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Liberia: Army Orders Border Crossers from Sierra Leone Shot Due to Fear of Ebola

(Aug. 22, 2014) On August 15, 2014, Colonel Eric W. Dennis, Deputy Chief of Staff of Liberia’s armed forces, directed soldiers on the border in two counties in the western part of the country to shoot at anyone trying to enter from Sierra Leone. This move comes as a result of the Ebola epidemic; the virus has infected people in Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea and Nigeria. (C.Y. Kwanue, AFL Ordered to Shoot Anyone Crossing Borders at Night as Dep COS Puts Army on High Alert, DAILY OBSERVER ONLINE (Aug. 18, 2014), Open Source Center online subscription database, Document No. AFR2014081851706746.)

Liberia’s Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization has reported that people are sneaking across the Liberia/Sierra Leone border during the nighttime hours. A local commander from the border region noted that individuals were using makeshift canoes to cross the border at about 35 places where the border is porous; he expressed concern that officials do not know the health status of those entering the country in this manner. (Id.)

Dennis’s order specifically was for soldiers to aim at the legs of those crossing illegally. He said, “I want to hear that someone gets a bullet in their leg. First, you need to send a warning shot, and then after you burst their legs, the affected person/s will realize that he has violated a standing order or a law of another country.” (Id.) He stressed that the border rules were important to protect public health and exhorted soldiers on the border not to take bribes or allow people to cross into the country. (Id.)

Other Measures Taken

In an effort to stop the spread of the epidemic, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered many of the country’s borders closed on July 27. (Ebola Forces Liberia to Shut Border Crossings, AL JAZEERA (July 28, 2014).)

In addition, on July 30, Liberia announced a national plan of action with a goal of “No New Cases.” The plan included limits on official travel, the closing of public facilities for a day so that they could be disinfected, the suspension of school operations until further notice, and the closing of markets in border areas. Non-essential government workers were instructed to stay home. (Press Release, Government of Liberia Launches National Action Plan Against the Ebola Viral Disease; Initially Contributes US$5 Million Towards the Fight and Announces Additional Stringent Measures (July 30, 2014), Executive Mansion of Liberia website.)

Furthermore, the government announced it was considering quarantining some communities and that if such quarantine measures are announced, “only health care workers will be permitted to move in and out of those areas.” (Id.) Subsequently, a part of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, was placed under quarantine and a night curfew was imposed. (Ebola Crisis: Liberian Troops Impose Slum Quarantine, BBC NEWS (Aug. 20, 2014).)

Declaration of State of Emergency

On August 6, Johnson Sirleaf declared the country to be in a state of emergency. She stated:


The scope and scale of the epidemic, the virulence and deadliness of the virus now exceed the capacity and statutory responsibility of any one government agency or ministry. The Ebola virus disease … [is now] affecting the existence, security, and well-being of the Republic amounting to a clear and present danger. The Government and people of Liberia require extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people. (Statement on the Declaration of a State of Emergency by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, R.L. (Aug. 6, 2014), Executive Mansion of Liberia website.)

She then went on to state that, relying on powers outlined in article 86 of the Constitution, she was declaring a 90-day state of emergency, effective immediately. During that time, she added, “the Government will institute extraordinary measures, including, if need be, the suspensions of certain rights and privileges.” (Id.; Constitution of the Republic of Liberia (1986), Ch. IX, art. 86, available at World Intellectual Property Organization website.)

Regional Initiative

Liberia also recently signed, together with Guinea, the Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and the World Health Organization, a joint declaration on the eradication of Ebola in West Africa. It is designed to promote cooperation in ending the epidemic. (Joint Declaration of Heads of State and Government of the Mano River Union for the Eradication of Ebola in West Africa (Aug. 1, 2014), Executive Mansion of Liberia website.)