By Morrison O.G. Sayon
Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods, Orator of the 58th Armed Forces Day has stressed the need for a new focus on the new Armed Forces of Liberia.
In a tough-provoking Armed Forces Day Message, the Liberian lawyer and human rights advocate wants the military to be used in such situations as a “last resort,” but even so there must be enhanced understanding and effective communication between the military and humanitarian professionals at all levels.
Atty. Woods Legal Consultant and Human Rights Lawyer of the Liberian Law Society said one cannot overemphasize the importance of inter-organizational communication and coordination during military engagements in “permissive and uncertain environments.
He added that there is prior need to establish a basic framework for formalizing and improving the effectiveness and efficiency in relief situations. As such according to the former Public Works Minister, the basic humanitarian principles of Humanity imparity and Neutrality should be inculcated in the mindset of the military.
On the issue of humanity, Woods said alleviating human suffering, particularly the most vulnerable in the population, children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, on neutrality he pointed out that guarding against hostilities of a political, ethnic, religious or other social character must be adhered to and that guarding against discrimination (when delivering humanitarian assistance) as to ethnic, gender, religious or other considerations are cardinal to the focus of the new army.
He went on, “A national policy framework must be developed and properly communicated throughout the rank and file of the military. Our men and women of the Armed Forces must be properly trained and informed that there are local and international consequences for violations and those punitive measures must be enforced,” Woods a long-time critic of the AFL said.
He made specific reference to the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease which he said necessitated the debate about the new role the military should play. “This new role means that we should ready our men and women in arms not only to carry the guns but to have the brain power to assist our people when they are victims of natural disaster, a health epidemic or other forms of mishaps; as happened and is happening in our country in regards to EVD.”
“We need engineers who can build and maintain our road networks; we need doctors and nurses who can go to the remotest part of our country and attend to the sick wherever they reside; we need teachers who are committed to the education of our children; these are all roles that can be played by our army. This new army must engage our people in ways that add meanings to their lives in terms of attending to their needs,” Mr. Woods intimated.
According to him, this will endear them to the people. He emphasized the need for capacity building which he noted that is so much talked about need to find expression with the rank and file of the national army calling on the men and women in the armed forces to develop leadership skills and abilities. He said this is one of the many ways the state can invest in its citizenry.
Commenting further, Woods said while Liberians celebrate more than a decade of peace, they as a nation have to re-dedicate themselves to the building of a sustainable peace and the construction of an enduring democratic order. He noted, “To achieve these two cardinal principles, the role of the army must be defined and pursued. The national army is made up of our citizens, those who take the solemn pledge to defend our people and protect our territorial integrity. As a result, they must embody the best principles this nation holds; a principle, which speaks to the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Kofi Woods wants the political leadership and citizens to participate in the process to form credible, holistic sector roadmap to include: defense, police, intelligence agencies, court system, public and government. Communication between civilian authorities, communities and security professionals, respect for human rights; such reform will ultimately help build or produce accountable government and responsible security sectors that provide the foundation for economic development and opportunity.
He said this process requires local ownership to ensure that they design, manage and implement adding, “It must involve people at all levels of the justice sector and those outside; this will bolster legitimacy, political sensitivity, and holistic vision and address technical complexity. It will encourage effectiveness balanced with accountability. Accountability requires checks and balances to make sure laws are followed to avoid abuses.”
The Liberian lawyer and former Labor Minister said, “In our current environment where national reconciliation remains an unfinished business, stigma of injustice and impunity requires a code of conduct, a more aggressive legislative oversight, judicial review and civilian review groups, religious groups, and media, NGOs to provide informal accountability.”
“We must ensure the best atmosphere in which our national army is nurtured and built. As we strive to build a responsible citizenry, we must at the same time make sure that not only do our men and women in arms are professionalized but are enabled to contribute to our nation building process,” Woods said.
Atty Woods furthered, “This means that we should invest in building the capacity of our men and women in arms. Professionalization does not only mean that our men and women in arms conduct themselves according to the existing military doctrine and the command structure, it also means developing their abilities, their minds so that they too, can actively participate in the reconstruction of our country. We need our men and women in arms to be trained as medical doctors, nurses, engineers, policy analysts, teachers amongst other professions. We as a nation cannot afford to have able-bodied men and women waste away while we continue to make the claim that ours is a nation without skilled personnel.”
“They must be provided better conditions of service, to live to work in dignity like others. They must be given benefits and assurances when they retire from public life and service. I have had the opportunity to visit our borders and see firsthand the conditions of our Joint Security Team. The conditions to which they are subjected are deplorable. Housing, salaries and other conditions of work must be addressed as a matter of urgency. These are the men and women we depend on for our security,” he added.
Among other things, the Armed Forces Day speaker noted, “Our military barracks must be transformed into citadels of learning. When we recruit young men and women to serve our country, they should be offered the opportunities to obtain the highest form of learning our nation can offer. Our barracks must be center of learning and excellence. Those who enter our army must as a matter of national urgency, be assured that by the time their military service to the nation is ended, they can be deployed into other professions and contribute to the nation building process.”
“In other words, it is not sufficient that our men and women in arms are only trained to fight wars but are trained as well to improve the living conditions of their fellow Liberians. Our armed forces must play a meaningful role in humanitarianism in our country, in our region and within our continent. They need to acquire the requisite skills to be able to achieve such tasks.”
At the same time, Atty. Woods has urged the armed authorities of the AFL to seek redemption and reconciliation with the citizens of the slum community of West Point.
“We must seek redemption and reconciliation with the citizens especially those who reside in West Point. We cannot resurrect young Shaki Kamara and other victims;, we cannot pay reparations but we can inspire hope and accrue some trust dividends through a renewed relationship with the community,” he said.
Among other things, he added that the AFL must return to West Point, this time armed with shovels, diggers, pens, papers and engage in community waste management and sanitation programs, clean up exercises, adult literacy, sporting activities and other initiatives aimed at restoring the broken relationship.
Woods said this is not the substitute for punitive measures and justice but an attempt to reconcile and restore confidence and mutual trust.