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Liberia: Henry Costa, President Weah’s Most Vehement Critic Barred from Leaving Liberia

Liberian Immigration Officials Turn Back Henry Costa from Travelling to the United States

After leading several large peaceful protests against the Government of Liberia due to, as the Council of Patriots stated, poor governance, corruption, and a stagnant economy, one would think that President George Weah of Liberia would be overly anxious to rid the country of his most formidable critic – Mr. Henry Costa. Instead, according to reports coming from Monrovia, the Weah led government is preventing Mr. Costa from traveling citing issues with his travel documents.

Violations of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 13 (a) of Liberia’s constitutions states “Every person lawfully within the Republic shall have the right to move freely throughout Liberia…” Subsection (b) of Liberia’s constitution goes on to guarantee freedom of movement and states that “Every Liberian Citizen shall have the right to leave and to enter Liberia at any time.”

Unlike other countries including the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, Liberia has no specific laws that regulate travel bans. Hence, human rights organizations are viewing Mr. Costa’s travel ban as a violation of his human and constitutional rights.

Additionally, human rights experts state the Government of Liberia is clearly violating Article 12 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Liberia is a state party.

The ICCPR Article states that “everyone shall be free to leave any country including his own.” Hence, restrictions to this right must be provided by law and be “necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.”

However, these restrictions “must not nullify the principles of liberty of movement and are governed by the need for consistency with the other rights recognized in the covenant.”

Travel Restrictions and Harassment

Liberia’s quasi and discretionary policies against Mr. Henry Costa, who is viewed internationally as President Weah’s most vocal and vehement critic, runs counter to the principle endorsed by the UN Human Rights Committee, the body responsible with overseeing the ICCPR. Liberia cannot continue to violate the United Nations and other international laws to which the state is a party and expect international funding and support. Over the past two years, the United States has dramatically slashed foreign aid to Liberia by nearly 75% – down from around $368 per Liberian.

Liberia’s de facto opposition leader, Henry Pedro Costa with supporters in Monrovia

In 2011, the ICCPR stated that restricting the movement of journalists and others within or outside their country undermines the freedom of expression that is essential to protect human rights.

Liberia’s ad-hoc travel restriction policy against Henry Costa and other critics of President Weah goes contrary to international standards on restrictions on freedom of movement, including travel. Considering Mr. Costa has gained worldwide notoriety for his protests against President Weah, infringing upon his freedom of movement would only draw international ire against the Government of Liberia. In the next several weeks, the United States is poised to publish its report on human rights violations in Liberia. The 2019 report by the State Department is considered the most influential tool used by the international community to drive foreign assistance to underdeveloped countries.

After 2 successive quarters of declining GDP, one of the worst economic performance in the ECOWAS and Mano River regions, Liberia cannot afford to drive investors away by creating a dubious human right record due to its increasingly senseless and unjustifiable policies. President Weah may be best served by allowing his critics to leave the country rather than continue to draw international ire for what may be deemed as human rights violations.

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