International Development Law Organization

Making in-roads in Liberia: Reflections from Monrovia

Teresa Mugadza, IDLO’s Country Director for Liberia. When I took up post in Monrovia last summer, what struck me most was that I found a committed and cooperative judiciary, but one handicapped by a lack of resources. Often, people erroneously think that Liberia has no legal framework, but that is not true. The real challenge is under-resourcing, which limits what the judiciary can actually do.

There were a lot of delays in the court system, particularly with respect to Criminal Court E, the special court set up to prosecute SGBV, yet these were down equally to a lack of resources as well as inefficiencies. It is true that the court faces difficulties in processing cases, in fact a second judge was assigned to help with the backlog, but there is still only one courtroom so they cannot sit concurrently. In terms of infrastructure, there is tiny cramped room for filing, without a proper filing system, making it hard to locate documents.

In fact, one of the areas where I would say that IDLO has made the most difference in 2016 has been around support to court administration, in terms of establishing standards and procedures and training staff. In the jury management office itself, our consultant identified a number of challenges, in particular, in relation to a lack of common understanding of how to run a jury office. He went on to develop a manual on procedures and created systems to objectively select jurors; work is continuing on consolidation of the jury management system and the creation of a national juror database.

In Criminal Court E, our work has been to support the judge and her staff to improve efficiency and effectiveness through continued education for the staff of the court, collaborative forums with all the actors in the court to identify challenges and propose solutions as well as facilitating the understanding of databases through computer literacy programs for the Court’s staff. We identified, and are addressing, capacity gaps for the judge herself and other circuit court judges where they were facing challenges introducing international standards into the management of SGBV cases, for example how to make the pre-trial process more efficient.

We have also made in-roads with female officers in the police force, particularly from the women and children’s protection section. Traditionally, women have been under-represented in the force and not as qualified, as women generally have fewer educational opportunities in Liberia, which also translates to their earning lower salaries. Our program, through providing funds and opening doors, has afforded female officers opportunities to increase their literacy and knowledge, and on completion of their studies, their career options within the LNP and elsewhere.

We have come a long way since June 2016 when most of our work actually began. Prior to this, we had focussed primarily on conducting a research project to strategically inform our activities in promoting accountability for SGBV, based on the gaps we identified through this process. The research study looked at the experience of survivors of SGBV, particularly in terms of access to justice.

IDLO’s research on the experiences of accessing justice for SGBV survivors showed that, in 2015, of the 1396 cases of SGBV reported at one-stop centers, only 267 were taken to the police, and 199 were indicted. At the end of the research, only two of those cases had been heard in court.

The reasons given for the lack of prosecutions compared with the number of reported assaults centred around the legal process being too long, the difficulties for survivors in chasing their own cases, and problems relating to the perpetrator being able to negotiate payment with the survivor – which accounted for 85% of cases dropped. Somewhat surprisingly, given its internal nature, there has been a lot of interest in our research and requests for further studies in other counties, as it is apparently the first time that anyone has tried to analyse this data.

In the relatively short time that we have been operational in Liberia in 2016, I am very proud of the engagement we have had with the judiciary, we have started a conversation with them whereby they have acknowledged that there are ways and opportunities to do things better. I believe that this level of engagement has been based on the fact that we work in partnership with them.

IDLO’s approach is to strengthen institutions and build capacity of individuals, helping create systems that work; if we were not there tomorrow, the changes we have made would continue.

It’s also very rewarding to hear from the Chief Justice his satisfaction with our relationship. Whether in a bilateral meeting or in public remarks, he’s expressed his appreciation for our work on a number of occasions.