MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Education NGO Forum, a body of more than 50 local and international organizations working within Liberia’s education sector, has condemned the violence exerted both against and by students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System during a protest on Tuesday.
Public school students attending MCSS schools clashed with police on Tuesday after a gathering of peaceful protesters turned violent.
The students, who were mostly teenagers, had gone to protest for their right to education after some of their teachers decided to abandon classes, claiming that the government had not paid them for three months.
The protest became chaotic when officers of the Police Support Unit moved in to control the protesting students, who had blocked the path of the president’s convoy and opted to go beyond a point they had been confined to.
Some of the students threw stones at police officers, which led the police to respond, using pepper spray, tear gas, and other means to disperse the protesters. Some of the students sustained serious injuries, while others became unconscious.
The Education NGO Forum released a statement that it was mostly concerned about the protection of children and the preservation of their safe and holistic upbringing.
“As parents, elders, community members, and stakeholders, we recognize and respect the students for exercising their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and air their grievances,” the group said.
“However, we condemn the acts of violence perpetrated against other students and impeding the free movements of other citizens as the important grievances were being raised.”
The group has also asked that the MCSS students’ concerns are swiftly addressed in order to avoid any recurrence of the violent protest. It cautioned that any future concerns should be expressed peacefully and void of violence.
The group also strongly condemned the use of excessive force by the Liberia National Police on students, which saw the unleashing of tear gas and flogging of unarmed children, some of whom sought refuge in classrooms.
“Images of children bloodied, bruised, and ailing conjure memories of dark chapters in Liberia’s past, which cannot ever be repeated,” the group said.
“While it is the responsibility of the LNP to safeguard citizen’s life, property, and ensure free and safe movements throughout the country, the [Education NGO Forum] believes that our security apparatus ought to possess both the skills and self-discipline to handle our children’s grievances in a way that facilitates its proper hearing by the relevant authorities, while also ensuring the public spaces and our children are safe, duly protected, and avoidably non-violent.”
The group pleaded for violence to not substitute for problem-solving and community building, noting that children and the world were watching.
“We are also reminding the government of its obligation to [ensuring] access to education, especially free and compulsory primary education. This includes increasing the state’s budget to education to address structural challenges that continue to impeded children’s right to education,” it added.
ActionAid Liberia had also earlier released a statement condemning the government’s action. In its statement, ActionAid warned that the state’s response to the students’ protest could fuel tensions that could threaten the state’s commitment to sustain peace.
“For democracy to thrive in Liberia, the Liberian government must proactively engage in the provision of quality public education and other gender-responsive public services as critical components of its push to reduce inequalities and uplift Liberians out of poverty,” ActionAid said.
Featured photo by Emmanuel Weedee-Conway