The Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), a news agency focusing on humanitarian stories, has published a piece on the Community Justice Advisor (CJA) program. The article highlights the work of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and The Carter Center in this area. It also quotes CJAs Jesco Davis and Eleane Keamue, as well as senior legal associate Lemuel Reeves.
Check it out by clicking here.
Great news, JPC and the Carter Center, under a MOU with the Ministry of Justice, will be expanding the Community Legal Advisor (CLA) Program to Montserrado County. This means that Monrovia and the surrounding areas will receive the free community-based legal services. Read about it here:
Amos Payne, Jr., Sinoe County, Catholic Justice and Peace
One of the major tools that we, the Community Legal Advisors of the JPC, use to solve individual problems is small-scale mediation. We do this to bring peaceful coexistence into communities. But we also try to find ways to address community-level problems when the need arises.
In recent days, we faced a community-level problem involving four boys accused of witchcraft by a community in downtown Greenville, Sinoe County. Actually what brought up this problem was a lady who had a dream and saw these four boys planning to take her life.
The news circulated in the community, which was concerned about the case. The boys were interrogated and threatened with harm if they refused to confess.
During this process, the Liberia National Police and UNMIL intervened to rescue the children from being victims of mob violence.
Even after the safety of the children was assured, JPC and the other actors felt a need to address this problem with the community.
We convened a community meeting the day following the children’s rescue to discuss mob violence and witchcraft. Afterward, the LNP turned the boys over to their parents, through the community chairman.We continue to conduct follow-up in the community to know about the well-being of the children and also to discuss ways of solving problems like these if they arise again. Anytime we go in the community, we make a note of our findings in the file we keep on this case.Therefore, community dialogue and education is another way of handling problems, especially among those who are not aware of the law or are planning to effect an action on their own that may lead to serious conflict.
Thomas B. Mawolo, JPC
Liberians often use the example of cow pupu to describe conflicts. Cow pupu has an outward appearance of a dried product but inside is still wet.
This parable makes sense to me especially concerning mediation. In the mediation work of the JPC, we try to find true solutions to the problems of our clients, not just small solutions that will become a problem another day.
In July, the JPC participated in a training in peace education organized by UNHCR in Gbarnga. There we discussed two types of mediation: reactive
A proactive approach to a mediation finds a durable
solution so it cannot resurface.
Reactive mediation is a type of mediation we are very
used to in Liberia. It is often undertaken by people who have status in their society.
The mediator may give advice to a party what to do or encourage the parties to come to a mediation table even when they are not ready.This may possibly result in a durable solution, but at the end of the day it may result in a situation of cow pupu, where the problem is not really solved.
Proactive mediation requires a positive resolution to the conflict so that it never reoccurs. It is necessary for all the parties to a problem to come willingly to the mediation table. No one should send a proxy or family head in their place. The mediator does not force anybody to a mediation.
We often find that this kind of proactive approach results in a better solution to the problem – one that includes mediation, resolution and transformation.This should be the goal of a Community Legal Advisor.
By Thomas B. Mawolo
If a stranger comes to visit us in southeastern Liberia and asks whether people here practice sassywood, we are inclined to answer “yes.” Traditional justice is widespread and deep-rooted in the people. This method is being described as a harmful traditional practice because it is causing problems in some rural communities.
Villagers say that sassywood helps to control horrific behavior. According to one elder of one town, “An attempt to put a stop to ordeal/sassywood is clearly an indication of destroying our heritage. Anyone who violates the laws or customs of the town should be held liable and face punishment in keeping with our tradition.”
But the act of administering sassywood to an accused person is not transparent. For example, if a woman refuses to lie in bed with the chief and later is accused falsely for theft, the investigation will certainly be partial so long as the chief is the head of the committee.
We have come to the understanding that the practice conflicts with the Constitution. Article 2 states that any laws found to be inconsistent with the Constitution shall be void and of no legal effect. Under Liberian law, the burden of providing evidence against a suspect is on the accuser, not the accused. Sassywood puts the burden of producing proof on the accused.Furthermore, the Constitution provides that a person accused of a crime “shall not be compelled to furnish evidence against himself.”To conclude, the community and other stakeholders should now put into place a realistic approach to end the administration of sassywood, and start the campaign to create awareness to stop it. We can only make a positive impact when all of us change our attitudes toward our individual beliefs and help make Liberia a civilized state.
Dorothy M. Nebo, Justice and Peace Commission
The concepts of criminal and civil procedure are quite strange to people living in Grand Gedeh County. Even an accused is not aware of these two legal terms.To my understanding only a person who has acquired knowledge from workshops, law books, or school has a sufficient idea about criminal procedure and civil procedure.
I first began to experience these concepts in trainings conducted by the United Nations Mission in Liberia. In 2005 and 2006 at the Police Academy in Monrovia I went through the course work to be a corrections officer.
Civil matters are different from crimes. Civil procedure deals simply with a dispute involving two persons or groups of people (like a business, church or organization). If a person is found responsible (or liable) in a civil matter, he or she must pay the other party or fix the matter he or she has messed up. Even though no one has committed a crime, the law books have something to say about these matters.
Criminal procedure, on the other hand, deals with crimes. Crimes are serious matters, and the responsible (or guilty) parties are punished with time in jail or with fines.
The state considers anyone who commits a crime to have made an offense against the whole community. Therefore, the state is responsible for prosecuting crimes.
Usually, a county attorney or city solicitor does this. Equally so, the state has a duty to provide defense counsel to an accused person if he or she cannot find one for himself or herself.
On the contrary, however, this practice is not happening in many of our courts as expected. In order to avert the situation, there is a need to strengthen the judicial circuit and magisterial courts at all levels of the community in Grand Gedeh County.
By Anthony Thomas JPC, Grand Gedeh
My own understanding of sassywood or trial by ordeal in Grand Gedeh County is that it is a common practice and this practice must be abolished.Many people over the years have been victimized following the administration of sassywood or trial by ordeal. One experience that I observed in one of our villages is that poison was placed in the sassywood for this innocent lady to drink. She had been accused of witchcraft. When she drank the sassywood, she died on the spot.
Therefore the administration of the sassywood is not transparent, but it is meant to take innocent lives away.
Furthermore, to stop this practice, government, especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is to put stop to the issuance of certificates to native doctors. Also, massive awareness needs to be done so as to alleviate the common practice of sassywood in Grand Gedeh County.
By doing this, the elders’, chiefs’ and villagers’ minds will be transformed and we will live in peace.
By Gabriel Nimely, Justice and Peace Commission
Many years ago in Grand Kru County, people viewed the court as the only option for resolving conflicts. But according to them, taking someone to court is like selling them, and the one who bears a penalty at the end of the day will not forget easily.
From the awareness meetings the JPC has carried out in the county, many people are embracing the mediation process as another option for conflict resolution. In mediation, there will be no penalty or fine, although one party may pay the other to correct the wrong he or she has done. They themselves will come up with their own decision, and no court or mediator will impose a decision on them.
During the awareness, one man said that the process is fine because sometimes in the court the judges eat money and forget about the case. At the end the complainant is not satisfied while the defendant is still having you on mind for carrying him to court in the first place.
Not long ago in Grand Cess I mediated a case between two friends who had a confusion arising from ducks. One of them gave his friend a pair of ducks to raise. The friend was supposed to return the favor by giving back some of the baby ducks when they developed. But since 2006, he gave nothing. Together we sat and talked the case and at the end the two of them were able to come to an agreement. According to my own experience the mediation process is very fine and will bring good results to the people of Grand Kru County.
James (names have been changed), and employee for an international NGO operating in the southeast, came to the JPC for advice when his contract was terminated. He had worked for the NGO for one year without a contract, and then 20 months with an indefinite term contract. He had heard of the reputation of the JPC for dealing with labor and human rights issues, although he had never used them. James contacted the JPC for, in his words, “justice to prevail.”
The JPC monitors upon hearing the details of the case, advised James to speak to the Labor Commissioner. When his employment ended, his boss had accused him of theft, and claimed to have witnesses. James denied these allegations, and after two days his boss retracted them, stating that she was not firing him, but that his contract with the NGO had ended. James accepted this, but requested his severance pay and a letter of recommendation. He believed he was owed this, though he did not know the legal specifics. The Labor Commissioner informed him that if your contract is terminated without cause, you have to be notified one month in advance or paid one month’s salary as severance pay. Also, that you are owed one and a half month’s salary for every year for which you were employed. The labor commissioner called a meeting between James and the NGO boss. During this meeting the boss did not restate the allegation, but claimed that the contract had ended without cause. The Labor Commissioner issued a ruling that called for the NGO to give James his severance pay and the letter. The NGO boss refused to pay, and James informed both the JPC and the labor commissioner of this development. The JPC monitors referred James to the legal aid lawyer, John Gbessio, who told him that once the deliberations with the labor commissioner were finished, he could take the case to court with the help of the JPC. As time went on and the NGO still refused to pay, James, with the help of Gbessio, took a copy of the Labor Commissioner’s ruling to the Circuit Court Judge. The Judge invited the NGO and James to a conference the next day. The NGO still refused to pay the money. The Judge then gave the NGO two days to pay the money or return with a lawyer. Two days later I witnessed representatives of the NGO sign documents and hand over the payment of $669 US, of which $534 US was paid to James after taxes were deducted. This payment included one month’s salary, the one and a half month’s benefit and leave pay of 12 days at a rate of 8 dollars a day that James had not taken. The Labor Commissioner promised to continue to follow-up the case.
Although the JPC was not directly involved in the resolution of this case, James called them his guardians. Caroline, the JPC Monitor involved, was patient, and advised James not to take the law into his own hands. James says that now he knows to “contact the rightful authorities instead of doing his own thing”. In this future he says that he will always contact the JPC to resolve conflicts since they are “always on our side to advocate for us.” By the time the case was resolved, James was well versed in labor law and could cite the appropriate laws and explain how they related to his case.
On April 3, 2008, one of the JPC monitors in Grand Kru, Gabriel Nimely, received a complaint at his home in Grand Cess from a woman who claimed that her husband had been thrown in jail the previous day on the orders of a magistrate.
A dispute had broken out between the man and the magistrate when the magistrate intervened in an argument the man was having with someone else. The magistrate addressed the man by his country name, and the man addressed the magistrate also by his country name – Klah.
The magistrate took offense at being called by that name, and he ordered a policeman to lock up the man.
When Gabriel received the complaint, he followed up at the police station with the local commander, who described the charge upon which he had locked up the man as “abuse.” Gabriel explained that no one should be locked up for a civil matter like that, but the police commander wouldn’t budge without order from the magistrate.
Gabriel knew police procedure from his days as a policeman, and he notified the station commander that he would report the case to the JPC county office in Barclayville, so that the monitor there, Raymond, could follow up with the county police commander.
Gabriel went immediately home and drafted a letter to Raymond. As he was addressing the front of the envelope, a messenger arrived to summon him back to the police station. When he arrived there, the man had already been released from detention. The station commander explained that he didn’t want news of his conduct to reach to the county office in Barclayville, and he apologized.
The Grand Kru has had success releasing a number of people from detainment in a manner like this. It seems to be a common problem in that county.