Community-level solutions to avoid mob violence

Amos Payne, Jr., Sinoe County, Catholic Justice and Peace
Commission

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.

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Obtaining durable solutions through proactive mediation

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
and proactive.

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.

The Justice and Peace Commission makes the case against trial by ordeal

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.

Criminal and civil procedure explained

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.

Trial by ordeal is not transparent Trial by ordeal is not transparent

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.

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.