Saturday, April 16, 2011
Automatic Loss of Liberian Citizenship: A Battle of Our Time
The opposition builds its argument in an unreal world. In that world, it can start a war. Show no respect for age and gender. Cause the death of more than 300,000 Liberians. Force a million into exile. Destroy properties. Suspend constitutional provisions for politicians to run for office. Allow some with foreign passports to pass senate confirmation, while rejecting others. Pretend that dual citizenship does not exist. Embrace millions received through western union and moneygram.
Tell the majority of overseas-based Liberians their non-monetary contributions are not welcomed, and that their Liberian citizenship and real estates can be taken away without the constitutional requirements of a hearing and a judgment consistent with due process. And, as a show of raw power, deny natural-born Liberians the dual citizenship rights that naturalized Liberians from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and other countries that recognize dual citizenship are enjoying. Is this the argument?
Having experienced a system that ignored the Liberian Constitution and forced Liberians into refugee camps, some of our educated friends have sadly embraced the belief that the legislature can automatically deprive a person of his or her Liberian citizenship, even though the Liberian Constitution clearly states there must be a hearing and a judgment consistent with due process before the government may deprive a person of citizenship.
With due respect, the fundamental rights in the Liberian Constitution do not belong to the Government of Liberia, nor are they the exclusive rights of a particular individual or group. These individual, constitutional rights belong to you, me, and every other Liberian.
Statements that every Liberian with a foreign passport 'renounced his or her Liberian citizenship' and that this person is 'more Liberian' and 'loyal' than another, are what individuals--unable to defend their actions and limited view of other nations--say to substitute for logic and commonsense. Don’t believe the hype. There are a number of Liberians who become naturalized citizens of the U.S., Canada, Israel, the U.K., and other countries without ever having to take a 'renunciation oath.'
Never before in our history have we allowed the legislature to automatically deprive a person of even a privilege. The Constitution must be respected at all times, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with a person’s conduct. If due process of law can apply to the TRC Report regarding government jobs, it can protect Liberians against automatic loss of the right of citizenship.
We appreciate the battle to enforce fundamental rights. Accomplished in his own right as a counselor-at-law, Counselor Alvin Teage Jalloh could have followed the norm, kept his status as a young Liberian-American secret, ignored the selective practice that punishes Liberians for being forced into refugee camps, and perhaps applied for a government job. But we have to be honest with ourselves, and stand up for what is right. We can not condone a practice that disrespects the constitutional rights of Liberians, especially when they answer President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's call to make additional contributions to their beloved Liberia.
Perhaps the legislature will address the divide created by the automatic loss of citizenship controversy and the dual citizenship absurdity, which favors naturalized Liberians over natural-born Liberians. That possibility, however, does not excuse us of our obligation to uphold the Constitution, and assert our fundamental rights as Liberians.
While one can not predict with certainty how the honorable Supreme Court will decide the automatic loss of citizenship case, this much is predictable: when the Supreme Court issues its decision, Liberians at home and abroad will know whether the Liberian Constitution prohibits automatic loss of Liberian citizenship, or whether automatic loss of citizenship is permissible and should be enforced against everyone, regardless of wealth, power, ethnic, religious, or political affiliations.
On April 11, 2011, Counselor Jerome Korkoya appeared before the honorable Supreme Court to convince the Honorable chief justice and four associate justices of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia to explain while Counselor Alvin Teage Jalloh and thousands of Liberians around the world should be awarded due process in retaining or losing their natural Liberian Citizenship. Again, many Liberian and international lawyers, observers from the American bar association; foreign and local journalists witnessed the intimidation tactics by some members of the highest court.
Ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision, it is very important to remember that the principle of equal rights for all Liberians is one of the central themes of our infant democracy. Any law, therefore, that treat a Liberian or group of Liberian as non-citizen or second class citizen is detrimental to the system of social equality as advocated by this administration.
By Sam K. Zinnah
Chairman, Non-Resident Liberians