Mediation claims the attention of the people in Grand Kru County

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.

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Labor

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.

Improper Detention

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.

Gender Based Violence

In March, 2008, the JPC became involved in a case of rape that ended in a guilty verdict. The JPC’s part in the case was relatively minor, yet the case is significant because guilty verdicts in cases of sexual violence are so rare in Liberia.

The JPC’s involvement began when the parents of a rape victim called Anthony Thomas, one of the Zwedru monitors, to report the case. The 13-year-old girl was in the hospital. Anthony took Dorothy Nebo, the other monitor, to the hospital and they agreed that Dorothy, as a woman, would talk to the victim in the company of her parents. All parties, including the victim, agreed to report the matter to the police and cooperate with an investigation and prosecution.

The victim’s brother’s wife was the first to report the case to the police, but Anthony and Dorothy both followed up on it at the police station. Dorothy has a good working relationship with the county attorney of Grand Gedeh County and privately advised him of the gravity of this crime and the importance that he prosecute it in the pending term of court rather than schedule it in a future term. The county attorney agreed and did so.

As the case was pending trial, the alleged perpetrator bragged to the victim’s father that he would escape punishment for the crime because he had offered money to the judge.  The trial was held, though not in camera, as is required for rape cases, because the judge’s chambers are tiny. Rather than try to keep the public out of the regular circuit court room in Zwedru, which is vast and exposed and has many offices adjoining it, the judge did not bother sealing it at all. (There is a common misperception in Liberia that in camera requires the trial to be conducted in the court’s chambers. We have documentation from UNMIL LJSSD that this is not the case, and that any room is acceptable. Surely another room in City Hall would have been preferable if the chambers were too small. We plan to spread the word about it at our next monthly retreat.)

Because the case was not held in camera, the JPC monitored the entire case. Anthony claims that the judge sent the jury into deliberations with instructions that it return with “a direct verdict of guilty.” Anthony explains these inappropriate instructions with his hunch that the judge had, in fact, been bribed, but later became worried about the attention surrounding the case, particularly after the defendant began bragging about the bribery, and worried what would happen to his reputation if the jury had returned a not-guilty verdict.

In any event, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The defense counsel has appealed the case to the Supreme Court due to the judge’s instructions to the jury.

Child-Parent Conflict

The JPC office in Grand Gedeh received a case in March when the police called with a request to intervene in a matter. The police told Anthony Thomas, one of the Zwedru monitors, that an 11-year-old girl had come to them seeking help because her family had expelled her from their home.

Anthony met first with the girl and heard her story. She said she had fled her home because she had become pregnant by a 30-year old man against her family’s wishes; when her father learned of the pregnancy, he threatened to beat her hard enough to abort the pregnancy. Anthony agreed to her request to intervene in the case, and went to meet her father. The father agreed to participate in a mediation, and he and the daughter later met Anthony at the JPC office for a mediation that lasted more than eight hours.

Anthony began by explaining the process of mediation and began by allowing both parties to explain their stories fully. Throughout the course of the mediation, the daughter changed her mind, first expressing her desire to return to her home so long as her father would agree not to beat her, and later stating that she wished to remain with her boyfriend. The father denied threatening to beat her. He was particularly upset because he had engaged his daughter to another man. Anthony said she was too young to do that.

Eventually, the parties agreed that the daughter would return to her family home, the father would not beat her, and she would have the child in the home. But when it came time to sign the mediation agreement, the father refused. In their culture, which I am a part of, judging or mediating between children and parents is not accepted, and for a father to sign an agreement with a daughter is particularly difficult. They left that day without signing.

From there, I intervened one day upon visiting the JPC office in Zwedru. At Anthony’s request, I went to meet the father at his home and after about three hours of talking managed to convince him to sign the mediation agreement. I also told him what the law says about such a matter – that the man had committed statutory rape and that while we would not report the daughter’s boyfriend to the police against the wishes of the daughter, the boyfriend deserved to be prosecuted for his crime. Later he signed the agreement, the daughter moved her clothes back in with her family and has lately been assisting her to take treatment at the hospital for her pregnancy.

Breach of Contract

A student reported a breach of contract case to the JPC office in Harper City in May, 2008,. According to the student, his friend approached him to buy his motorcycle for US$400.00 on credit. The two parties wrote out their agreement in an arrangement allowing the buyer to pay for the motorcycle in four installments, beginning October 24, 2007 and ending January 24, 2008. The student claimed that the buyer consented to the payment and made the first payment but later refused to pay the balance.

This action led the student to take his friend to the Magisterial Court, and which sent him to prison. Later, however, the judge of the Circuit Court released the buyer from prison without paying for the remaining money. While in that confused state, some community members told the student about the JPC and he went there for intervention.

After meeting with JPC monitor Caroline Doe and learning about the mediation process, the student accepted it as a resolution tool. JPC then successfully invited the friend to take part in the mediation.

During the mediation process, the friend admitted his failure to pay the debt. At the end of the mediation, the parties signed an agreement which declared that the friend would pay the balance, which is sixteen thousand, nine hundred Liberian Dollars. The agreement specified that three thousand Liberian Dollars would be paid on the first of every month until the agreed amount is cleared. He paid the first amount on June 1, 2008 at the JPC’s office, where a receipt was given to him for said payment.

Accident Compensation

In early January 2008, a man claimed he was taking his regular evening walk when a motorist hit him. The accident resulted in wounds on his foot, right palm, chin. He also lost four teeth and was momentarily unconscious. Some bystanders took him to the hospital, where he regained consciousness, but the motorist involved left the scene of the accident before an identification could be made. This act made the victim furious and he took his complaint to the traffic division of the Liberia National Police in Harper City to seek justice. The police identified the owner of the motorbike but the motorist was no where to be found. The Liberian National Police delayed conducting preliminary investigation in the matter which caused the man to take the case to the JPC office in Harper. On January 4, 2008, the man asked the JPC to intervene in the dispute between himself and the motorist.

AB Wlemongai Tyler, a JPC monitor, told him about the mediation process, which he accepted. AB Wlemongai Tyler invited the owner of the motorbike and he honored the invitation for mediation preferring that method to resolving the case through the police.

During the mediation process, the man requested for the owner of the motorbike to reimburse him for the expenses he went through at the hospital for treatment. The amount in question was six thousand Liberian Dollars for expenses at the hospital and additional five hundred Liberian dollars for further treatment. At the end of the mediation, the motorbike owner agreed to reimburse him and on January 15, 2008 he paid the amount of one thousand five hundred Liberian. The balance amount is now five hundred Liberian dollars (500.00LD), which should have been paid on May 31, 2008. The JPC monitor follow up the case and reported that the man is satisfied with the process and he is just waiting for the last payment from the motorcycle owner.