LIBERIA: 'I Will not Allow AFL Widows Impede Freedom of Others'

Monday, May 24, 2010
Daily Observer
Western Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

The Minister of Justice, Cllr. Christiana P. Tah, has called on 'widows' of deceased soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) who are involved in blocking streets in Monrovia and other illegal actions to desist from their action.

She said if such unlawful action continues the Liberia National Police (LNP) will be made to clear the streets of such roadblocks in order to enhance free movement of others in line with the statutory provisions of the country.

Minister Tah said Government will not allow women claiming to be 'widows of deceased' members of the AFL to disrupt the peace and security of the state by blocking the free movement of others.

Minister Tah spoke to journalists Friday, May 21, 2010 at a news conference in Monrovia.

The Justice Minister, who was Acting President of Liberia pending the return of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from abroad,

indicated that while Government does not wish to interfere with the women's choice to seek redress to their 'complaints' anywhere else than the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), stated that Government will not equally allow them to disrupt the freedom of other citizens by blocking the roadways.

According to Cllr. Tah, though the Constitution of Liberia provides for certain freedoms, including the right to assemble, “No one has the right to block public streets and highways and deny other citizens and foreign residents alike to go about their normal businesses, because it is a violation of the law.”

Minister Tah, who is also Attorney General of Liberia, added that when this occurs, the LNP has a duty to clear the streets and highways, and then enable students to attend schools, the sick to visit doctors, among others.

The Justice Minister's latest comments were in reaction to series of recent demonstrations by a group of women calling themselves 'AFL widows', who effectively set up various roadblocks in demand of US$100,000 payment as 'just benefits' for their respective deceased husbands.

The 'widows' claimed that the Justice Minister had ordered LNP officers to 'beat' them while carrying out a peaceful demonstration.
But Minister Tah told journalists that LNP has never received instruction from the MOJ to manhandle women or any other citizen, 'even when the individual has violated the law'.

“Every action that was taken by the Police was done to clear the street, which is in keeping with the law. Therefore, allegations that LNP were ordered by the MOJ to manhandle any citizen is false, baseless, and malicious,” Cllr. Tar reiterated.

According to Cllr. Tah, a few weeks ago when the AFL 'widows' blocked the entrance to the capital, she immediately went to them and inquired about their problems.

Thereafter, she added, a fruitful discussion was held between her office and the 'aggrieved women' with the hope of determining the way forward.

She disclosed that she convinced the women that it was a better option to sit around the table and discuss the issues for which they were seeking redress, rather than go into the streets and disrupt the social order. “They agreed to this proposition, and we had several subsequent meetings,” she told journalists.

According to her, the 'widows' whose numbers now include 'widows of deceased AFL soldiers, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN), the LNP and the Special Security Service (SSS)' were making a demand for cash payment of US$100,000.

Prior to the holding of the meeting with the 'widows', Minister Tah explained that she had been informed by relevant authorities that each of the women had been paid L$20,000 and that an additional US$100,000 was deposited into a fund to assist with opening business and other activities to improve the economic condition of those women who desired to be aided by that process.

The women too are claiming that during the time of the payment by the Government, some of their colleagues including 'widows of deceased of BIN, LNP and SSS officers' did not receive anything as some of them were out of the country at the time of the disbursement,” she added.

“President Sirleaf had decided to create jobs for several of the able-bodied women, and establish a fund for micro-credit facilities that will include business and education for those so interested,” Cllr. Tah disclosed.

Regrettably, the Justice Minister said, the women had declined the offer as they are now insisting that they are only interested in the 'raw cash' and nothing else.

Meanwhile, Minister has assured the women that Government will continue to dialogue with them at various levels in order to lay the matter to rest in a peaceful manner.