An Educated Guest Prof Travels World To Teach Of Rights

Posted: September 09, 1986

When Burton Caine, a Temple University School of Law professor, arrived in Liberia in mid-June, the country was in its sixth year of rule by an ex- sergeant who, among other things, had slain his predecessor, jailed hundreds of dissidents, and allegedly rigged ballots in his re-election campaign.

You would think, under such circumstances, that discussions of constitutional law and civil rights might be as commonplace in that African nation as snowdrifts.

Yet Caine, who heads the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, spent six days in Liberia discussing such matters with lawyers, journalists, students, jurists and legislators.

It was the first of several stops during the summer for Caine, who since 1983 has been delivering lectures on American constitutional law in foreign countries under the sponsorship of the United States Information Service.

Caine, who began regular classes at Temple last week, also spent a week in August talking with legal and legislative officials in the Philippines on how that nation can best forge its first Constitution since the end of the dictatorial Ferdinand Marcos regime earlier this year.

"There's a lot of excitement over there" over the process, Caine said. ''More so, in fact, than in our own country. When our Constitution was drafted 199 years ago, the sessions were conducted in secret. Over there, they're being broadcast live every day. The television programs are filled with debate and discussion."

Already, a bill of rights has been adopted which closely resembles America's own. One notable exception is an article prohibiting "torture, . . . violence, threats or intimidation" against citizens under arrest.

"That's pretty much a reflection of the Marcos era," said Caine, who said the Filipinos should, in preparing their bill of rights, "target those specific evils" that plagued their civil liberties during Marcos' rule.

But he also warned his listeners of some of the traps inherent in adopting some of the broader language in the American Bill of Rights.

"When they talk about 'due process of law' or 'equal protection,' I'm not sure what they get," Caine said. "Do they get the 'Plessy vs. Ferguson' form of due process. Or do they get the 'Brown vs. Board of Education' version?"

He was referring to two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on racial segregation. The 1896 "Plessy" decision upheld it. The 1954 "Brown" decision rejected it.

Earlier this year, Liberia - whose present is pretty much the Philippines' past - began granting amnesty to hundreds of political prisoners opposed to the government of President Samuel K. Doe, whom Caine termed "a bloody tyrant. No mincing any words about it."

Doe, a disgruntled army sergeant and high school dropout, seized control of Africa's oldest republic in 1980, ending 133 years of rule by the descendants of freed black American slaves. He shot and killed his predecessor, William R. Tolbert Jr., promoted himself to general and has since survived re-election challenges as well as a bloody coup attempt last November.

Though he saw no evidence of political violence "other than the burned buildings," Caine said he had heard plenty of horror stories from those he lectured in his first few days.

One of the milder accounts came from a lawyer who, while defending a journalist in court, made a "mild criticism" of the government. Both were immediately tossed in prison.

"I heard the lawyer say they stole his wedding ring; they burned down his house, and he was released six months later under the general amnesty."

Others, Caine said, weren't so lucky - including a television commentator who, "because the president was apparently dissatisfied with him," was ''taken out to the beach and macheted to death."

Near the end of the week, Caine addressed the country's house of representatives on Liberia's constitution, which was adopted in January.

"What I sensed they wanted was a speech that would congratulate them on adopting American constitutional phrases," he said. "I did praise them for adopting the concepts. But I said the performance was as important as the promise."

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