Promoting Access to Justice: a study on Strategies to Implement Collaborative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms and Procedures for Resolving Conflicts in Liberia Liberian Ministry of Justice By Christopher W

Decision on a punishment (as appropriate)

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Decision on a punishment (as appropriate) – In the event that there has been a serious breach of a customary law or practice, the third party may make either a preliminary or final decision on an appropriate punishment. It is clear that there is not uniformity or consistency in the administration of sanctions or punishment for particular offenses or violations. So far research indicates that

administration of particular sanctions and punishments for specific offences varies from one community to another, and is generally determined by the psycho-social and historical practices of the society administering them.

If the process is totally adjudicatory, the dispute resolution procedure may end here. However, if it is to have a broader social purpose – such as of determining compensation for harm, restitution or reconciliation – the, process may involve further steps facilitated by the third party with potential changes in or lessening of the decision on the punishment depending on the offender’s future behaviors or outcomes of further discussions and agreements by disputants.

  • Facilitation of a request for and acceptance of an apology– Once merit or responsibility has been agreed on by the disputants or determined by the third party, one or more parties may either make or request an apology, or be encouraged to do so by the intermediary. The person making an apology often states their desire to restore harmony to their relationship and community. If a satisfactory apology is made and accepted, the parties may proceed to the next stage of the dispute resolution process.

  • Facilitation of a joint agreement by the parties or a decision by the third party on consequences for actions or harm– The second to last potential component is either a discussion by the parties and agreement on an appropriate and acceptable compensation for inconvenience, harm or wrong done; or of a decision by the third party on this question. If the decision is made by the third party, he and those working with him may negotiate or mediate an outcome or make a determination and work to get the responsible party to accept it. If the respondent accepts either the negotiated or mediated outcome with the other party or the chief, or accepts a decision made by the third party, the intermediary may, but does not always, modify the punishment identified earlier in the process.

  • Reach a final agreement or decision– Depending on agreements reached by the involved parties or non-binding recommendations or decisions made in earlier in the process, the chief may, but does not always, facilitate a culturally appropriate closure ritual. This may involve a public restatement of promises made by the disputants, statements about their intentions for future relations or exchanges of something of value to indicate that the case is settled.

As noted earlier, if one or more parties does not accept a non-binding decision by a chief and his associates, are unable to reach an agreement on compensation or restitution or fails to comply with an agreement or “decision”, they are free to appeal their case to a higher chief, government official in the Ministry of Internal Affairs or take it to a formal court under the judiciary, provided that the statutory court system has jurisdiction over issues in question that has been mandated to them by Liberian law.

Alignment of dispute resolution by customary authorities and procedures with the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework:

Legitimacy: Comments by participants in the focus groups for this study and a significant body of literature indicates that customary dispute resolution procedures are highly likely to be, but are not always, trusted and perceived to be fair by disputants. This is the case as long as the intermediaries are respected and credible and there is a common understanding of the procedures for dispute resolution that will be used – generally facilitated dialogue, and a mediation-arbitration process with a non-binding recommendation and reconciliation between the parties.

However, legitimacy may be in question when disputes are between members of a chief’s community and a “stranger”. When the latter situation occurs, “strangers” may believe that they or their community may not be able to get a fair hearing by the sitting chief and his associates. This situation may call for the involvement of a mutually trusted superior chief to hear the case, a group of chiefs (perhaps one from each community and a third independent chief) or an appropriate County Government official who is not directly affiliated with one of the involved communities.

Accessibility: Customary dispute resolution mechanisms and procedures are highly accessible and readily available in almost all rural communities. However, they may not be as accessible to weaker parties – such as women, youth or strangers in rural communities – or acceptable in some urban communities where there are members of multiple ethic communities and the authority of chiefs to handle certain cases or those involving specific groups may not be recognized.

It should be noted that accessibility does not necessarily imply acceptability. While customary procedures may be very accessible, some disputants may feel pressured to use them or compelled to comply with their outcomes by peer or community pressure. There may also be pressures on disputants to not take their differences to other forums or procedures for resolution that are outside of their communities.

Predictability: In general, the procedures used in customary dispute resolution in specific communities are widely known by disputing parties. However, the predictability of practices may differ depending on the knowledge, style and procedural preferences of the involved chief. Some may use a more adjudicative process while others may lean more toward mediation. This can lead to some degree of procedural unpredictability, but can also allow intermediaries to tailor the process to the parties, their unique needs and the issues involved.

A potential problem is that the procedures are frequently not time-bound; do not have time frames for each stage of the process or specific times when a conclusion may be expected. However, most disputes, except those that are the most highly contested or complex, are generally resolved within a few weeks’ time.

Equitability: Due to the informal nature of these procedures and the customary law or common practices applied, aggrieved parties may or may not have reasonable and equitable access to sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to engage in the dispute resolution process “on fair, informed and respectful terms”. This may be the case for the indigent, weaker parties, women, youth and “strangers”. Generally, legal assistance or advice on how to engage effectively in customary procedures is not available. (They are also not generally available to participants in the formal statutory legal process if a disputant chooses not to or does not have the resources to secure the assistance of a lawyer.)

Transparency: Involvement in the process is transparent in that proceedings are generally conducted publicly. However, the standards and criteria used for reaching a recommended outcome or a decision may not be. Customary law is based on tradition and a verbal transfer of knowledge, so standards and criteria for decision making, while known to chiefs and elders, my not be immediately be known to disputants. Additionally, there are no written records to check their congruence with decisions on similar cases in the past. These factors, on occasion, may undermine participants’ confidence in the procedure and its ability to address and satisfy their interests.


Rights-compatibility: These informal procedures may or may not be compatible with or recognize either national statutory laws, international agreements signed by the Liberian government or internationally recognized human rights. This can be problematic for women, youth, differently abled, minorities or “strangers”. There continues to be gaps in recognition of rights of women and people who are not members of a host community.

A source of continuous learning: It is possible that third parties in customary processes will draw lessons learned or apply them to prevent or resolve future disputes or harm. Neither customary law nor processes are static, and do change over time. However, there can be problems in the creation of an institutional memory of procedures and outcomes. Chiefs and participants in dispute resolution initiatives frequently do not write down agreements or procedures used to reach them. Institutional memory is kept with chiefs and passed on orally or by members of the community who have observed the process. Chiefs may die or not adequately pass on information to heirs to their positions. There could be significant value in communities beginning to document and record information on procedures used to resolve disputes and the customary law or common practices used to shape agreements or decisions.

Based on engagement and dialogue: In general, customary procedures utilize direct or indirect engagement of disputing parties and dialogue even during an adjudicative process. Dialogue may also be involved in a later mediation stage when parties are discussing apologies and/or compensation. However, the degree of dialogue versus the extent of advice giving or third party decision making may vary significantly depending on who is the customary intermediary, his or her preferred procedures and common practice.

Gaps and Recommendations:

  • The Government needs to continue to harmonize national and customary law so that the latter meets national and international standards. Harmonization is a very critical due to some sharp contradictions between the philosophies and practices of the customary and statutory justice systems.

  • It appears that the government and chiefs need to clarify the specific authorities of chiefs, and the kinds of cases they are authorized to handle. Chiefs would like to handle more criminal offenses in pre-trial hearings, especially if an offender has admitted guilt. (More will be said about this issue later in this report.

  • The Government should work with customary leaders to begin to document and write down, but not codify, customary law, dispute resolution guidelines, rationales and practices.59 Codification will limit its flexibility and ability to develop customized solutions to local disputes. However, documentation will provide guidance and examples of how disputes have been and can be settled to customary leaders.

  • The Government and the formal court system should consider putting in place some kind of legal review of cases decided by customary authorities, to determine compliance with national law and international human rights standards.60 This should especially occur in cases where a party contests an outcome of a customary court on grounds of violation of a statutory law or international standard. Judicial review should either: a) confirm the outcome of the customary court process, or b) in a case where non-compliance has been identified, remand it back to the customary court for reconsideration, or overturn it and make a ruling that puts in place a new decision.

  • In the event that a chief and/or his process are seen as either illegitimate or corrupt by one or more parties, they have the option to appeal to a higher chiefs’ court, and should also have a civil society alternative to use. Currently, civil society alternatives – principally provided by the Carter Center, Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and the Norwegian Refugee Council – are limited in both geographic scope and some of the issues they address.

  • Continued training is needed of customary dispute resolvers on national statutory laws, standards and criteria for decision making and areas of customary authorities’ competence/jurisdictions. This is especially the case for women’s rights.

  • The mediation component of customary dispute resolution, if it is deemed desirable to enhance its use, could be encouraged by training of customary leaders in this process, or engaging external third parties to work with them to help implement the enhanced approach.

Secret Society Dispute Resolution

Many cultures have secret societies or fraternal organizations that promote religious beliefs and values, educate adult and youth members and initiate them into the organization and/or broader society. These organizations may also play a role in resolving disputes among their members and, on occasion, others in a broader community.

Liberia has a number of these kinds of organizations, some connected to Christian churches, such as Masons and UBF, others are traditional associations. 73 The latter, Poro for men and Sande for women, are found in multiple communities throughout the country including the Vai, Gola, Dei, Mende, Bandi, Loma, Kissi, Kpelle and part of the Ma [Mano].61These associations are hierarchically organized, and responsible for initiating young men and women into adulthood. They also serve as third parties between ancestors and the living, and act as arbitrators regarding acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that affect the societies. Their beliefs and practices are secret, and information about them can only be shared among members who have been initiated into them.

These societies regulate and supervise the social, political and sexual conduct of their members. Poro and Sande societies perform both sacred and secular functions.62 63Among their secular role is to serve as the judiciary for members. The judicial function enforces the societies’ cultural norms, which are communicated orally. Often issues involving witchcraft or other supernatural occurrences are adjudicated within a society by a council of elders who belong to it.

These societies may also become involved in secular issues handled by customary chiefs, if they involve supernatural issues or if the local community is seriously disrupted by the dispute. Chiefs often find it hard to perform their functions if they are not supported by leaders of the local secret societies. Chiefs may also refer cases to them for resolution.

It should be noted that judicial proceedings in these societies, often in the past and likely in the present and future, will continue to use various methods of trial by ordeal to determine whether a disputant is telling the truth. These have often been described as either “good” or “bad” sassywood.64 Leaders are believed to have magical and spiritual powers and “hand out harsh justice”.65 In some cases, a “trial” is not granted, especially if there is general agreement on a party’s guilt, and in the most serious ones (witchcraft, revealing secretes of the society, or bodily injury to another member) poison is the most common method of execution.66

Alignment of dispute resolution by secret societies or fraternal organizations with the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework:67

Legitimacy: There appears to be significant trust among member/stakeholders for whose use they are intended. However, because of secrecy, there is no data on how fair the grievance process is perceived to be by participants.

Accessibility: These mechanisms and procedures generally are highly accessible to members. This is especially the case for members of secret societies who live in rural areas. Members likely do not face any particular barriers to access.

Predictability: Because of secrecy, it is likely that these procedures are not clear or well known to members, especially new ones. Secrecy is likely to apply to both procedures and standards for determining outcomes. There are likely no clear timeframes for each stage of the process, or predictability of monitoring or implementation of outcomes.

Equitability: It is not clear what information aggrieved parties have, or advice and expertise necessary to engage in a grievance process on fair, informed and respectful terms.

Transparency: It is likely that there is limited transparency about the process, its progress or standards and criteria used by decision makers on outcomes.

Rights-compatibility: It is not clear that outcomes and remedies of traditional secret societies are in accord with internationally recognized human rights. Dispute resolution procedures likely do not provide for due process, as required in statutory courts, and outcomes likely do not comply with national and international standards. Such has been the case in customary practices related to female gentile mutilation and some practices of trial by ordeal (TBO).

A source of continuous learning: Nothing published or noted by participants in focus groups or interviews address this issue.

Based on engagement and dialogue: Nothing published addresses this issue.

Gaps and Recommendations:

  • A major gap is that little is known about these societies, other than that understood by their members. It would appear that they make decisions outside of either national laws or international agreements and covenants agreed to by the Government of Liberia. It is also likely that they may not provide fair trials, due process and may use more serious forms of trial by ordeal, which although having been outlawed by the government, may still be practiced.

  • Ideally, Government should have some oversight over practices that do not conform to national law.

Government Administrative Dispute Resolution

National, county and local government officials are often involved informally and formally in the provision of non-judicial dispute resolution assistance. Common officials who provide this help are County Superintendents, District Commissioners, City Mayors or Township Commissioners, County Land Commissioners, political leaders/appointees and the Police. District Commissioners, Mayors and police and less so County Superintendents, are the most frequently contacted for assistance. It should be noted that local Land Commissioners, because of their involvement in land sales, play a lesser, and on occasion a more problematic role as dispute resolvers.

Individuals in the above positions may be informally approached by disputants and requested to provide assistance prior to or after their engagement in another dispute resolution mechanism or process. County Superintendents and District Commissioners may also be engaged in their official capacities as executives in the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the formal appeal process from customary courts after an unacceptable decision by a chief’s court. (Individuals in these positions are appointed by the President and are employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.) When approaches for assistance, they may make non-binding and appealable decisions or facilitate or mediate settlements. If an acceptable agreement or settlement cannot be reached at their levels, the unsatisfied party can appeal to the Minister of Internal Affairs or the President, but such actions are not common.

In addition to the above individuals are a number of other government institutions and initiatives that provide non-judicial dispute resolution assistance. The most prominent ones are described below.

Liberia Land Commission’s Land Coordination Centers (LCCs): A more formal approach to government assistance in non-judicial resolution of land disputes are the LCCs of the Liberia Land Commission. Initially created in 2012, these are enabling bodies under the Land Commission rather than direct dispute resolution providers. There are currently LCCs in Bong, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland and Nimba Counties.

The mandate of LCCs’ includes:

  • Promoting coordinated, effective, efficient and timely resolution of land disputes, either within individual institutional systems and/or facilitation of interaction between them within the network system;

  • Providing some degree of standardization of administrative procedures (but not necessarily dispute resolution processes, as a range of procedures and paths for disputants to choose from should be supported and encouraged);

  • Assisting disputants to select and making referrals to appropriate dispute resolution institutions and procedures that will assist them to best meet their substantive, procedural and psychological goals, objectives and interests;

  • Coordinating accessibility of support services to component institution/systems and users of the network system, including as appropriate: title/deed searches in the Archives, access to legal information and advice and support for land demarcation and surveys;

  • Promoting, encouraging and facilitating institutional learning to make changes at the institutional, procedural, policy or legal levels, which will improve the resolution of land disputes.68

LCC staff members have received dispute resolution training as have 500 local dispute resolution practitioners. Training has been coordinated by the Land Dispute Resolution Project (LCRP), a USAID project managed by Tetra Tech. The LCRP has prepared training materials, dispute resolution skills programs and trained trainers from the Norwegian Refugee Council and Carter Center who have presented seminars in multiple counties where the LC has established LCCs. Participants in training programs have included customary authorities, community leaders (including women, and members of minority communities), government officials and representatives of civil society organizations.

Recently, the Land Commission and LCCs have been experimenting with the creation of local Mediation & Arbitration Committees as a means to decentralize the administration of land dispute resolution services and increase access of local citizens. Members of these Committees are individuals who have been trained through the LCCs. They facilitate case intake, investigation and the assignment of appropriate intermediaries to cases. It has also completed MOUs with some local Peace Committees to provide dispute resolution services.

The Child Justice Forum (formerly the Child Justice Working Group (CJWG)

This Forum, chaired by the Ministry of Justice, has developed a standardized non-judicial approach and related procedures to coordinate activities of juvenile justice actors when responding to youth who have come in conflict with the law69 They involve a juvenile offender diversion program, which removes juvenile offenders from criminal or juvenile justice processing and refers them to alternative social welfare services.82)

Diversion seeks to provide:

  • Suspension of formal court proceedings and deferment of further criminal proceedings pending successful completion of the prescribed sanctions, Children who opt not to participate in the diversion process or who are facing more serious charges are also entitled to services and programs, including measures to ensure that they enjoy the same rights.

  • Avoid the stigma of labeling a child as criminal.  Flexibility and options.

  • Protective and educative measures in line with the Children’s Law and the L.C.R. JCPC [ Juvenile Court Procedural Code, New Judiciary Law, 1971].70

Diversion may include non-intervention or referrals to community support services on the condition that the youth voluntarily complies with prescribed terms for rehabilitation and makes restitution.

Diversion can be considered and occur at any time, from that of apprehension to a final disposition hearing by a judge. The Law states that “At all stages of investigating and prosecuting a crime involving a child, diversionary measures shall be considered, with the advice and facilitation of probation officers, social worker, or other appropriate service provider”71.

The option for diversion begins immediately after a juvenile who appears to or has committed a legal offense comes into contact with a police officer or judicial actor. These officials are required to refer the case to the Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the police. The WACPS has discretion to issue a warning to the child; or “mediate between parties to resolve cases and recommend some form of resolution such as restitution, community service, etc.” without a referral to a social service provider or judicial process.72

However, if the WACPS determines that the issue needs to be more formally addressed, it contacts a social worker and the youth’s parent(s) or guardian as soon as possible after the child’s contact with a justice actor and informs them of the apprehension and potential legal charge. The WACPS also informs the Division of Juvenile Justice at the MOJ, public defender and legal aid service provider.

At this time, the WACPS staff, social worker, public defender or legal aid provider, prosecutor, defense council, a magistrate or a judge informs the child and his or her parent(s) or guardian about the potential of diversion of the juvenile’s criminal case.

Ideally, a social worker meets with the child the day of the potential or actual offense, but if one is not available, a probation officer, prosecutor or another officer from the prosecutor’s office may do so. Ultimately, a social worker must conduct a social assessment of the child as soon as possible and within

14 days after the youth’s first contact with a justice official. The social worker, in his or her Social Inquiry Report, makes a recommendation regarding the appropriateness of diversion and forwards the opinion to the prosecutor, juvenile court or magistrate.

At this time, the child, his or her parent(s) or guardian have a choice between the formal justice system or diversion.73 The decision to prosecute a case, divert it, refer it to an appropriate agency or dismiss it is made with the advice and facilitation of service providers – a social worker, probation officer or other appropriate service providers, including prosecutors.

If the child and his or her parent(s) or guardian wants to explore diversion and the conditions to do so, and the service providers agree, they discuss and reach agreements on the terms of the diversion program. Agreement on the diversion program may be facilitated or mediated by a social worker.

The terms for diversion should be proportionate to the offense and based on the background of the case. Possible variables that may influence the type and conditions for diversion include whether the youth is a repeat offender, has participated in an earlier diversion program, is able to be managed by his or her parents, is willing to or has made an apology or restitution, etc.

When the child or his or her parent(s) or guardian have voluntarily and without coercion, consented to diversion and the required terms, a Consent Form is completed by a social worker, juvenile probation officer or an employee of the MOJ’s Division of Juvenile Justice. The Consent Form does not require that the offender admit to wrongdoing. It only defines the terms for diversion and expected performance.

The Form is then signed by the parent(s) or guardian.

The Consent Form is forwarded to a judge or magistrate for approval and issuance of a Consent Decree and diversion order. The judge maintains jurisdiction of the case until the conditions in the Consent Decree have been fulfilled.

Once the Consent Decree has been signed, the child must attend an informal Diversion Hearing before a judge or magistrate, agree to its conditions and sign the document as does a responsible adult. At this time, the judge or magistrate reviews the proposed diversion and its terms and orders appropriate measures according to L.C.R. JCPC Article 11.75.

During implementation of the diversion, social workers, probation officers and other relevant officials, including the Child Welfare Committee, maintain contact with diversion service providers and monitor the progress of the juvenile in achieving identified goals and adhering to the terms of the Consent Decree. Judges or magistrates also hold Status Review Conferences to assure that the terms of the diversion are being adhered to, and identify when they have been successfully completed.

In addition to the diversion procedure described above, the Children’s Law mandates that each community or town establish a Child Welfare Committee (CWC). County Welfare Officers (CWOs) under the Ministry of Women and Development and located in the County Gender Office have oversight responsibility over the CWCs.

Committees have a diverse membership and elect a chairperson and secretary from their participants. 87 CWCs should be in 15 counties but currently exist only in eight, under UNICEF sponsorship. The eight counties include: Montserrado, Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi, Rivercess, Maryland, Grand Kru and River Gee Counties. Some partners, other partner work with CWCs in other counties. The Child Fund works with the CWC in Lofa, CHC in Bomi Counties and Plan Liberia in several others.

87 Committees include: “(a) a traditional leader nominated by the head of the community or town;

  1. a man and woman representing parents and elected in a community or town gathering;

  2. one female child representing children and nominated by a specially convened children’s forum facilitated by a gender coordinator or youth facilitator designated by such a gender coordinator…;

  3. one male child, representing children and nominated by a specially convened children’s forum facilitated by a gender coordinator designated by such gender coordinator, provided that such a child shall not have reached the age of 18 by the time her or his term on the committee ends, and,

  4. two representatives, female and male, of non-governmental organizations or community or town-based organizations who may be working to advance child rights in the said community or town and who shall be elected by the members of the committee mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (d) in this subsection.

  5. three local members from various faiths, a least one of which should be female, elected by the members of the committee mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (d) in this subsection” (Children’s Law, 2011, p. 46.)

In some counties, CWCs receive stipends, generally from local partner organizations. In other their work is voluntary. Voluntarism and lack of financial support – for transportation, referral of cases, stationary and mediation – is becoming a problem for some CWCs.

“The powers and functions of a child welfare committee shall be limited to advice, mediation, recommendations and representation.74 The Committees are not allowed to conduct a trial or pass any sentences. Currently, there are no standardized guidelines for the work of the CWCs.

Issues and disputes handled by CWCs, along with those described above under diversion for criminal offenses, include sexual and physical abuse, teen trafficking, domestic slavery, and children in institutional settings. There is no formal intake process.

The relationship between CWCs and the police is mixed. In some counties the police complain that CWCs do not inform them about their activities. In one instance, police refused to transport CWC members to handle a case and they were refused assistance. Inter-agency coordination is an issue that needs to be looked at and improved.

Cases handled by the CWCs are tracked by the CWOs who report the results to the Director and the Child Protection Section of the Ministry of Gender and Development. The Ministry of Gender and Development is currently conducting monitoring to determine how functional the CWCs are.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW), Department of Social Welfare, have an initial child protection database for children in institutional settings. There is a Child Protection network directory, which is updated quarterly, and monitored for effectiveness. There are 32 members but only 29 have submitted their

The Palava Hut/Peace Hut and Peace Forums: In 2009, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended that the government establish a National Palava Hut Program to help citizens address and resolve traditional grievances, and promote post-war national healing, social solidarity and reconciliation. “The purpose of the Palava Hut is…to afford anyone who has committed a wrong or crime, whether knowingly or unknowingly, against an individual or the state, to admit the wrongful act and seek pardon from the people of Liberia through the Palava Hut”.75

The Program is intended to foster and utilize dialogue at community and grassroots levels. In the process, select members of communities with a high level of integrity are empowered to adjudicate issues related to the civil war. The Program requires all perpetrators of wrongs during the war – “including assaults, destruction of property, forced displacement, looting, robbery, extortion, etc.”, whether identified or not by the TRC, to appear before it. 90 Individuals recommended for public sanctions and prosecution in section 12.4 of Vol. II of the TRC report may appear voluntarily before a Palava Hut, though they are not subject to Palava Hut sanctions.”

Palava hut adjudicators have the authority and jurisdiction to issue a pardon or public sanctions for supporting warring groups or committing minor crimes. The names of people recommended for prosecution of high crimes against humanity or war crimes are to be sent the TRC and cannot be pardoned by the Palava Hut process.

Article 10, Section 46 of the TRC’s recommendations authorized the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) to implement the program, and in October of 2013, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf initiated the formal launch.76 However, the program is not yet operational. More work remains for the program to be fully functional. Future plans include holding a three-day technical forum, development of the methodology for conducting dialogue and raising public awareness of the process and the benefits of using it.

INCHR is planning to conduct an ethnography survey and study beginning February of 2014, to identify how different community/ethnic groups resolve conflicts. Based on its findings, it will design region specific procedures for resolving disputes.77

The Ministry of Youth and Sports

This Ministry works with youth in a variety of areas, and sees dispute resolution as a cross-cutting issue. Some of the organizations it works with include: the Federation of Liberian Youth, LINSU, MRU Youth Parliament, the YMCA and YWCA, Muslim Youth and Girl Guides. Conflict resolution work with these organizations is primarily around settlement of leadership issues. These are often related to organizational constitutional issues, lack of reform, and procedures to do so. The Ministry helps there organizations by convening meetings, providing advice on governance structures and facilitating sessions with involved parties to resolve outstanding issues.

This Ministry has a number of other dispute resolution activities. In 2009, the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund supported the Ministry of Youth and Sports to develop the Volunteers for Peace Program. The initiative targeted youth and created a cadre of 30 youth Volunteers for Peace who received training to help communities in 15 counties handle conflicts and promote community cohesion. As of 2010, the volunteers had:

  • Conducted 138 campaigns against Gender Based Violence (GBV) with over 6,000 participants;

  • Built the capacity of 708 youth leaders in 15 counties through Training-of-Trainers workshops on Peace Building and non-violent Conflict Resolution Strategies

  • Established Youth Peace Committees composed of six members (3 men and 3 women) in four districts of each county. The Peace Committees have provided communities with non-violent conflict resolution assistance.

  • Formed four peace clubs in schools in Gbarnga, 2 in Suacoco, and 2 in Palala. The clubs provide a forum for peer to peer discussion, addressing issues that may result in conflict and develop strategies for making schools violence free.93

The Ministry has also undertaken the creation of a number of youth centers in several counties.

Currently, there are two in Bassa, Cape Mount and Montserrado; and one in Bong, Nimba, Sinje and , Tubmanburg. They are supported by UNICEF. At some time in the future, the Ministry will undertake an assessment of these centers to determine how they are impacting youth who have participated in them.

The Ministry, with the encouragement of UNMIL, has been encouraged to develop a Youth Training

Academy to promote youth leadership. In the future, the Ministry wants to begin a training pilot in 4 or 5 MCSS schools. UNMIL wants to expand training to Pen Pen boys, wheel barrel boys and groups such as tailors.94 If the initiative is successful, it could be expanded to include university students.

There is also appears to be another UN youth-focused program supported by UNICEF, the Youth Social Cohesion Project. The initiative provides training in mediation and leadership.

In the fall of 2013, the UN decided to consolidate its peace committee work and steps were initated to merge the juvenile peace committees with the adult Peace Committees.

Given the amount of dispute resolution training provided for youth by the Ministry and its programs, it hopes in the future to assist youth to form an ADR Practitioner Association of Students that can provide training-for-trainers programs. Youth who have participated in the training can serve as local dispute resolvers in the counties in which they reside.

Alignment of dispute resolution by government officials with the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework:

Legitimacy: Going to a government official for assistance in dispute resolution is voluntary. Government officials may be seen as legitimate when they are locally respected leaders, part of the formal Ministry of Internal Affairs’ administrative appeals process, the Land Commission’s Land Coordination Centers, the Child Justice Forum’s diversion procedures for juvenile offenders or the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ juvenile peace committees. However, the use of these mechanisms and related procedures are not as common as going to customary authorities.

Additionally, some local government officials, may be seen a corrupt, which lowers perceptions of legitimacy.

Accessibility: While these mechanisms and procedures are likely known by citizens who have a dispute, they are principally accessible to disputants who live in or near towns where services are provided. For other parties, government provided dispute resolution assistance is available only at some distance from either where the dispute has occurred or the participants reside. Accessibility is often difficult because of distance, road conditions (especially during the rainy season) and parties’ costs for travel and accommodations to pursue assistance.

94 Currently, the Zwedru Pen Pen boys are one of the most organized youth groups in the region, and appear to have taken advantage of the training that has been provided to them.

Predictability: Standards and criteria used by these dispute resolvers to guide or determine outcomes are generally much less familiar to disputants than in customary processes and practices. This can result in perceptions of unpredictable outcomes.

Also the stages of the process and timelines for completing them are not always clear and known by stakeholders, with the exceptions likely being the steps for handling cases managed by the Land Coordination Centers or the Child Justice Forum’s juvenile diversion process. Unknown stages and timelines can result in reluctance on the part of disputants to engage in government-provided procedures.

Additionally, government officials, either serving in their individual capacities or as part of a government program, frequently have limited capacities to monitor compliance with voluntary agreements or decisions they have made or enforce them.

Equitability: While some government officials may provide detailed information to disputants about how they can be fully informed and engaged in dispute resolution procedures, this may not always be the case. Additionally, information that is provided may not be accurate or independent. Parties, especially weaker or less informed ones, may or may not have the sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to engage in a grievance process provided by government officials that is fair and informed.

Transparency: Government officials’ assistance and/or decision making may or may not be transparent. It often depends on the official from whom help is requested.

Rights-compatibility: Decisions made by government officials are more likely to ensure outcomes and remedies accord with national laws and internationally recognized human rights. However, these officials may be subject to corruption, community or gender bias.

A source of continuous learning: It is not clear from the literature how much institutional learning and lessons learned are drawn from dispute resolution assistance provided by government officials;

Based on engagement and dialogue: Dispute resolution provided by governmental officials may be purely adjudicative or may have mediation components. With some exceptions, such as the Land Coordination Center’s procedures and the Child Justice Forum’s juvenile diversion program, there is no standardized process for the use of dialogue in dispute resolution. Procedures used are highly dependent on who is providing the assistance, their orientations toward process and the kind of settlement they believe is appropriate.

Gaps and Recommendations:

  • Government officials may lack of clarity on their roles and responsibilities for dispute resolution, especially if they are asked to handle problems outside of the customary dispute resolution appeal process. Often their interventions may be ad hoc, non-standardized and, on occasion, nontransparent. Efforts should be made to standardize what they do and publicize it to potential users of their services.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs may want to clarify their roles and responsibilities.

  • Government officials have the potential to be overwhelmed by the number of land disputes that they may be asked to resolve. This problem was identified in a series of land dispute resolution workshops conducted by the Land Commission. This situation can lead to the neglect of their other required duties. This problem could be overcome if there were specific land dispute resolution institutions and mechanisms in place, especially in urban areas, to address both statutory and customary land disputes.

  • On occasion, government officials may be asked to intervene into tribal land disputes without adequate consultation with customary leaders or a full understanding of the conflict, its history or customary practices. Provisions should be made to institutionalize a consultation process in which customary leaders advise government officials on information relevant for informed dispute resolution.

  • There is often a lack of formal record keeping by local government officials of their dispute resolution activities. Central repositories for records of agreements/decisions should be developed at the County and District levels. The Land Commission’s Land Coordination Centers may be able to assist in this area.

  • Many government officials lack any formal training in dispute resolution procedures and skills. While this issue is being addressed by some INGOs, the training is not being conducted as widely as is needed.

  • Some government officials are perceived to be corrupt, particularly Land Commissioners, because of their involvement in unfair or illegal practices in the sale of government land. Land Commissioners might be precluded from making decisions in land disputes.

Liberian Civil Society Dispute Resolution

Liberia has always had civil society involvement by non-governmental organizations (NGOs or community-based organizations (CBOs) in the provision of dispute resolution services. These have included market associations, churches and church leaders and Zoes (the latter of which were considered earlier under the section of this study on Informal Community Leaders or Eminent Persons dispute resolution).78 However, “since the end of the second civil war, there has been a tremendous increase of involvement of civil society organizations in all aspects of Liberian life. While the initial focus of these groups was on relief, return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and reintegration of communities, they rapidly branched out into a range of other activities. Some of these organizations have engaged in promotion of democratization, education about citizens' civic duties and rights, advocacy of public interests, provision of legal information, advocacy of women’s rights and empowerment and work with youth”.79 Interestingly, relatively few of these organizations focus exclusively on providing dispute resolution assistance. Some of the most prominent civil society organizations that have worked in the area of dispute resolution or collaborative decision making at the community level are described below.

The National Council of Chiefs and Elders of the Republic of Liberia (NCCE)

This organization, which is also a customary dispute resolution provider, is composed of “any person who is a chief or elder in one of the counties that constitute the political subdivision of the republic who shall be elected as a chief or selected as an elder by their respective constituencies”.80 There is one representative on the council from each Liberian county.

In August of 2012, the National Legislature recognized the NCTA through the "Act to Create the National Council of Chiefs and Elders of the Republic of Liberia" that gave it autonomous status. The functions of the organization are to “preserve, protect and foster positive Liberian traditions, cultural heritage and traditional institutions and assist the government to achieve sustained peace, reconciliation and reunification at all levels”81. To achieve these goals, members of the organization are to: a) organize and convene national consultations that will promote dialogue on local governance issue and governmental budgets and develop proposals to be made to the government; b) organize seminars, conferences and cultural meetings to educate the public about traditional norms, practices and procedures; and c) assist in the promotion of government programs by interpreting policies to rural citizens and provide independent non-partisan advice to the government on internal affairs.82

Additionally, the Council has been and will continue to be involved in dispute resolution activities, especially those involving multiple ethnic communities and boundaries. In 2010, the National Traditional Council engaged with the Carter Center in the latter’s new project, “Strengthening Indigenous Conflict Management Capacity in Liberia", which is supported by USAID.83 The project focuses on strengthening dispute resolution capacities of traditional authorities, women and youth in five counties: Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Margibi and Maryland. The project began with a workshop copresented by the Carter Center and the UN’s Mediation Support Unit. One outcome of the training was the intervention of a team from the National Traditional Council in a dispute in Voinjama, Lofa County, between Lorma and Mandingo communities and a subsequent agreement between elders and youth from of each community that prevented further fighting.

Peace Committees84

Peace Committees have been part of Liberia’s civil society dispute resolution providers since 2009. In this year, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Civil Affairs Section conducted 15 Consultative Fora, one in each Liberian county, on reconciliation, peacebuilding and conflict resolution. The meetings identified an immediate need to develop sustainable peace structures that would assist in conflict resolution both during and beyond the UNMIS mission. To achieve this end, the Civil Affairs Section established local Peace Committees in 13 of Liberia’s 15 counties. Twelve were based at the county level, and one—Margibi—had nine district-based committees.

As part of the UN’s commitment to move its programming to Liberian government agencies, it coordinates its Peace Committee activities with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, the Committees remain civil society organizations.

Currently, there are Peace Committees in Bomi County (Senjeh, Klay, Dewein, and Suehn Mecca

Districts), Bong County (where there are Early Warning Contact Persons), Gbarpolu County (Bopolu, Belle,

Bokumu, Gbarma, Gounwolala Districts), Grand Bassa (District 1 and 2), Grand Cape Mount

(Commonwealth, Tewor, Gola Konneh, Porkpa Districts), Grand Gedeh (Tchien, Cavalla, Konobo, Putu,

Glio/Twarbo, Gboe/Ploe, Gbao and Bhai Districts), Lofa County (Zorzor, Foyah, Salayea, Voinjama,

Kolahun, Quardu Gboni, Vahun Districts), Margibi County (Cinta, Kakata, Layketa, Marshall Townships), Maryland County (Pleebo and Harper Districts), Nimba County Tappita, Sanniquellie Mahn, Zoegeh, Seclapea Mahn, and Bahn Districts), River Gee County, and River Cess County.

Peace Committees have been especially active in Nimba and Rivercress Counties.

Justification for the location of Peace Committees in counties or districts comes from the belief that local leaders are best situated to mediate inter/intra communal conflicts and because of the respect afforded to them by members of their communities, and the knowledge of local conditions that they possess.

Peace Committees are mandated to provide community-based peacebuilding and reconciliation services to promote peaceful coexistence in society.85 Among cased handled are land, family, sexual and genderbased violence and rape cases.

Members of Committees represent a broad cross-section of Liberian society—community and ethnic leaders, traditional leaders, youth, religious leaders, civil society organizations, women youth and physically-challenged persons. Potential Committee members are nominated by customary authorities, local communities’ government officials or communities at large or are elected by communities. The UN states that they were consensually approved by the communities in which they live.

Depending on the county, Committees are composed of approximately twenty or so members who volunteer their services. (A Committee that this consultant observed hears disputes for nearly two full days each week.)

The UN’s Peacebuilding Office has provided some but not all members of Peace Committees with training in conflict analysis, peace building, dispute resolution approaches, mediation and social mobilization. Training is between 2-5 days in duration. Training is one of the key deliverables of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Some additional training has been provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Carter Center. The NRC also has a mentoring program for some members of Peace Committees. Initially, Peace Committees were expected to address a range of issues and conflicts. However, early on, they discovered that disputes over land made up the preponderance of cases they were asked to help resolve. This has been their focus ever since.

The capacities of Peace Committees to carry out their work vary from county to county. The UN notes that there is an urgent need to strengthen the technical and institutional capacities Peace Committees to assure that they can perform mandated tasks.

The UN provides each county Committee with a small amount of financial assistance to cover Peace Committee members’ meals and transportation expenses to locales where they hear cases, stationary, identity letters, etc. In general, Peace Committees provide mediation assistance free of charge, and are precluded from performing arbitration.103 However, some charge a nominal fee for preparation and delivery of a “citation,” which is given to respondents to “invite” and encourage them to participate in the process.

Facilities for Peace Committee activities are secured in a number of ways: shared space with NGOs, or use of school buildings or a county administration hall. In Nimba County, youth built a building.

Over the past several years, UN financial contributions to local peace committees declined. However, the demand for and pace of the work to resolve disputes increased, especially in the area of land conflicts.

A number of Peace Committees have faced waning participation and turnover of membership. Members of one Committee observed by the consultant said that initially it had over 20 active members. As of March of 2011, there were only about six. This is not an unusual problem for organizations based on services provided by volunteers.

In 2013, the Peacebuilding Fund contributed $150,000 US for future assistance to 104sustain Peace Committees. An issue of concern, however, is how Peace Committees will be sustained if there is a significant future drop in international financial and technical support.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Peacebuilding office is planning to conduct a mapping exercise to identify specific activities of Peace Committees. Targeted counties include: Grand Bassa, Maryland, Nimba, Montserrado and Bong.

The proposed new Draft Local Government Law of 2013 of Liberia, which is currently in draft form and being reviewed by the Constitution Review Committee and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, proposes to create a County Council with a number of committees. One of these would be a County Peace Council, which will focus on peace and reconciliation. It is envisioned that Peace Committees will be institutionalized under this structure.105 Achieving this goal will link political structures and processes with community-based initiatives and provide a mechanism to fund and sustain the work of the Peace Committees by accessing county social development funds.

Liberian Women and Peace Huts

During the last civil war, a number of Liberian women began to erect “Peace Huts” as an alternative to the male-dominated “palava huts” of the customary justice system. The Women in Peacekeeping Network (WIPNET) was involved in the early creation of Peace Huts and more recently, in 2011, UN

  1. IBID

  2. PRF – Project Document, United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), Strengthening Local/Traditional Mechanisms for Peace at County and District Level, n.d.

  3. “An Act to Repeal the Local Government Law Constituting Title 20 Of The Liberian Code of Laws Revised and to

Establish in its Stead a New Title 20 to be known as The Local GovernmenLaw of Liberia 2012, and to amend Chapter 25, Ministry of Internal Affairs, of the Executive Law, and Chapter 4, Administration in the County Area, of The Aborigines Law 0f 1956, to Sustain the National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance Of Liberia”. Submitted to the Governance Commission by the Drafting Committee of the Local Governance Act of the The Law Reform Commission, September 2012.

Women took on supporting the Peace Hut initiative. The program has been financially supported by UN Women. The Peace Hut program has been in operation for ten years.

Peace Huts create a community space for women to address issues especially important to women. The initiative has two components: 1) training in conflict resolution, mediation, leadership and empowerment and provision of services in these areas; and 2) a business skills training, savings and loan component. There is not a written document on the operational module for Peace Huts.

Conflict resolution training for Peace Huts was initially provided by WIPNET, but has now been taken over by MAWOPNET and ABC.

In the area of conflict resolution, Peace Huts provide panels of seven community women who hear cases that are brought to them. Men serve as secretaries at the Peace Huts if women are not literate. Cases are tracked in notebooks. UN Women is looking for additional funding to develop a more sophisticated tracking system.

Issues addressed commonly involve preventing and addressing domestic violence. Peace Huts do not handle cases that involve serious bodily harm or rape. These cases are referred to the police. Women engaged in Peace Huts, also frequently work with police to help prevent and address crimes against women.86

In the area of savings and loans, women participating in the Peace Hut program pay $5, $3 of which goes towards the creation of a savings and loan, and $2 to a social support fund. Women can secure loans from the savings and loan fund to do small business development. Some have done well, but there have also been some problems in repayment of loans. The social support fund is used to support abandoned women.

Currently, Peace Huts are located in Bong, Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu, Grand Gdeh, Rivercess and River Gee Counties. There are plans to expand them to mining areas in Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Bassa/LAC, Bomi, Gbarpolu and Cape Mount Counties, mainly where there are land disputes.

Recently, UN Women received $1 million US from the Peacebuilding fund which will be used to expand the work of the Peace Huts. It will enable the program to take on more sexual and gender-based violence and land issues. New counties that will be focused on include Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount, Sinow and Grand Gedeh.

In the fall of 2013, with the concurrence of UN Women, a decision was made to merge the Peace Hut initiative with the Peace Committees.

The Early Warning and Early Warning Response Network In 2010, the UN’s Liberia Peacebuilding Office, with support from Humanity United, led in the creation of the Early Warning and Early Response Working Group (EWER-WG), an organizational network of 27 organizations including the UN, Government of

Liberia ministries and agencies and civil society organizations and a large network of community based reporters. The mission of EWER-WG is to engage in early detection of issues that could lead to the escalation of violence, identify potential causes of conflicts and make recommendations on now to prevent or mitigate them. The network has several clusters focused on warning, research, response and technology. Early alerts are provided to appropriate government agencies as they are the most likely first responders.87

The highest priority issue for the second half of 2012 was agricultural land and concession conflicts in

Liberia. Other issues of importance identified as a threat to peace are congested slum communities in Monrovia. “As of December, 2012, there are 2,335 reports on the LERN website which are portioned by county, conflict category, and conflict severity. The majority of these reports came from Montserrado County which has the highest incident reports on armed robbery, assault, youth, governance and economic issues, and corruption, showing 690 reports. This high amount of incident reports in Montserrado County can be attributed to the county’s high population density. Around 1.14 million people live in Montserrado, accounting for 32 percent of Liberia’s population”.88

As a result of EWER’s work, a number of development organizations are planning interventions to address conditions in one of the communities, West Point.

Other Liberian Non-governmental Organizations

In addition to the organizations described above, there are several other Liberian NGOs that have provided various kinds of dispute resolution or collaborative decision making assistance to individuals or communities.

The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) works to promote sustainable, transparent, accountable and equitable management of natural resources in Liberia by transforming decision-making and enhancing the participation of civil society, especially local people, in those processes. SDI investigates monitors and documents a range of issues related to extractive industries and their impacts on civil society and local people; gathers information for use in advocacy; facilitates stakeholder dialogues on natural resource issues and management; and supports local communities and organizations as they plan activities to promote sustainable development and defend individual and collective rights.89

Green Advocates was established in 1997 by a group of law students to assist poor rural communities and give them a voice in decisions over natural resources, their use and management. While more of an advocacy than conflict resolution organization, it does provide negotiation assistance. An example is its work with communities impacted by Sime Darby, and negotiations over the concession’s impacts on land, land use and livelihoods. Green Advocates also promotes and advocates for environmental protection legislation and helps to endure that human rights and environmental laws are enforced.90

The Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) was started in 2004, and focuses on empowering women’s groups in rural forest communities in three counties. FCI prepares groups it works with to engage in decision making processes and advocate for their interests as they relate to natural resources and their management.

The Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE) has targeted some specific geographic initiatives on land dispute resolution.

The activities of all of the above organizations they are limited in scale in comparison to some of the initiatives of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) described in the next section.

The long-term sustainability of the Liberian NGOs described above and the valuable services that they provide are problematic and will continue to be in the future. One of the major dilemmas for all of them is securing ongoing funding.

The NRC and the Carter Center/JPC have been actively working to transfer procedures and skills to Liberian civil society organizations, as well as customary authorities and governmental officials. However, additional efforts need to be developed for institutional, financial and technical sustainability of civil society organizations once the INGOs complete their work and leave the country.

Alignment of dispute resolution by Liberian civil society organizations with the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework:

Legitimacy: In general, Liberian civil society organizations – whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or community-based organizations (CBOs) – likely have significant legitimacy in the eyes of members of local communities in which they work and are trusted by their beneficiaries. They commonly provide a civil society alternative to dispute resolution provided by customary authorities, government officials and courts.

It should be noted, however, that some government officials and customary authorities are concerned that NGOs do not keep them apprised of their activities in counties. This was identified as a problem by representatives of government entities in several of the focus groups conducted for this study.

Additionally, there is sometimes competition between these organizations, which on occasion results in tensions between competing local supporters in the communities in which they work. This dynamic results in lowering of trust for the organizations and their personnel.

Accessibility: Liberian NGOs and CBOs are generally highly accessible to beneficiaries in the communities in which they work. However, as there are not many of these organizations, they operate in limited geographic area and their travel is often constrained by weather and road conditions, they are not accessible to a large number of people.

Predictability: Predictability regarding services provided by these organizations is not always clear. This may be due to inadequate explanations by service providers, or a lack of understanding by beneficiaries. Predictability is often not clear regarding timeframes for activities and outcomes. Additionally, these organizations rarely have enough resources for extensive monitoring of implementation and long term outcomes.

Equitability: Most of these organizations strive to ensure that aggrieved parties have reasonable access to sources of information, advice and expertise necessary to engage in a grievance process on fair, informed and respectful terms. They also generally provide services at no cost to beneficiaries.

Transparency: While these organizations try to keep keeping parties to a dispute informed about its progress, and provide sufficient information about the mechanism’s performance to build confidence in its effectiveness and meet any public interest at stake, this is not always the case. Work pressures on staff do not always allow rapid responses.

Rights-compatibility: These organizations try and promote outcomes and remedies in accord with internationally recognized human rights. However, this may not always be the case when more traditional leaders or elders are involved in their programs.

A source of continuous learning: Most organizations of this type do spend some energy monitoring and evaluating their work. However, day to day demands for their services often supersede evaluation and continuous learning efforts.

Based on engagement and dialogue: This is the normal process used by most of these organizations. In general, they place a high value on participation by beneficiaries.

Gaps and Recommendations:

  • A major gap is the general lack of Liberian civil society organizations with a specific focus on dispute resolution.

  • Securing ongoing and predictable funding from either domestic or international sources is an ongoing problem. New efforts need to be made to secure funding for this kind of work. This could either be a minimal fee for service, government subsidies or a filing fee attached to cases filed in court a portion of which could be used to fund civil society (or government connected) dispute resolution services.

  • Lack of training on organizational management, fund raising and specific dispute resolution procedures will also be a gap for civil society organizations that decide to provide these services. INGOs may be able to provide this training.

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