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


International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) Dispute Resolution



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International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) Dispute Resolution


There are three major international and national NGOs that are involved in the area of dispute resolution. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) focuses more on land disputes, while the partnership of the Carter Center (TCC) and Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) focuses on providing legal assistance and dispute resolution help to settle a broader range of civil disputes.



Norwegian Refugee Council

This organization initially began working in Liberia on refugee issues and then transitioned into other civil society projects. In 2006, the NRC launched its Information, Counseling and Legal Assistance Project (ICLA) to support displaced people and returnees to resolve land disputes and secure tenure for their land. It opened field offices in Nimba, Bong, and Margibi Counties in 2008 and Lofa in 2010.91

The principle objective/goal of the ICLA project is to “contribute to durable return and reintegration of IDPs and refugees in order to help ensure peace in Liberia”.112 The project has three pillars: “1) land dispute resolution, 2) building the capacity of individuals, communities and institutions involved in land disputes and 3) advocating for systemic solutions to insecure land tenure in Liberia.” 113

The ICLA project is an institutional land-dispute resolution system in and of itself. It provides investigations of land issues; non-adversarial facilitated-negotiation assistance; land demarcation and surveys and training for its own dispute resolvers, customary authorities and government officials. Dispute resolution assistance is performed by two or more staff members who conduct pre-mediation investigations, mediate disputes and draft agreements.92

The NRC has contract surveyors who provide approximately 18 days of work per month per county to survey land as either part of the mediation process or to finalize agreements, documentation or to facilitate participants obtaining deeds to land in question. Both dispute resolution assistance and surveys are provided free of charge.

The NRC has developed and conducted multiple sessions of two types of training programs – Land and

Property Acquisition (LPA) and Mediation Skills (MS). A third is being piloted on Interest-Based

Negotiation. The goals of all programs are to help create an environment within which land conflicts can be constructively addressed and resolved. The seminars have been presented for its staff, beneficiaries of its services, customary leaders, and government authorities involved in land administration and dispute resolution and members of civil society organizations. In 2010, 2,705 people participated in ICLA training programs.

The final pillar of ICLA’s work is advocacy for systemic solutions to insecure land tenure to strengthen laws, policies and institutions related to the regulation of land in Liberia. To this end, the NRC engages actors in key local and national institutions involved in the administration and governance of land, including the Land Commission where it has been actively involved on the Land Dispute Resolution Task Force.

The Carter Center and Catholic Justice and Peace Commission

Other significant NGOs involved in the resolution of land and a range of other civil disputes are the Carter Center and its Liberian partner, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. TCC has a long involvement in and commitment to Liberia. In 2006, it launched a new Access to Justice Project focused on citizen education, public advocacy, provision of legal advice and dispute resolution. Its multifaceted approach helps citizens learn and know about their; legal rights, gain effective advocacy assistance and skills and access independent mediation services.

The Community Legal Advising (CLA) Program is a partnership program between JPC and TCC. It strives to give citizens more ownership of government and improve the provision of justice. It began in November 2007, in the five southeastern counties, and since has expanded to the central region and Grand Bassa and Montserrado Counties.

CLA legal advisors help people understand and navigate the law and legal systems and help them resolve small-scale conflicts.115 There are both stationary advisors who are based in the primary cities in each county served and mobile advisors that travel from community to community, providing the same services in rural areas. CLA provides mediation of land issues in those counties where NRC is not working, and refers land cases to the NRC in those where the later organization is present.

Some of the other services the legal advisors provide include: managing cases; conducting awareness; monitoring police stations, prisons and courts; and coordinating with other organizations in their county.

In addition to providing legal assistance and mediation, TCC has provided extensive training for government officials, court personnel and customary authorities. Its work with customary authorities has involved presentations of programs on the law, and introduction of mediation procedures that can be used in customary processes.

The NRC and the TCC/JPC have been actively working to transfer procedures and skills to local staff, customary authorities and governmental officials. However, additional arrangements will need to be developed for institutional, financial and technical sustainability once these NGOs complete their work.

Alignment of dispute resolution by international non-governmental organizations and their partners with the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework:

Legitimacy: In general, INGOs have significant legitimacy in the eyes of the communities in which they work and are trusted by their beneficiaries. They provide a civil society alternative to dispute resolution provided by customary authorities, government officials and courts. Staff members of some governmental agencies, however, seem to resent these organizations because of their perceived abundant resources, and belief that the services they provide should be conducted by Liberian organizations or by the government.

Accessibility: These INGOs are accessible to a significant number of beneficiaries in the communities in which they work. However, they work in only a limited number of counties. Because of their resources, they often have more access to communities than local NGOs during times of bad weather and road conditions.

Predictability: Predictability regarding services provided by these organizations is generally fairly clear. They try to present predictable timeframes for activities and outcomes. These organizations also do extensive monitoring and evaluation of their work, part of which is required by donors for ongoing funding.

Equitability: All 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



115Bringing Justice to Rural Liberians, One Village at a Time, August 20, 2012. http://www.cartercenter.org/news/features/p/conflict_resolution/rlrc-bringing-justice-to-rural-liberians.html; and” Carter Center Helping Traditional Leaders in Liberia Resolve Land Disputes.”

http://www.voanews.com/content/carter-center-helping-traditional-leaders-in-liberia-resolve-land-disputes95410304/154701.html



and respectful terms. They are well known for their educational programs on national and international laws, and also are strong advocates for women’s rights. Additionally, they generally provide services at no cost to beneficiaries.

Transparency: These organizations are generally successful in being transparent about their work and the services they provide. This helps build credibility for their staff, the dispute resolution assistance they offer and its effectiveness.

Rights-compatibility: These organizations actively strive to promote outcomes and remedies in accord with internationally recognized human rights. They are strong advocates for women’s rights. However, this is not always possible when more traditional leaders or elders are involved in their programs.

A source of continuous learning: Most organizations of this type spend significant energy and resources monitoring and evaluating their work, and making appropriate modification to programs and activities. Some of this is available for concerned members of the public.

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 for the dispute resolution services is the limited population and geographic areas that they serve. They currently operate in only a few counties. To some extent this is due to their mandates which authorize them to work with selected populations, such as refugees and IDPs, and another factor is the need for additional funding to expand service delivery



  • Another gap will continue to be the speed at which they can transfer skills and models for services beyond their current predominantly Liberian staff to other Liberians. All of the programs have extensive training programs and experienced trainers in the law, provision of legal assistance and dispute resolution procedures; and are currently conducting seminars in many locales for government officials, customary authorities and civil society organizations. While each of these organizations should conduct as many programs as possible for the above potential service providers prior to the date when they exit the country, another and more targeted focus could be training staff for institutions selected for implementation by the MOJ.



  • A future gap will be opportunities for job placement of staff of these organizations when they leave the country. The Government should offer assistance in this area, by hiring experienced dispute resolvers to work in Government Ministries and agencies, and facilitating job fairs or and other hiring opportunities for them to seek employment in the private sector or civil society groups that are providing dispute resolution services.



  • The NRC provides technical assistance for demarcations and surveys as means to help resolve disputes. The Government should consider setting up a similar technical assistance for its initiatives to resolve land disputes.



  • These organizations have developed standardized procedures and related forms for intake, recording of data on disputes, and memorialization of agreements as well as databases to track types of cases and parties, dynamics of resolution, outcomes and other trends. Currently, only the Land

Coordination Centers are developing these resources. The government should seek the assistance of these INGOs to transfer this information to its new dispute resolution initiatives.



  • A future issue and gap will be funding for the successor organizations of these INGOs. The assistance and expertise of these organizations should be solicited by the Government to develop long-term funding strategies to develop sustainable dispute resolution initiatives.




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