Peace-building experts and other social scientists have come to the conclusion that Liberia’s intractable civil war which last for 14 years was caused by bad governance. Political leaders and others exercising powers and influence over others often resort to arbitrariness to satisfy their selfish agendas, attracting ire and resistance which nonconformist counterparts often lift to conflict proportion. As Liberia enters the second year of a new political administration, some Liberians are concerned about their rights to speak out against vices that could derail national progress and set the state for return to conflict. Thus, while delivering his induction statement, the head of Liberia National Bar Association, spoke strongly about the imperative of breaking the culture of silence and rallying state actors to speak against bad governance which he said has the tendency of leading a nation to instability. The Analyst reports.
One of Liberia’s respected lawyers and human rights advocates, Tiawon Gongloe, has been inducted into office following his win of elections organized by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA).
In a colorful induction ceremony Friday, January 25, 2019, Cllr Gongloe laid out his plans for the development of the LNBA, including fighting for the welfare of members by implementing old and new projects and programs of the organization and publishing a “Bar Journal”.
Of all, Cllr. Gongloe dwelled elaborately on the need for lawyers to devote time to speaking out on national issues and remaining engaged with the Liberian governance process, adding, “The bar cannot, must not and will not be silent on contentious legal issues that have the propensity to lead our country into confusion or chaos and reverse the gains made, collectively, in re-establishing a peaceful social order, within the framework of the law, with the support of the international community, following fourteen years of fratricidal civil conflict that caused the estimated deaths of more than 250,000 of our compatriots and the destruction of all of our basic infrastructure in our country.”
The new LNBA president said the voice of the Bar will be heard loudly on all contentious legal issues.
“We owe a collective duty to our country as lawyers to provide clarifications on legal issues, as a way of sustaining the peace and preventing conflict,” Cllr Glongoe asserted. “In fact, it is within our professional interest to do everything, legally possible, to sustain the peace.”
He said Lawyers are perhaps the only professionals who cannot practice their profession in the absence of peace.
As was experienced during our own civil conflict, he said, the courts and law offices immediately shutdown at the first gun sound, but preachers continued to preach at displaced centers and refugee camps, medical doctors and nurses were practicing their profession at the clinics, including mobile clinics providing services for combatants and their victims and journalists were practicing their profession by reporting on the conflict.
“Therefore,” he said, “our recent national experience has shown us that it is impossible for us to perform our profession when our country descends into conflict. That is why it is not in our professional interest to remain silent when decisions and actions are taken by public officeholders in the three branches of government that we know to be in clear violation of our constitution, statute laws, and international treaties to which our country is a state party.”
Cllr Gongloe further admonished his colleagues: “We must not and should not be silent individually and collectively as members of the legal profession and confine ourselves to only issues brought to us by those who are able to pay us for legal services. While the legal profession is the means by which we earn the means to sustain ourselves, like the bars of other countries, the Liberian people look up to us for giving them counsel when they are confused about whether the actions of government and its functionaries are within the framework of the law or not.”
He said when lawyers fail to take a professional position on illegal decisions and actions of public officials that have the potential of undermining the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights, they must take the blame for any conflict that results from that silence.
He observed that some public officials sincerely believe that their decisions and actions are supported by law, when in fact, those actions are illegal.
“In a highly illiterate society like ours,” the Liberian human rights action said, “the educated segment of our population has the moral responsibility to guide against actions of the government and its functionaries that are illegal.”
He said lawyers must take the lead in the performance of such patriotic duty.
He quoted the physicist Albert Einstein who said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Because we lawyers have, largely, remained silent over the years on crucial national issues of governance that have negative legal implications, the general view of the people has been that we are part of the problem that has kept this country behind.”
Cllr Gongloe said Liberian lawyers must change that perception “by showing where we stand, as a professional body, on national issues that have negative legal implications. This is the best way to help our government and the people of Liberia.”
According to him, lawyers have an obligation to speak out about the actions of public officials that threaten the peace and hinder national progress, adding that Article 15c of the Constitution of Liberia provides that the people have a right to know about their government and its functionaries.
Most often those in power tend to give a narrow definition of the word abuse, in the context of free speech, to suit their situation, he said, noting that further that most often a demand for accountability is considered as an abuse of free speech by public officials.
“It is our role, as a professional body, to educate the governors and the governed that the people have a right to speak truth to the governors, and the governors have a corresponding duty to speak truth to the people about their actions,” he said.
“Mutual trust and respect based on unlimited flow of information between the people and public servants is the way to build a free, democratic and open society. This is the only way that public trust is gained and maintained.”
The Liberian Bar President asserted that it is important for officials of government to know that public trust is the only protection that any government has, as no army, no police or other armed security forces, no matter how large in number, is adequate to protect a government and its functionaries in an atmosphere of mass discontent.
“Liberian public officials, based on our recent history, should know this to be true better than anyone else,” he said. “Our history of misrule rooted in the lack of respect for the law and human rights by public officials, makes every government and its officials suspect until their record of performance proves otherwise.”
He noted: “Liberians who are outspoken speak about our government the way they do because of the conduct of past governments and their functionaries. Those who lead today must understand that they are suspect until their records show a positive change in behavior or until their behavior and actions demonstrate transparency, accountability, and putting the security and welfare of the people above their personal interests Instead of getting angry for what their critics say, officials of government should demonstrate integrity by ensuring consistency between what they say and what they do.”
Overtime, Cllr Gongloe said, the people will change and begin to respect and honor them.
“I advise government officials to consider criticisms, no matter how brutal, as a stimulant to do better than previous public officials, and not as a display of hatred or envy. Respect, most often, is a response to honorable conduct and not just merely due to the office a person occupies. Officials of government who are honest and conduct themselves in a respectable manner will always be respected. On the other hand, a public official who is corrupt, acts outside of the scope of the law, and violates the rights of others, should not expect anyone to respect him or her. The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, ‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you.’ If you want to be respected as a public official, be respectful.” See full text of Cllr. Gongloe’s Speech on page 7 of this edition.