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View Point: Statement on Liberian Refugee situation in Ghana

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According to, 5 Liberian refugees have reportedly been shot dead by Ghanaian police at the Buduburam Refugee Settlement outside Accra during a riot over leadership.

According to the report, the incident occurred Sunday February 6th when a group of Liberian refugees attempted to install a new leadership, despite calls from the refugee board to halt the process. Deputy Information Minister for Information Services, Jerelimink Piah, has confirmed the incident.

Operation We Care for Liberia is deeply concerned about the manner in which Liberian Refugees are treated in Ghana and the potential consequences it may cause, not only for Liberians living in that country but for the West African sub region. Much has been witnessed as well as written about with regard to the disproportionate use of force by police and army forces and the violation of Liberian refugee’s integrity and rights in their host country Ghana.

We believe that the premise of the Ghanaian police argument — that it acted fully within its rights in defending its laws to the detriment of Liberian refugees living within Ghana — has gone unchallenged not only by the United Nations and human right groups, but also by the current Liberian Government under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Ghana police, the argument goes, had to resort to the use of force in order to restore calm at the refugee settlement in Gomoa District because there were fire arms present amongst the refugee populace. We believe that such argument does not hold water because credible information from eye witnesses at Buduburam revealed that at no time were refugees in possession of fire arms during the shootings neither did refugees carry fire arms at any time in Ghana.

Operation We Care for Liberia is concerned about the use of constitutional responsibility by the Ghanaian police only to infringe upon the rights of Liberian refugees living in Ghana. We believe such actions are a complete violation of the United Nations refugee law.

While we recognize the good will of the people of Ghana for hosting Liberian refugees over the years, we are concerned that the habitual use of excessive force by the Ghanaian police against refugee men, women and children is unacceptable at all levels. We condemn Ghana for not handling the situation peacefully to calm whatever condition(s) that may have led to such inhumane action carried out by its police force against the refugee populace at the settlement.

As events unfolded we have also received credible information that the Ghanaian police have extended its area of activities deep within the refugee settlement. Nobody seems to be in any rush to remind Ghana what “responsibility to protect” means under international law. We call on ECOWAS and the international community to pressurize Ghana to desist from such practices immediately!

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s continuous silence and lack of intervention compels us to believe she has no interest in providing protection for Liberians living abroad. We, at this time, wish to inform the people of Liberia that President Johnson-Sirleaf’s action mirrors nothing else but “don’t care behavior”. As such, we demand answers from the President for exhibiting such (contra-Liberian interest) behavior.

Similar incidents of army harassment and brutality against Liberian refugees occurred sometime in 2004. During that period several hundred refugee men were arrested and detained at an open soccer field near Buduburam refugee settlement in Gomoa district Ghana. These refugees were made to stand under hot sun for 12 hours without food and water.

Also in March 2008 several hundred Liberian refugees mostly women and children, were arrested and taken to an unknown locations while staging a sit-in protest at the Buduburam settlement in Ghana to press their demands for “what they saw as dissatisfactory arrangements to have them repatriated back to their now devastated country Liberia”. They complained that those who championed the deaths of their relatives and destroyed their future were the same people in control of the Liberian government.

According to their spokes person at that time, Miss Amelia Beh, without the provision of basic necessities to start their lives all over, it did not make any sense for them to return to Liberia venerable to political manipulation by government officials as a result of mass poverty and hunger across the country. Operation We Care for Liberia condemned such actions carried out by the Ghana military at that time; we still condemn these actions today, and will continue to condemn them in the future until they cease.

During the 2008 crisis at Buduburam, We condemned President Ellen for blowing a good opportunity to convince Liberians that their government would care for them in a time of crisis by not asking the Liberian consular in Ghana to travel to the refugee settlement right away. Instead, wasting tax payer money, the President dispatched a delegation from Liberia to Ghana only to return to Liberia with the issue unaddressed leaving Liberian living in Ghana venerable to abuse by the Ghana police and military. The President’s actions leave us to question the role of the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as the Liberian ambassador in Ghana.

Also, President Johnson-Sirleaf travels the world frequently to pick up meaningless awards that do not benefit the suffering Liberian population.

Travelling to next door Ghana in order to solve problems affecting her own people seems just very impossible for the Liberian President. She would rather travel to the United States more than six times in six months for no reason other than to protect her legacy. President Johnson-Sirleaf must understand that it is the primary responsibility of her government to protect its citizens in times of crises especially so abroad. We seriously question the President’s judgment at this time.

The fact that military force was used on a refugee settlement resulting in the deaths of refugees is troubling. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf must understand that Liberia has the right to intervene in other countries where its citizens happen to reside, to protect their interests no matter their status. To see Liberians brutalized and killed under the very nose of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf while the rest of the world remains silent in response is unhealthy for Liberia and the entire West African sub region.

Liberia may have limited jurisdiction over its citizens residing abroad, such as consular protection. While we believe such jurisdiction should be exercised with respect for the principles of sovereignty and friendly relations with Ghana, we are also aware that protection of human rights is a matter of international concern amongst all countries, including Ghana.

Therefore we insist that President Johnson-Sirleaf confront the government of Ghana on the matter of protecting Liberians living in Ghana. Ghana may have an interest in the well-being of its citizens, particularly those living around the Buduburam refugee settlement. We believe such interest, however, does not translate against refugees rights under international law.

Ghana may have a constitutional responsibility to restore law and order within its territory, but this does not in any way imply a right under international law to use excessive force on armless civilian refugees living at the Buduburam refugee settlement. If Ghana is unable or unwilling to protect Liberians residing on its territory from police or military harassment, then the protection of human life and dignity becomes the responsibility of Liberia itself, ECOWAS and the International Community.

We therefore call upon ECOWAS, the government of Liberia and the international community to consider their responsibilities to protect refugees living at Buduburam and that humanitarian intervention at the settlement be carried out immediately in order to prevent human suffering and protect the population of refugees against the use of force by the Ghanaian police.

We believe such intervention is necessary and legitimate at this time because the existence of evidence of crimes committed against civilian refugee population at Buduburam is undisputable. Military gun shots were fired in the settlement and five refugees killed from gun wounds.

It is also our understanding that Liberian refugees have fled the settlement and are now hiding in nearby bushes and other places. Delaying an adequate response to the situation at Buduburam may result into more deaths and starvation of Liberian refugees. We call upon the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees hiding in bushes around the settlement.

The Liberian government must work toward creating an amicable economic and political atmosphere livable enough for human dwelling in order for Liberian refugees to be repatriated from Ghana to Liberia.

We lastly condemn the Ghanaian police action at Buduburam because such action does not only violated international norms and principles, but also demonstrates how and to what extent the notion of “excising the laws of one country ” can be abused. It shows clearly that the misapplication of the rights of a country can result in a punitive, rather than a peaceful intervention, and that the disproportionate use of force by a host country pursuing its own questionable objectives can lead to human suffering.

Again, we believe that potential consequences of the habitual use of force on Liberian refugees by Ghana police and military have the propensity to affect not only the relationship between Liberia and Ghana but would as well derail the ongoing peace process in the West African sub region. We therefore demand that the current violation of refugee integrity and rights at Buduburam cease at once!

Enough is enough at this time!

Bernard Gbayee Goah President, Operation We Care for Liberia**

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