𝐒𝐏𝐄𝐄𝐂𝐇 𝐀𝐓 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐀𝐋𝐋 𝐋𝐈𝐁𝐄𝐑𝐈𝐀𝐍 𝐃𝐈𝐀𝐒𝐏𝐎𝐑𝐀 𝐂𝐎𝐍𝐅𝐄𝐑𝐄𝐍𝐂𝐄 (𝐀𝐋𝐃𝐂) 𝐎𝐍 𝐃𝐔𝐀𝐋 𝐂𝐈𝐓𝐈𝐙𝐄𝐍𝐒𝐇𝐈𝐏 𝐃𝐄𝐋𝐈𝐕𝐄𝐑𝐄𝐃 𝐁𝐘 𝐀𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐀 𝐊𝐀𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐀
𝘏𝘦𝘭𝘥 𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘵. 𝘈𝘯𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘸 𝘜𝘬𝘳𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘪𝘢𝘯 𝘖𝘳𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘥𝘰𝘹 𝘊𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘳, 𝘚𝘪𝘭𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘚𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘔𝘢𝘳𝘺𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥, 𝘋𝘦𝘤𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 7, 2019.
Article 28 is a DESUETUDE--- forgotten, worn-out, and an unenforced law; while its proposed amendment, Proposition#1, presents the case of a 'legal right to do wrong.'
I’m here today with the intent to neither speak for nor against Proposition #1 but rather to help explain not only its limitations but also its attempt to reawaken Article 28 by continuing to propagate that law's discriminatory tenets.
But before going any further, I would like to ask: Are there Liberians or Liberian-Americans in the hall this afternoon? How many of you woke up on the morning of your naturalization with the sole intent to renounce your birth rights citizenship?
Anyone? No one? Ok, but then how come you are here championing a compromise to your birth rights by settling for a proposal designed to carry out the most discriminatory of laws on the books in Liberia? And not only that, but also provide the government more legal rights to do the wrongs designed and set forth in Article 22.1 of Alien and Naturalization laws forty five (45) years ago.
A birthright is so inalienable that it shouldn't be lost if you truly didn't intend to lose it. Although none of you former Liberians here today had the intent of renouncing your birth rights citizenship, Naturalization laws say regardless of intent, you are all no longer Liberians. In fact, it says this is so automatic that the government doesn't need to do anything. Then Article 28 of the Constitution says your kids aren't citizens because their citizenship is predicated upon yours.
Ladies and gentlemen, Prop 1 is not only in agreement with Article 28 of the Constitution and Article 22.1 of the Naturalization Law, it has actually designed a proposal not about undoing Article 28 or other discriminatory laws but furthering its implementation.
To understand how difficult losing a right as inalienable as a birth rights should be, the United States doesn't accept mere renunciation of a birthright citizenship. If a natural born citizen wishes to renounce her citizenship, she will need to be voluntarily out of the US and then appear in person before a US consulate or embassy officer, and demonstrates the intent to renounce natural born citizenship by signing an Oath of Renunciation. Imagine: That is to say all of you former Liberians here, would have gone to the Liberian embassy nearby and sign on an oath that you're giving away your birthrights.
The concept and precedence behind this is simple: you cannot revoke that which wasn’t conferred or bestowed. You cannot revoke inalienable rights. Prop #1 is either ignorant of the long-term impacts of what it is proposing or it is aware but so dangerously bent on the immediate expediency this brings that it doesn't care about how fast the proposal will reverse the socio-economic bearings of the country.
Let's use the following analogy to help detail this further:
Consider Article 28 as a sleeping lion laying at the entrance of a gated community. All of those people that the lion is supposed to be excluding are being included with folks inside the gated community to the point where the lion is forgotten. The inclusion itself isn't harming the community but rather helping it. Then suddenly, some farmers decided this has to change. These farmers believe to make the sleeping lion more useful, they must wake it up and find another way not to retire it just yet but to make coming into and interacting with the community systems more difficult. The farmers are the drafters of the proposal and their alternative way to give the sleeping lion more relevance is to wake it up and give it Prop #1.
If Proposition #1 is to become a law, it would be more harmful to the country than any of the current laws on the book primarily because its limitation are hugely consequential. Prior to introducing Prop #1, Article 28 had become a Desuetude, i.e. a legal classification for laws that have been ignored so long to the extent that they have not only become useless but also to the extent that courts no longer punish anyone for it. People believed to have dual citizenship did all that Article 28 says is prohibited. In essence, Article 28 was largely forgotten. In fact, for 45 years before today, Article 28 has only been mentioned once during the politically motivated case of Dr. Elizabeth Davis Russell. The second time Article 28 has ever been brought to our national discourse was when Prop #1 was introduced and done so at a time when the largest and most substantial political pressure to the current government is coming from the diaspora on the economic mismanagement of the country.
I had an hour-long debate with one of this conference’s organizers. I reminded him that there are a number of interconnected constitutional links resulted to Article 28, and one of those is Article 22.1 of the Alien and Naturalization Law of 1974. Article 22.1 has 5 elements that make it discriminatory or racist, and that introducing Prop #1 to remove one of those elements does not make the proposal any less discriminatory in itself. His response was, Proposition #1 is the beginning and after a few years, a separate proposal will be made to get rid of the discriminatory Article 28 altogether. The question is why not now?
If the intent and actions of the framers of the 1974 discriminatory law was based on feebleness, fear, and insecurity, how about the intent and actions of the drafter of Prop #1 now? The sponsors of Prop #1 know that the challenges of 1847 when the third version of the Liberian constitution was adopted are not the same as those of 1986 when the fourth version was adopted. Equally, none of those periods is anything similar to 2019, 2020 and onwards; and so for drafters Prop #1 to maintain those very racist and restrictive foundations of Article 28 is the feeblest act of socio-political maneuvering of the constitution in contemporary memory apart from the recent removal from office of Associate Justice Kabineh Janeh in the so-called impeachment proceedings.
The position of most natural born Liberians, myself included, is not to ignore the need for restrictions. Rather, ours is a call for amendments that add up to the security, polity, and socio-economic conditions for the country, not ones that take away from it. It is not so much the political job placements with the government, it is a matter of principle for our posterity to come.
The history of human capital and social development that undergirds the economic growth Liberia has benefited over the decades, as well as the position of the country as the motherland and the only destination for Liberians with internationally acquired talents, has depended upon the welcoming and unrestrictive stance of our Constitution or at least on the desuetude nature of Article 28. A failure to maintain this position will ultimately weaken some of the nation’s bedrock legacy such as higher education institutions, suppress diversity in skills category, expertise, and innovation, completely eradicate the opportunities of STEM development, and ultimately hurt the nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, if Proposition #1 won’t change anything fundamental or won’t make happen what isn’t already happening then it must be intended to undoing what is already happening-i.e. participation of dual citizens.
Proposition #1 should have gone farther than it is. It stops short of undoing the racist and discriminatory nature of Article 28, instead it is in furtherance of it. Proposition #1 is a missed opportunity. It should have been one of those proposals that tackles the fundamental discriminatory intent behind Article 28 that made sense to people back then in 1847, overlooked in 1986, but flushed out in a 2019 proposal. The proposal should have recognized all that is working now in the face of the prolonged lapse of Article 28 and the long habit of its non-enforcement; and then propose restrictions not only along national security lines but also around the socio-economic health of the nation as opposed to strangulating it for immediate political relief.
Liberians be prepared to vote against Proposition #1 until we go back to the drawing board to design a proposal that provides a comprehensive resolution to the discriminatory tenets of Article 28.