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Liberia

At the end of Liberia's civil war in 2003, The Carter Center affirmed its long-standing commitment to the people of Liberia and joined them to help rebuild their country and consolidate the peace. When Liberia's Ebola epidemic struck in 2014-15, the Center shifted its focus and resources to address the crisis at hand and provide long-term aftercare.

The Carter Center has observed the 2005 and 2011 national elections and has implemented innovative programs to support access to justice and access to information, and to address the mental health crisis caused by the conflict and epidemic. The Carter Center's current interventions build on years of engagement in Liberia that includes conflict mediation from 1992 through 1997, strengthening civil society institutions, and observing elections in 1997.

Waging Peace

Since 2006, The Carter Center has worked at the invitation of the government of Liberia to help educate citizens on the rule of law and provide informal justice services to historically marginalized rural citizens.

The Carter Center has worked with the post-civil war Liberian government and interested parties to craft and facilitate implementation of Liberia's first access to information law.

+Access to Information in Liberia

Recognizing the importance of the right of access to information in post-conflict Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed the nation's first Freedom of Information law on September 2010. In advance of the law's historic passage, the Center's Global Access to Information Program was invited to support the process of establishing an access to information regime in Liberia. Since beginning our work in 2009, the Center has provided technical assistance to civil society, media, government, and the Independent Information Commission in the law's implementation, oversight, enforcement, and use. Additionally, we completed a study of barriers facing women in the exercise of the right to information, convened stakeholders to develop recommendations for overcoming the identified obstacles, and are now working with key partners to implement solutions to help overcome related gender asymmetries.

Learn more about the Center's Access to Information work in Liberia >

+Access to Justice in Liberia

A critical element of Liberia's postwar reconstruction is to re-establish the rule of law. The country's 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy (PDF) emphasizes the need to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness and integrity of legal and judicial institutions, stating that:

The justice system currently suffers from chronic capacity constraints. The lack of human, material, and financial resources has severely hampered the administration and delivery of justice. In order for justice to be served, those who administer justice must be properly trained, equipped, and resourced.

Since 2006, building on its long history of engagement in Liberia, The Carter Center has been implementing an access to justice project in Liberia in response to these critical needs and invitations by the government. 

Learn more about the Center's Access to Justice project in Liberia >

+Monitoring Elections

2017 Elections

Following an invitation from the National Election Commission of Liberia, The Carter Center launched an international election observation mission for the country’s October 2017 national election.

The contest, to replace two-term President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, saw Liberia’s first transition from one democratically elected president to another in more than 70 years. Voters also went to the polls to choose members of the House of Representatives.

The Carter Center’s observation efforts began with assessment missions in 2016, an observation of the voter-registration process in early 2017, and the establishment of a core team of election experts and long-term observers on the ground in August 2017.

On election day itself – as 20 candidates vied to replace Sirleaf – the Center deployed 50 observers across all 15 of Liberia’s counties. The delegation was led by Catherine Samba-Panza, former president of the Central African Republic; Jason Carter, chairman of The Carter Center Board of Trustees; and Jordan Ryan, vice president of the Center’s peace programs.

Observers reported long lines and confusion about which voters belonged in which polling places, but no evidence of widespread fraud or violence.

Senator George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai won the most votes and the right to compete in a runoff, which was delayed by Liberia’s Supreme Court after some parties filed suit, alleging fraud. The Supreme Court ultimately found no evidence of problems significant enough to affect the election results.

On Dec. 26, Liberians again went to the polls, choosing Weah as their next leader.

The Carter Center deployed 45 observers for the runoff, this time led by Ryan and Aminata Touré, former prime minister of Senegal. They found the process to be generally well-conducted, though they offered some recommendations for improvement.

2011 Elections

The Carter Center observed Liberia's Oct. 11, 2011, presidential and legislative elections, which marked an important test for the country's transition from civil war to democratic, constitutional government. Despite considerable challenges, Carter Center observers reported that the voting process was peaceful, orderly, and remarkably transparent.

No candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote, so a presidential runoff was scheduled for Nov. 8, 2011.

The Center noted that the runoff election was conducted in general accordance with Liberia's legal framework and its international obligations for democratic elections. Regrettably, the election was marred by an opposition boycott, violence on the eve of the election, and low voter turnout. From a technical perspective, the election was well-administered, and on the whole, polling staff carried out their duties admirably throughout the country.

The Center remained in Liberia after the election and reported that the tallying process was carried out smoothly throughout the country, with greater adherence to procedures and fewer irregularities than in the first round of the elections.

2005 Elections

Liberians across the country were eager to participate in the historic 2005 elections, which were the first after a 14-year civil war and two-year transition period. More than 1.3 million people, about 90 percent of the eligible population, registered to vote.

The Carter Center and its London-based partner, Electoral Reform International Services, implemented a series of voter education initiatives, domestic election-monitor training, and capacity building of political parties, with the support of The Carter Center UK.

The Center also deployed long-term observers before and after the polls, with a larger short-term delegation observing polling on Oct. 11, 2005.

Since no presidential candidate garnered a majority, a runoff election was scheduled for Nov. 8, 2005, between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Manneh Weah. During the period before the runoff, Carter Center observers and staff traveled throughout the country to observe campaigning.

The Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute partnered to send a 28-member international observer delegation to the presidential runoff election.

The delegation's assessment of the runoff was largely positive, with only a few problems and irregularities noted. Shortly after the polls closed, however, Weah's CDC party filed a complaint with the National Elections Commission, alleging widespread electoral fraud. The Carter Center was the only organization to stay in country through the complaints process, and Center staff attended all of the CDC and other hearings. The complaint was eventually dismissed after the election commission determined that evidence presented by the CDC did not constitute massive fraud.

On Nov. 23, the commission officially announced that Sirleaf had received 59.6 percent of the votes, making her the next president of Liberia.

1997 Presidential Election

After three pre-electoral assessment missions in 1997, The Carter Center sent a 40-person delegation to observe the July 1997 presidential election.

The delegation concluded that the process went smoothly on election day, noting the large number of Liberians who voted peacefully. Problems reported by delegation members included lack of published registration lists at the time of the election and an unevenness of candidates' access to campaign resources.

Charles Taylor won the race with 75 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, former U.N. official Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, won 9.5 percent. Taylor's government was not able to uphold its promise of improved human rights and governance, and the country was plunged back into civil war within a few years.

Chaos continued in Liberia until August 2003, when a comprehensive peace agreement ended 14 years of civil war. This prompted the resignation of President Taylor, who was exiled to Nigeria. The National Transitional Government of Liberia — composed of rebel, government, and civil society groups — assumed control in October 2003, with Gyude Bryant given a two-year mandate to oversee efforts to rebuild Liberia and to steer the country toward elections.

Almost two years after the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, the end of fighting throughout most of Liberia represented a remarkable change in the lives of the country's population and a significant achievement for Liberians and the international community. Despite this progress, the country still faced numerous challenges leading up to the October 2005 elections. Past ethnic and regional tensions and the large numbers of internally displaced people and refugees in the region were just a few of the factors that complicated the voting process.

Since 2006, building on its long history of engagement in Liberia, The Carter Center has been implementing an access to justice project in Liberia in response to these critical needs and invitations by the government.

View Carter Center election reports for Liberia >

+Civil Society and Democracy and Governance

Citizen Election Observation

Nonpartisan, evidence-based election observation by civil society organizations is an integral part of the international human rights system and helps ensure genuine democratic elections.

During Liberia’s 2017 presidential and legislative elections, The Carter Center supported the Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON), an umbrella organization that deployed citizen observers to all of Liberia’s 73 electoral districts.

Because of its work during the 2017 electoral process, LEON emerged as a recognized and respected voice on election-related issues in Liberia. It filled an important void in civil society by bringing together a broad range of civil society voices and deploying well-trained long-term Liberian election observers across the country for the first time in Liberia’s history.

Supporting Civil Society to Strengthen Democracy and Governance

Since the 2017 elections, The Carter Center has continued to work with LEON to gather and share information about governmental issues, encourage citizen engagement, build confidence in government, and support peaceful electoral processes. Through its initiatives, the project seeks to strengthen citizen voices to advance electoral reform and democratic governance.

The project includes a focus on women, youth, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities and is focused on six main areas of activity:

1. Advocating for electoral reform.
2. Encouraging constitutional reforms.
3. Observing legislative by-elections.
4. Monitoring the legislative branch to improve transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement.
5. Conducting surveys and discussion groups to ensure citizen input on legislative and government programs.
6. Monitoring the effects of social media on Liberia’s democracy.

+Conflict Resolution

The Carter Center has worked to foster peace and democracy in Liberia since March 1991. The Center's Monrovia office opened in 1992, closed during full-scale fighting in 1996, and reopened to observe the 1997 presidential election. During this time, President Carter and staff supported regional mediators to reach various peace agreements, the final one of which led to the special elections of 1997. At the same time, working with Liberian partners and the Institute for Multitrack Diplomacy, the Center also established LIPCORE, a group of potential peacemakers representing many different warring factions.

In 1998, the Center began a multifaceted democracy and governance program that:

1. Established an independent printing press, owned and operated cooperatively by Liberia's media houses under the nonprofit corporation Free Press Inc.;

2. Developed training programs for Liberian journalists;

3. Strengthened and expanded the Justice and Peace Commission's rural offices to train human rights monitors and paralegals;

4. Provided financial and technical support for Liberian human rights nongovernmental
organizations; and

5. Monitored the political and human rights situation in Liberia.

In September 2000, widespread human rights abuses led the Center to close its Monrovia office. At the time, President Carter wrote in a letter to President Charles Taylor that the government of Liberia's actions since 1997 had created an environment that thwarted efforts to strengthen the new democracy and advance human rights.

After the Monrovia office closed, President Carter and the Center continued to speak out on human rights abuses in Liberia.

In 2002, the Conflict Resolution Program met with the Liberian government and opposition leaders to discuss possible moves toward peace talks under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States in Abuja, Nigeria. While those talks were not immediately fruitful, the departure of Charles Taylor led to new elections and the ascension to power of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was one of the 2002 attendees.

Fighting Disease

The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program in Liberia aims to strengthen and sustain a public mental health system in partnership with the government of Liberia and local stakeholders. Activities in Liberia support the program’s strategic goals, including:

1. Workforce Sustainability: Supporting the development of a self-sustaining system for training, credentialing, and continuing education in behavioral health managed by Liberian institutions.

2. Human Rights and Inclusion: Helping demonstrate improved social inclusion and advancement of rights of people with behavioral health disorders to obtain needed services and supports.

3. Law and Policy: Providing technical assistance to fully realize the country’s Mental Health Law by developing, implementing, and enforcing relevant statutes, regulations, policies and budget allocations.

+Building a Mental Health Support System

Mental Health Program Responds to COVID-19 in Liberia

The Carter Center Mental Health Program in Liberia benefits from knowledge gained during the Ebola outbreak of 2014-15. As a trusted member of Liberia’s Incident Management System that manages the country’s response, the program provides technical assistance to the country’s COVID-19 response. The program collaborates with the government on strategies aimed at reducing acute stress or exacerbated mental health problems associated with containment measures, such as lockdowns and quarantines in affected counties. Further, it supports mental health professionals in their provision of a range of mental health and psychosocial services (MHPSS), provides administrative support to the MHPSS pillar, and ensures integration of services across the response pillars. The Mental Health Program in Liberia has been working on the response pillar headed by the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, the ministry leading welfare and response efforts, and on the Incident Management System to ensure that mental health and psychosocial support are included in all aspects of the response.

History of the Liberia Mental Health Program

A devastating civil conflict from 1989 through 1997 and 2001-2003 took a toll on Liberia and its health system. Increasing mental health and psychosocial challenges throughout the country, misconceptions and stigma around mental illnesses ― and the resulting discrimination ― further intensified a mental health crisis.

In 2010, building upon nearly two decades of the Carter Center’s efforts consolidating peace and democracy in Liberia, the Mental Health Program launched an initiative to help address this pervasive and growing challenge. This effort to create a sustainable public mental health system in Liberia focused on holistically building capacity to mitigate the impact of future crises on mental health and psychosocial well-being.

The Center’s Mental Health Program in Liberia assisted with drafting and responding to recommendations in the 2009 National Mental Health Policy, assisted the Ministry of Health in developing and implementing the 2016-2021 National Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan, spearheaded efforts to reduce stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and trained registered nurses, midwives, and physician’s assistants as mental health clinicians,

Recognizing a care gap for children and adolescent mental health, the program expanded the scope of workforce training to improve child and adolescent mental health services and the enabling environments where children grow and learn. The program developed a cadre of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Clinicians, trained teachers and school administrators to identify social, emotional, and behavioral problems and promote positive learning and development, and incorporated neuroscience into teacher education. In collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO); the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection; the Ministry of Health; and other partners, the program adapted tools to augment these efforts and embedded them into institutional processes to sustain them. For example, the Liberian School Mental Health Manual, which was adapted from the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean School Mental Health Manual, will be embedded in national Liberian training programs, such as pre-service teacher education.

The program played an active role supporting and promoting mental health during and following the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, when trauma and stigma were further exacerbated. These events exposed a shortage of mental health practitioners and services, limited mental health training for other health professionals, and an inadequate supply of necessary psychotropic medications. Addressing the psychological impacts of Ebola, the program’s 2015-2018 World Bank-supported project, called Supporting Psychosocial Health and Resilience in Liberia, included educating Ebola first responders on self-care and stress relief; training health workers in the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Program Intervention Guide; training health and social workers on family psychoeducation and psychological first aid; conducting community healing dialogues with Ebola-affected communities; and supporting the creation of peer support groups for people with mental illness and epilepsy.

 

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QUICK FACTS: LIBERIA

Size: 111,369 square kilometers

Population: 5,073,296

Population below poverty line: 54.1%

Life expectancy: 64.7 years

Ethnic groups: Kpelle, Bassa, Grebo, Gio, Mano, Kru, Lorma, Kissi, Gola, Krahn, Vai, Mandingo, Gbandi, Mende, Sapo, other Liberian, and other African and non-African

Religions: Christian, Muslim, Traditional, and others

Languages: English (official), some ethnic group languages, few of which can be written or used in correspondence

Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2020

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