ECC: ‘Caveats from the Armed Forces of Liberia risk closing the civil space for political participation’
Liberia’s largest domestic election observation network with diverse competencies, experiences and expertise in democracy, elections and governance established since 2010 says it is deeply concerned about a public caveat issued by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) regarding the rule of law.
A portion of the caveat relevant to this statement reads verbatim: “A caveat for whoever may feel or is disenchanted as we approach the 2023 elections to use the court system as was seen in the 2017 presidential and 2020 midterm senatorial elections. If you decide to take the law into your own hands (disregarding the rule of law) regardless of your current or past status or affiliation and if the Liberia National Police (LNP) cannot control your actions and/or is overwhelmed we will execute our Constitutional duties.’’
‘‘We will not allow anyone or a group of people to obstruct our hard-earned peace and democracy”. It is the view of the ECC that this caveat has the potential to close the civil space for political participation months leading to the conduct of general elections in 2023 which require mass gathering and assembling of political parties and independent candidates and their supporters,’’ the Elections Coordinating Committee(ECC) stated.
The statement is completely out of order and a form of the military interfering in civil matters by instilling fear and intimidation of citizens who wish to exercise their Constitutional rights to assemble as guaranteed by Article 17 of the Liberian Constitution.
‘‘We wish to remind the Army Chief of Staff and the population in general of the following historic events: When President William Tolbert ordered the military to respond to the rice riot in 1979 there were consequences; When President Samuel Doe organized the military around ethnic lines and turned it against the people, there were consequences; § When President Charles Taylor organized the military into a terrorist group to harass, instill fear and intimidation in the society which prevented peaceful assembling of citizens there were consequences,’’ the ECC pointed out.
These undemocratic practices led to a factionalized and unprofessional conduct of the military that was branded as a regime security which eroded public trust and confidence in the institution to provide security for citizens. It was against these factors that the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) called for the disbandment of the then Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and to reform it. United States of America financial and technical resources were spent in this reform process to rebrand the military. So far, the reformed AFL has earned the respect and trust of citizens and this commendable. Nonetheless, at no time during peacetime shall the AFL engage in law enforcement within Liberia, such function being the prerogative of the Liberian National Police.
The AFL is responsible to respond to external threats and aggression and if it has to interfere into internal peace and security matters, there must be an official request from the civilian authorities and approved by the President of Liberia to help restore order (Section 2.3 e of the 2008 Defense Act).
At the same time, the AFL shall intervene only as a last resort, when the threat exceeds the capacity of the law enforcement agencies to respond. Like the AFL, the Liberian National Police (LNP) went through a reform process so the AFL should give the LNP the chance to perform its statutory mandate by protecting internal peace and security.
‘‘We have had a negative experience of the military in the past and AFL should conduct itself in a way that will reduce the risk of being perceived as a regime military rather than a national army. In concluding, we wish to advance the following recommendations: That the AFL should refrain from issuing caveats on public order and internal security matters which could undermine civilian-military relationships. If the AFL has concerns about internal peace and security, it should express those grievances to the Ministry of National Defense or Justice.’’
‘‘The government needs to provide resources to the Joint Security for the development of an electoral security strategy to inform its operational plan to protect all actors during the electoral process. As we gear for the conduct of the 2023 elections, all security agencies must be perceived as neutral and non-partisan. The government should provide financial resources to the LNP to increase its logistics and HR capacity,’’ the ECC added.