Amidst Attacks, Threats From Unknown Armed Men: Judges Demand Protection

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“Liberia risks instability and a return to being ungovernable should the government not take cognizance and control of the numerous attacks on the lives of judges and magistrates in Liberia,” a press release of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL), signed by Magistrate L. Ben Barco, Secretary General, and Chief Judge Eva Mappy Morgan, President, noted.

   Recently, the homes of His Honor Judge Roosevelt Willie, His Honor Roland Dahn, and His Honor Ousman Feika were reportedly attacked by gun men. “These assaults are not random, as the judges who are affected believe them to be targeted, and the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL) shares this opinion. There is concerted effort by these cowards to harass and terrorize judges and magistrates from exercising their Constitutional authority to interpret the law. There are incidents of putting out the ‘country devil’ (masked men), particularly in the leeward counties, to frighten magistrates from undertaking their responsibilities. This type of conduct by such dishonorable persons must be immediately stopped; else, the rule of law and the effective administration of justice are jeopardized,” the NATJL press release continued.

   According to the release, Article 73 of the 1986 Constitution states, “No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Statements made and acts done by such officials in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged, and subject to the above qualification, no such statements made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial proceedings.” The judges lamented that, despite the protection under the organic law of the land, Liberian judges are subject to persecution for their judicial statements and acts as evident from the multiple and vicious attacks on them and their family members.

   “Liberia, and dare add that judges globally have the herculean task of shouldering the burden of securing the stability of the state. It is the decisions of courts that give effect to elections, and install government democratically elected, should a controversy arise. It is the opinions of courts that protect lives, restore liberty, and guarantee property rights and the pursuit of happiness.

   “The importance of an independent Judiciary and its impact on the rule of law cannot be overstated!” the release noted.

   The release said, “Judges come into their role fully aware of the risks, especially in jurisdictions such as Liberia that have seen a series of civil insurrections and the growth of vigilante justice. Yet, the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary must be safe-guarded to also ensure protection of fundamental rights and perpetuity of this nation. Innocent blood was shed, lives lost and rights trampled upon to arrive at what Liberians have today, a seemingly peaceful nation since about 15 years now. To maintain the status quo, those, that is, judges, who give interpretation to the law—the pillars through which democracy is assured—must themselves be safe.

   “The NATJL notes, rightfully so, the concerns of partners, the international community, embassies accredited near Monrovia and others on corruption in the Judiciary, be it real or perceived. That being said, the NATJL calls on these partners, the international community, embassies accredited near Monrovia, residents and the citizenry to similarly take keen interest to amplify and do something about the ‘real and present’ danger to the lives of Liberian judges. It is undisputed at this state that corruption, actual or alleged, and as heralded by all, is not the only matter that threatens and undermines the growth and solidity of Liberia. Attempting to kill, harm and torment judges for their decisions is a most compelling issue that must claim our prompt and collective attention.

   “Further, the NATJL looks to the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia to ensure that judges and magistrates are accorded the respect and dignity appertaining to their offices. We judges and magistrates should not have to live in panic for our lives as we endeavor to uphold the Constitution.

   “Notwithstanding this peril, the NATJL puts everyone on notice that it shall continue to strive to honor its Constitutional obligations with integrity and courage, and will never surrender its independence to any form of terror.”

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