekend on Liberia’s National Discourse in the New Year following the 06 January peaceful assemble on Capitol Hill stresses the need for the Government of Liberia to urgently clarify a comprehensive notification or application process for large demonstrations, including what qualifies as individual, small, or large group protests, timelines, permissible locations, restrictions on what can be brought to events, etc.
The joint statement notes that multiple recent requests by large citizen groups in the country seeking to demonstrate in central Monrovia underscore the need for such direct clarity from the government, it emphasizes that transparent notification or application procedures for permits to hold large demonstrations, coupled with apolitical and content-neutral adjudications of said applications, can ensure that future events, which are normal and healthy in a democracy, efficiently allow protestors to gather, express grievances, and present petitions to the government.
However, it cautions that any restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly should be consistent with the Constitution of Liberia and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than that imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health, or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
We believe these concerns raised in the joint statement by the foreign ambassadors are very important in not just strengthening civil liberty, free speech and democracy in Liberia, but enhancing our governing system.
When people are aggrieved about the state of affairs, they should be allowed to call their leaders to attention, and one way of doing so is by peaceful protest or assembly as guaranteed in the Constitution.
The joint statement continues, “We note with regret for all present on Capitol Hill on 6 January, that a protest ended abruptly after a day in which approximately 2,000 demonstrators had peacefully assembled and security forces had displayed commendable professionalism in executing their duties. While it is understandable why the Liberian government would find it untenable for a large group of demonstrators to block the primary route through the government quarter endlessly, to disperse the crowd without reasonable audible warning increased the risk of harm to citizens.”
It also underscores the importance for individuals in all democracies to be able to exercise their freedoms of expression, petition, and peaceful assembly, saying, “We note that, if individuals in Liberia believe that their rights have been abridged, there are possible judicial remedies accessible under Liberian law. Review of administrative decisions by the courts can serve as an important mechanism in a democratic society to refine and clarify the interpretation of domestic laws and Constitutional rights. Citizens should also feel that their concerns can be heard and deliberated through their elected representatives in the legislature.”
Rather than just denying citizens’ requests to peacefully assemble and protest to petition their leaders, we call on the Weah administration thru the Ministry of Justice to say in clear terms what it would require to protest in the country, including timelines and specific locations for protesters to assemble.
We hope that the authorities would pay heed to the call from the foreign diplomats to save the country from future embarrassment and calamity. It is unhealthy for a democratically-elected government and its aggrieved citizens to always haul and pull on matters that affect their peace and happiness.