Thursday, January 10, 2008

A journey worth remembering

Report emanating from the Volta region (in Ghana) reveals that over six hundred Liberian refugees women “including children” are currently held on an abandoned training camp situated in the Volta region of Ghana. According to one of the refugees “currently with the group in the Volta region”, situation is getting worse especially with the children who are not used to sleeping outside in opens. The refugee (whose name is withheld for security reason) described their situation as "dehumanized”. She explained that they were adopted/kidnapped by the Ghanaian army on the morning of March 17, 2008 and driven to an unknown destination. When asked what was the reason given for their adoption? She said the Ghanaian military’s reason given them was that they “the refugees” blocked an ECOWAS road that passes near the Buduburam refugee camp. “We were not even close to the road, we have been peacefully protesting for increase in our repatriation package from the UNHCR. Our peaceful protest has been a sit in action that has been taking place on a soccer field on the refugee. What brought in the Ghanaian Army remains the million dollars un-answer question”. Those were the exact words of the refugee who claimed she was in bed in the open field of the abandon training camp in the Volta region where they are currently held hostage. She said some high ranking officials of UNHCR, the Ghana Refugee Board, and other Human right activists visited the training camp March 18, 2008. During their visit “according to the narrator”, the UNHCR advised them not to accept any offer from their hostage takers or kidnappers while negotiations are underway to secure the release of the refugees but what happens to them next remains un answer. In a telephone interview at about 7:41 PM Delaware State local time or 11:41 PM Ghanaian time, the refugee “ who sounded very frustrated, went into retrospect and began narrating stories dating back from 1996 when Ghanaian Navy shot at Liberia refugees aboard the famous leaking Nigerian Vessel “M/V Bulk Challenge”. According to the 1951 Geneva refugee convention, UNHCR core mandate is to insure the international protection of refugees. This convention promotes the basic human rights of refugees. UNHCR suppose to act as an international watchdog over refugee issues. The 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees is also the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and legal obligations, and the obligations of states. In august of 1993, Ghana enacted a refugee law which states that the Government of Ghana is not to dehumanize or refuse entry of refugees. In the same document, the Government also agreed not to dehumanized individual (s) or group of people because of their status. In contradiction of the above, the Government of Ghana on so many occasions has continued to abuse, dehumanize, and harass the Liberian refugees for years now. On May 13, 1996, the Government refused entry of a leaking Nigerian vessel “M/V Bulk challenge” carrying hundreds of fleeing Liberian refugees. The Ghana navy opened sporadic gun fire on armless refugees and attempted several times to force the vessel to return to Liberia. The Vessel captain “a Nigerian national”, refused to return to Liberia on grounds that his life and that of hundreds of armless refugees would be in danger. The captain forced his way “under sporadic shooting” to international waters (some 200 nautical miles) from the port of Takoradi in the western region of Ghana and headed to Lome, Togo. After days of negotiations by the then OAU, UNHCR and other world body” Ghana’s then deputy foreign minister “Mohammed Ibn Chambas” continued to defend his government’s actions and refused to accept the vessel. Few hours later, The United Nations announced a huge sum of money (I did not quite remember the exact amount) to be given to any country that would accept the famous leaking Nigerian vessel “M/V Bulk challenge”. Upon this announcement, the Bulk challenge was chased by the Ghana Navy and forced to return to the Port of Takoradi. Upon disembarking from the vessel, refugees were transported to an abandoned school campus in a small village called essipon (approximately twelve miles from Sekondi). The school campus was guarded by heavily armed soldiers. Few weeks after arrival, the Ghanaian army made several arrest of refugees. One of the victims “Philip Sinnah” was jailed for several weeks in Takoradi without trial or charges. He was later released and send back to the refugee camp. A week later, a group of soldiers entered the camp at about 7am and began breaking into tents (refugees’ homes). Refugees were unmercifully beaten by some of the military men simply because I were asleep and did not run outside of their tents. Many sustained bruises on their faces and had to finance their own medical treatment. Over the years, we have also witnessed several assaults on refugees by the Ghana police on Buduburam camp in the central region of Ghana. In one of the cases, one Jonathan K Weedor (who’s presently the youngest commissioner on the elections in Liberia) was a victim. On March 19, 2001, He (Weedor) and many others were adopted and mal handled by Ghanaian police for days before they were released so this is not strange to the Liberian refugees at Buduburam. In may of 2004, this author paid a family visit to Ghana and decided to conduct some covert investigations on refugee cases that were reported by some friends. During my covert investigations, I caught several cases that ran me into tears. In one of the cases, I was made to understand that one of the refuges (whose name was not mentioned to me) died in the winneba prison without trial. Reliable information from my covert investigations shows that following rapid deterioration in his mental state, “the regional high court of the central region had a hearing in Awutu tribunal on Friday 13th day of September 2002 before his worship Mr. J.E. Wilson as chairman and Mr. H.K Zatey, and Mr. S.K.R Tetteh as members” upon an application filed on behalf of the inmate by one family lawyer by the name of Lisa Quarshie, order that he “the inmate” be sent to the Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital to be medical examined was denied. Up to his death, nothing was done by the UNHCR to secure his release. Another refugee prisoner I met in the Winneba prisons had suffered what I described as “chronic psychological problem” because of his continual stay in prison without trial. When I spoke to him, all he told me was “I don’t know while am here. I’ve been here for more than two years now and no one seems to be doing anything about my condition”. He ran into tears while he concluded his statement. I managed to act like a man but his voice sounded like a million pounds on my head. I stood for a minute and ran into tears too. The last two prisoners I met in The Winneba prisons were Jasper Thomas and Sumo Gbelawoe. They both were arrested on August 9, 2002 for allegedly robbing Kenneth Roberts, Emma Kelle, Morris Rovers, Samilia Norman and Stewart Briggs of their assorted personal effects without any cause. Sumo told me he was arrested from the Buduburam camp at about 6am. He said he had come outside to urinate by the house. in the process of urinating, police ran to him and had him handcuff “simply because he was wearing a new T-shirt” and was transported to the Kasoa prison (some ten miles form Buduburam camp). Few days later, he was transferred to the Winneba prisons where he has since been. A family friend of Sumo “William Tokpa” contacted a lawyer to pursue the case but all efforts to get Sumo out went into vain. Sumo was still sitting in limbo waiting for God’s appointed date to be release. Before I left him, his last statement to me was “brother, you and God are my only hopes now” he balanced his hands under his chain in tears and looked at me walk out of the building. All that I took with me from my family visit was memories of painful occurrences. Upon my return to the States, I personally wrote the UNHCR head offices in Geneva, Switzerland and fax a copy to Amnesty International. My letters were accompanied by copies of communications between Sumo’s lawyer and the Government of Ghana. I am appealing to the incoming Government of Liberia to please secure the release of the refugees and arranged their repatriation. Whilst it’s true that some Liberians are involved in dubious activities that have caused their imprisonment, others continued to become victims because of their colleague’s ugly behaviors. I am presently in possession of copies of some documents that I obtained during my covert investigations and will be glad to release them to the appropriate authorities for further investigations. Being a refugee in Ghana is becoming a crime since in fact harassment and kidnapping by both the Ghanaian military and the police is becoming a common practice in Ghana.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

support for the proposed citizenship retention act

Alvin Teage Jalloh
Attorney & Counselor at Law
320 MacDade Blvd,
Suite 105Collingdale, PA 19023
Office: 484-494-8821Cell: 267-934-6603

December 14, 2007

The Honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of the Republic of Liberia
The Executive Mansion
P.O. Box 9001
Capitol Hill, Monrovia Republic of Liberia

Ref: support for the proposed citizenship retention act

Dear Madame President: I write this letter to respectfully request your support for the Citizenship Retention Act which was introduced in the House of Representatives on July 24, 2007, by Honorable Armah Sarnor and Honorable Vaforay Kamara. Acting on behalf of Liberians worldwide, proponents of this Act are seeking to protect all Liberians against the involuntary loss of their Liberian citizenship. This is an important issue that affects a large number of Liberians, particularly those living abroad as well as the families, friends, and communities that they were forced to leave behind during the years of armed violence and persecution in our nation. The introduction of this historic Act represents another important step in our nation’s promise to formulate its laws in a way that is relevant to the innovations of modern life.

The proposed Act is currently before the House Judiciary Committee and is ripe for debate. As counsel for Non-Resident Liberians, I would greatly appreciate your assistance in influencing the 52nd National Legislature to make this Act a legal reality. As you are aware, Madame President, the many years of armed violence and persecution in our nation forced more than 900,000 Liberians to flee their homes and seek refuge in other countries. As time past and while maintaining strong ties with Liberia, a sizeable number of these Liberians got married to citizens of other countries; gave birth to thousands of children in their host countries; became naturalized citizens in their host countries; and took employment in the armed forces of their host countries. All of these Liberians have a right to retain their status as Liberian citizens, regardless of what status they have established in their host countries. The principle of equal rights for all Liberians is one of the central themes of our democracy. Any law, therefore, that treats a Liberian as a non-citizen or second-class citizen, is detrimental to the system of social equality as advocated by this government. This problem is best illustrated by the government’s stance on the issue of loss of Liberian citizenship. Under the existing practice, the due process requirement under Article 20(a) of the Liberian Constitution is ignored.
As a result, Liberians who become naturalized citizens of another country or serve in the armed forces of another country without prior approval from the President of Liberia are treated as if they voluntarily relinquished their Liberian citizenship. For these Liberians, however, this was not the intended result. Liberians did not lose their citizenship by being forced into exile. Consequently, the government’s position on this issue is punitive in nature and undermines the principle of equal rights for all Liberians. Now more than ever as your administration seeks to encourage Liberians at home and abroad to adjust their lives and make substantial contributions to our nation’s development, such a practice will have a daunting effect on Liberians, and make them less inclined to lend their support to the government. In addition, if your administration were to embrace a practice that eviscerates the due process requirement under Article 20(a) of the Liberian Constitution, it would be viewed by many Liberians as a betrayal of your legacy as President of Liberia and as a retaliatory measure penalizing Liberians who chose to do what they could to provide for their families. We acknowledge the positive steps the government is taking at home and abroad, and believe the government can broaden its focus to address the retention of citizenship issue, an issue that is of great concern to Liberians worldwide.

The proposed Citizenship Retention Act, presently before the House of Representatives, is designed to protect all Liberians against involuntary losses of their Liberian citizenship when they become naturalized citizens of another country or serve in the armed forces of another country without prior approval from the President of Liberia. The proposed Act recognizes that Liberians should not be penalized for being forced into exile. It further recognizes that protecting all Liberians against involuntary losses of their Liberians citizenship is a global necessity that will benefit Liberia. We believe the proposed Act is constitutional and, when passed into law, will help to create a more robust Liberian society and enable Liberia to better compete with the growing number of countries, including West African countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo that have and continue to benefit from their citizens having dual or multiple citizenship. Madame President, the interests of our nation and people have expanded beyond our territorial borders.
According to UNMIL statistics, there are about 450,000 Liberians living in the United States and Canada, another 250,000 more living in Western Europe, and thousands more living in other parts of the world. Liberia is at a remarkable junction in its history! Never before has Liberia had such impressive number of contacts outside its territorial borders; never before have so many Liberians been in positions to influence the policies of foreign governments so as to benefit Liberia; and never before has the Liberian government had such an awesome opportunity to tap the investment potential and expertise of Liberians who acquire citizenship of another country or serve in the armed forces of another country.
Throughout our nation's history, when faced with changing global realities, we have acted to make our laws relevant by expanding our democracy and empowering individuals. We have, for example, gone from a restrictive definition of citizenship that treated a large number of Liberians as subjects, to a more inclusive definition that embraces all Liberians regardless of tribal, religious, or political affiliations. We have gone from a male-based qualification of the right to vote, to a gender-neutral definition that permits both Liberian males and females to vote. And we have, among other recent accommodations, suspended the ten-year residency clause in the nation's constitution to allow more Liberians to run for the office of President of Liberia. Having lived abroad, Madame President, you can fully appreciate the many benefits such as better education, training, and job opportunities that Liberians encounter in other countries. By taking full advantage of these resources, Liberians are able to acquire the skills necessary to enhance their quality of life and also provide for the needs of their families, friends and communities in Liberia. Their efforts to enrich themselves and their country should be met with praise and not diminished by the threat of the loss of their Liberian citizenship.
By passing the Citizenship Retention Act, the government will assure Liberians worldwide that they are valuable members of the Liberian society and also encourage them to continue to contribute to the socio-economic advancement of their country. Madame President, as you prepare to deliver your 2008 State of the Republic address before a joint session of the 52nd National Legislature, we look forward to your support in getting this monumental Act enacted into law. Thank you for your time and consideration. May God continue to richly bless you as you lead our nation from a post-conflict status into a stable, prosperous, and leading democracy!

Alvin Teage Jalloh, Esq.
Counsel for Non-Resident Liberians


On December 14, 2007, Non-Resident Liberians contacted the offices of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to take stand on the issue of Dual Citizenship in Liberia. Few hours later, a short email was received acknowledging receipt of the letter to the President. In that email, this group was told that the President will review the letter and take appropriate action as soon as possible. For the benefit of over 1500 signatories and the Liberian public, we are making the copy of this letter public.

Sam K Zinnah
Chairman, Non-Resident Liberians