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Understanding The Referendum

Voting in a referendum is not to be taken likely because in Liberia a referendum is by far the biggest and most important election. Decisions made in a referendum are very serious constitutional decisions and may have positive or unfavorable impacts on the lives of citizens for decades or even centuries; meaning it could be for a lifetime.

Unlike other elections where a group of people are voted for to represent, talk and make decisions for the citizens; a referendum is the only election in which people vote for issues and not individuals or on party lines. It is also the election where every individual citizen is given the opportunity to make his/her own decision and let his/her voice be heard in the governance of the country.

This means that for people to confidently vote yes or no to any of the propositions, they need to first understand what will/should be changed or not change in the Constitution and why will/should it be changed or not so they will exercise their right freely instead of being driven by others.

Proposition 1: Dual Citizenship For Natural Born Liberians
There are numerous issues, fear, debates, myths and conflicting information regarding propositions that citizens are to vote YES or NO to and proposition 1: Dual Citizenship is the most critical of them all.

Let us take a closer look at Article 28 of the 1986 Liberian Constitution in which when proposition 1 is amended could be a change for citizenship of natural born Liberians.

In its current state, Article 28 reads: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.”

Remember, we said for people to make an informed decision of voting yes or no they need to know or understand what will/ should be changed. This law is saying in its simplest term that, if you are a Liberian citizen, male or female, and gives birth to a child by another gender who is not a Liberian citizen, that child will not be considered a Liberian citizen until he/she reaches 18 years; then he/she has to decide in court to be a Liberian citizen.

Failure to decide in court after reaching 18 or maturity, that person will not be regarded as a Liberian; and if he/she is not recognized or does not pick up the citizenship of the other parent who is from another country, that person becomes Stateless.

By virtue of this law, whether it is or has not been correctly applied, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals who are claiming to be Liberians because one of their parents is a Liberian but legally and constitutionally are either foreigners or they unknowingly are stateless.

In its Global Trends 2017 report, UNHCR estimated that there are ten million stateless people in the world. But what is statelessness and what are the causes of statelessness?

Understanding Statelessness
The international legal definition of a stateless person is “A person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. In simple terms, this means that a stateless person does not have a nationality of any country. Some people are born stateless like in the case of children who are born to parents with a divided nationality in Liberia, where one parent is a citizen and the other is not.

What are the causes of statelessness?
Although there are many causes of statelessness but we will discuss just one: Gaps or conflict in nationality laws are a major cause of statelessness. Every country has laws which establish under what circumstances someone acquires nationality or can have it withdrawn. If these laws are not carefully written and correctly applied, some people can be excluded and left stateless. Whatever the cause, statelessness has serious consequences for people in almost every country and in all regions of the world.

When amended Article 28 will read like this: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural born citizen of Liberia; a natural born citizen’s right to citizenship of Liberia is inherent and inalienable; no law shall be enacted or regulation promulgated which deprived a natural born citizen of the Republic of his/her citizenship right; and any law or regulation which alienates or deprived a natural born citizen of his/her Liberian citizenship right is null and void ab initio.

If this proposition goes through, then any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural born citizen of Liberia and does not need to go to court after reaching maturity to decide his/her citizenship. This will help to bridge the gaps or conflict in the nationality law of Liberia that is rendering many legitimate people stateless.

Now that we have seen what will be changed in Article 28, let us discuss some of the myths or incorrect information as well as the issues, concerns and fears that many people are harboring regarding dual citizenship that are debated throughout the country.

Myth or Incorrect information
There are debates all around that if the dual citizenship proposal is passed; it will allow Americans, Europeans, Asians and other Africans obtain a Liberian citizenship while also maintaining their various countries’ citizenships.

Some are even campaigning against the passage of the dual citizenship proposal fearing that these people without being citizens of Liberia are already very powerful and control the economy; imagine giving them citizenship will mean turning the country over to them to rule as princes and princesses while the indigenous will be forced to serve them as slaves.

Correct Information
The above information is not just erroneous but also misleading, because the Constitution is emphatically clear on who can and cannot be a citizen of Liberia.

Article 27(b) of the 1986 Constitution states: In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character; only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descents shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.
The Constitution in an unambiguous term is saying only people with dark skins can be citizens of Liberia and that no one; absolutely no one with white skin is eligible for Liberian citizenship be it African, North and South Americans, Europeans or Asians. Even though many have questioned this part of the Constitution for its racist content, but until it is amended or changed, only black people are qualified to be Liberian citizens.

In short, the dual citizenship does not applied to any of the people mentioned above nor does it apply to the other dark skin Africans who must naturalize to be citizens of Liberia. Because the naturalization process says the person applying for naturalization should renounce his citizenship with his original country and pledge allegiance only to Liberia.

This means that the dual citizenship only applied to Natural born Liberian citizens but with some restrictions due to a divided loyalty. And according to the proposed amendment to Article 28, for a person to be regarded, accepted or qualified as a natural born Liberian citizen, one or both of that person’s parents must be Liberian citizen(s) prior to his/her birth.

A natural born citizen of Liberia who holds another citizenship/dual citizenship shall not qualify for elected national or public service positions and the following appointive positions: Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia; Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers; All Heads of Autonomous Commissions, Agencies and Non-academic/Scientific Institutions; Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiaries; and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

If any such person, a dual citizenship bearer, so desires to enjoy any or all of the earlier mentioned elected or appointive positions, then he must renounce his other citizenship and pledge his unwavering loyalty to Liberia.

What your vote means
A YES vote on the proposed amendment means you have agreed that any person, at least one whose parent was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural born citizen of Liberia. Such person does not need to reach the age of maturity to decide his/her citizenship. You have also agreed that a natural born citizen of Liberia may hold another citizenship, but shall not qualify for elected national or public service positions and the above listed appointive positions.

A NO vote means the constitutional provision shall not be changed but will remain in its current state.

To be continued…

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