By Bridgett Milton
The United States government has warned that it will issue visa restrictions against those that will undermine Liberia’s democracy.
The U.S. visa restrictions will target those believed to be responsible undermining democracy in Liberia and their families, including through manipulation or rigging of the electoral process.
It will also target those complicit for the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for West Africa, Michael Heath told a press conference in Monrovia Thursday, 28 September 2023 that his visit to Liberia is a manifestation of the U.S. government’s desire for free, fair and peaceful elections.
He added that on the 27 of September, the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act for those undermining democracy in Liberia.
Heath noted that this policy is not directed at the Liberian people or the Government of Liberia.
He explained that the decision to impose visa restrictions reflects the commitment of the United States to support Liberians’ aspirations to have free and fair elections that demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.
“Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in undermining democracy in Liberia, including through manipulation or rigging of the electoral process,” he said.
He said the visa restriction will target those using measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views.
He noted that it will also target those engaged in any other activity designed to improperly influence the outcome of an election.
“Certain family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions,” the U.S. Envoy noted.
When asked if the United States government has any information on the rigging of election, Mr. Heath said the U.S. does not have any evidence of such, but it is just sending a warning to everyone.
At the same time, Mr. Heath commended President George Manneh Weah for his remarks at UN General Assembly when he pledged his government’s commitment to ensure free, fair, transparent, peaceful, inclusive and credible elections.
The United States has continued expressed its commitment to support Liberia’s democracy, combat corruption and building inclusiveness.
Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three of President Weah’s top officials, leading to their subsequent resignation from the government.
However, the government has failed to prosecute them, citing lack of evidence.
Two of those sanctioned officials, Nathaniel McGill, the President’s former chief of staff, and Bill Tweahway, former managing director of the National Port Authority, are contesting as senators.
Asked whether the U.S. Government is disappointed over the Liberian Government’s failure to prosecute them, Heath responded in the affirmative. He said the U.S. is disappointed, but it is left with the Liberian Government to prosecute them.
The Meanwhile, the Liberian Government says it welcomes the latest United States Government visa restriction policy intended to target those who undermine democracy in Liberia.
IN a press statement issued Thursday, the government said it believes that this policy further reinforces President George M. Weah’s expressed commitment to building a more democratic society – grounded in respect for the rule of law, free expression, and association, as well as the holding of free and fair elections.
This was the central theme of his address to the UN General Assembly last week and during various conversations with U.S. stakeholders – including U.S. Charge d’Affairs Catherine RODRIGUEZ.
The Government believes the U.S. statement, coming at a time when incendiary rhetoric by politicians have been on the rise, will aid its efforts to calm public anxiety around the upcoming democratic exercise.
The government has also welcomed the arrival in the country of scores of election observers from the ECOWAS, AU, EU, U.S. and other observer missions from around the world. This comes as international partners in Liberia have commended various stakeholders, including the elections commission, for the methodical and open manner in which they have conducted themselves so far. -Edited by Winston W. Parley