Cllr. Leroy Urey’s three years at the helm of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) seemed to meet an anti-climactic end Monday when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced his replacement during a fresh round of nomination of individuals to various posts in government. And then, barely 12 hours following that announcement, the Executive Mansion announced [Tuesday] that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had accepted the resignation of Cllr. Urey.
President Johnson Sirleaf on Monday named Cllr. James N. Verdier as the new chair of the human rights Commission. Accepting Cllr. Urey’s rather belated resignation, the President acknowledged, with deep appreciation, the 42 years of public service in law, diplomacy and administration of the former attorney general during the Taylor regime, and wished him well in his future endeavor.
But President Sirleaf has also put on hold the earlier appointment of Cllr. James N. Verdier, Jr. to fill the position as INCHR Chair, pending the completion of the process required by the Act establishing the Commission on Human Rights.
The Independent National Commission on Human Rights was created in September 2010 with Cllr. Leroy Urey at its helm. Cllr. Urey’s chairmanship at the INCHR was marred by serious criticism emanating from civil society actors. In February 2012, a conglomeration of 30 human rights and civil society organizations operating in the country submitted a petition to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, requesting her to reconstitute the Commission on grounds that the Urey team had dampened the hope of Liberians as a result of its demonstrated dormancy.
In the petition, the groups which included Community Development Foundation, United Women in Action for Development, Women Dream, National Human Rights Center of Liberia, among many others, claimed the Commission, under the leadership of Cllr. Urey, was not only understaffed, but ineffective simply because it lacked effective and cooperative leadership. But in sharp response, Cllr. Urey said “As a statutory body, we have a constitutional mandate and are answerable only to the Legislature and to the President of Liberia. We can only be removed or reconstituted for a cause.”
Another sticky issue that marred Cllr. Urey’s time in power at the INCHR was a controversy that arose between him and Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, former head of the Liberia Reconciliation Initiative (LRI).
Cllr. Urey claimed his Commission was confused about which organization was actually responsible to promote reconciliation in Liberia, whether the Human Rights Commission or Leymah Gbowee’s LRI.
He also claimed Gbowee’s LRI had been financially blessed by government to the tune of US$500,000 allegedly – a claim that a vehemently rejected by Ms. Gbowee.
He told this during a February 2012 interview with the Daily Observer in Monrovia: “One of the points I would like to make is that the government gives us only US$43,000 per month, while the Government of Liberia (GOL) has given Madam Leymah Gbowee US$500,000. The Commission is confused about which organization is actually responsible to promote reconciliation in Liberia, whether the Human Rights Commission or Leymah Gbowee’s Commission.”
Countering Cllr. Urey’s assertion, Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee said “no one in the Liberian government has given me a dime for the work of the LRI.”
Also, it may be recalled that Public Works Minister, Samuel Kofi Woods, recently criticized the INCHR for what he calls its silence on many human rights issues in the country.
Mr. Woods, an award winning international human rights activist, made the comment when he traveled with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to receive the 2011 Nobel Peace prize in Norway, Oslo.
He too, at the time, underscored the need to inject efficiency and dynamism into the operations of the INCHR.