Ambassador Laurent DELAHOUSE Delivers Keynote Address At LNBA’s Officers-Elect Induction

Ambassador Laurent DELAHOUSSE

The head of the Delegation of the European Union to Liberia, Ambassador Laurent DELAHOUSSE at the induction ceremony of officers-elect of the Liberian National Bar Association on Friday, January 28, 2022 delivered the keynote address:

See below is the full text of his address

Your Excellency Chief Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor, Vice-President of the Republic of Liberia,

The Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General

and other Members of the Cabinet here present,

Members of Congress here present,

Excellences and distinguished colleagues and members of the Diplomatic Corps

The Honourable Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia,

The elected President of the Liberia National Bar Association,

The former Presidents of the Liberia National Bar Association,

Members of the Judiciary,

Members of the Bar,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All protocol observed,

Let me first extend my condolences to His Excellency President George Manneh Weah and to the families and communities affected by the tragic stampede last week in New Kru Town, as well as to the families of the fifteen Members of your Association who passed in 2021.

Your Excellency Madam Vice-President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although our histories were written mostly apart, the construction of modern States in Liberia and in Europe has been inspired by the same ideals.

Indeed, even if the colonial “scramble for Africa” contributed to shape the development and put pressure on the borders of your emerging country, Liberia was spared, if I may say, from most of the common history that, as former colonizers, for good or for bad, some European countries have with Western Africa. But Liberia and Europe share the same ideals that have inspired our founders, our leaders and our people over the last two centuries and that Liberia proudly celebrates in this Bicentennial year.

Liberia is a vibrant liberal democracy with a long and proud tradition of the respect for – and application of – the Rule of Law. Liberia and the European Union embrace a common purpose, a common destiny, of developing and nurturing our free societies. We have independently developed our own democratic systems based on the principles identified  by my fellow Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, among other great legal minds:

–        first, the sovereignty of the people,

–        second, the constitutional separation of power between the Legislative, Executive and the Judiciary,

–        third, checks and balances fulfilled by specific institutions as well as by the legal profession, political parties, civil society organizations, whistle-blowers or the media, to name a few.

Your Excellency Madam Vice-President, Dear Friends from Liberia,

Rest assured in your belief that respect for Human Rights and Democracy are the best principles of government to improve people’s lives and to ensure that no one is left behind. Development, Democracy and respect of Human Rights go together. Human Rights are not second to development; their promotion cannot wait for the improvement of people’s lives.

Democracy and Human Rights work. Those who tell you otherwise are wrong, because ultimately Humans want freedom, respect and a say in their government.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Commemorating one’s history is not just an anniversary. It is a process. The Rule of Law is not only about civil law, that law specific to each nation according to its own history,  but it is also about jus gentium and international laws such as those governing Human Rights.

We consider it our joint duty as citizens of free societies to speak up – together – when the democracy, Human Rights and fundamental freedoms we enjoy are at risk elsewhere. Human Rights are universal, they apply the same everywhere, from the local village to the global community. They belong to every Human, they are consubstantial to the birth of every new baby wherever in the world, Liberia, Europe, America or China.

This is not interference in the affairs of other States. It is an act of faith in and respect of the universal values enshrined in the international legal corpus of the United Nations. It is about respecting and nurturing our history, proudly remembering our foremothers and our forefathers who fought for our freedoms and for our rights. It is about raising our voices to promote and defend those universal rights and freedoms elsewhere in the world.

And I am humbled to note, in President George Manneh Weah’s own words, as spelled out this Monday in His Excellency’s Annual Message to Congress, that “Liberia will remain a pillar of democracy on the African continent, availing its willingness to remain a part of the global coalition in defence of democracy in the world”. I commend the leadership of Liberia in contributing to defend and restore peace, security, stability, democracy, and constitutional order, through ECOWAS, in your Sister Republics Guinea, Mali, and now Burkina Faso. The European Union and its Member States stand at your side in this endeavour.

Your Excellency Madam Vice-President, Esteemed Members of the Legal profession,

Many Liberians still lack the financial or practical means to navigate their way through the legal system. I therefore want to commend the important role of the Liberian National Bar Association to make Justice more accessible to all Liberians, as dictated by your Constitution. Your organisation is also playing an important role in monitoring the integrity, independence and transparency of the legal system in Liberia in view of restoring public confidence and trust in the system. In short, your Association contributes to familiarize Liberians with the Rule of Law.

Seen by an alien such as I, the rapport of Liberians to the concept of Justice reveals something that I would qualify bordering a “culture and economy of litigation”, which is uncommon to many of us Europeans, at least to me as a Frenchman. I hope to be wrong when I have the feeling that the political debate is, sometimes, at present, happening more in court over legal arguments rather than in the communities over electoral manifestos.  It is a cultural trait, the product of your history and maybe special links to the United States, I guess. But what is more important is that the legal system proves effective in the interest of the citizens at large.

As I express my gratitude to the Liberian National Bar Association for inviting me today and giving me the opportunity for this exchange, I want to sincerely thank your former President Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe and his team for the important work carried out by your Association to facilitate access to justice for all Liberians and for being an active and critical voice in the public debate. Let me also commend the personal example set by Cllr. Gongloe in striving both, to protect the financial interest of the LNBA budget in carrying out his duties as well as to promote freedom of expression and internal democracy within the Bar Association.

I am honoured to extend a warm welcome to the new President of the Liberian National Bar Association Cllr. Sylvester Rennie and the rest of the new membership of the National Executive Council. I challenge you to exceed the high standards set by Cllr. Gongloe in making the management of the Liberian National Bar Association an example of good governance as well as in always working for an independent, efficient and transparent judiciary. I wish you success in carrying out your important work to make justice and the Rule of Law accessible to all Liberians.

Your Excellency Madam Vice-President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would not want to leave you without sharing a thought on one of the major challenges faced by our free societies and to which they remain vulnerable.

As I strived to explain earlier in my comments, we must never lose sight of the vision of our founding fathers and mothers for our free societies. One of the main purposes of our liberal democracies is to serve their citizens. Power is vested in officers of the State to serve the State and its citizens. This is why State officers are called “civil servants”, or “Servants of the State”. And it is the same in any group of Human beings organized within a democratic framework and inside the boundaries of the Rule of Law: the designated officers serve the group and its members, just as you, Ladies and Gentlemen, serve LNBA and its members.

The challenge is when officers vested with power use that power to gain advantages for their private or other use, when the fruits of power are sold for personal or political gain rather than for the purposes set by the Law. This is the challenge that citizens of many countries face everyday, in Europe as well as in Liberia – probably less in Europe actually, according to the Corruption Perception Index published by Transparency International and other such international indicators.

These infringements to the Rule of Law, however small and frequent, however explainable sometimes by the difficult financial situation of many power bearers, however tempting for party political or other reasons, are a hindrance to the mission of the State, an obstacle to the development of the country and a threat to democracy.

In Liberia or in Europe, you want to live in a country where the money provided by government and by development partners is used efficiently and for the sole purpose for which it was taken from the taxpayer or granted by the private donors: that is, delivery to the people. With the Minister of justice here present, with the Ambassador of the United States, before coming here, we attended a meeting with the Government of Liberia, precisely on the issue I have just mentioned, to work together to improve the accountability and the efficiency of development support to Liberia.

In Europe or in Liberia, you want to live in a country where the media make it clear when an article is published against remuneration.

In Liberia or in Europe, you want to live in a country where companies operate within a clear, stable and transparent set of rules and exceptions to the rules, a level playing field.

In Europe or in Liberia, you want to live in a country where electricity is provided to citizens under the rules and operations of the power company, not through illegal distribution or power theft.

Ultimately, the observance of the Rule of Law begins with each of us. Each and everyone of us has an individual responsibility, an individual duty, an individual integrity. Let us ask ourselves how we can contribute, every date and in every small way, to cherish, nurture and improve the free and vibrant democracy our ancestors struggled, fought for, died for  to establish for us, in Liberia, in Europe and elsewhere.

I thank you.

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