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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.

+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 work in Liberia>

+Monitoring Elections

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 >

+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

Since 2010, the Carter Center Mental Health Program has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to strengthen the national mental health system. The three objectives of the program are to:

1. Train a sustainable and credentialed mental health workforce;

2. Assist the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in establishing and implementing the National Mental Health Policy; and

3. Reduce stigma by supporting the formation of advocacy groups and by empowering service users and their family caregivers.

+Building a Mental Health Support System

Postwar Mental Health

The psychological impact of more than a decade of civil conflict, which ended in 2003, has contributed to a mental health crisis in Liberia that has been intensified by misconceptions, stigma, and the resulting discrimination surrounding mental illnesses; lack of mental health care training for health professionals; and inadequate supplies of necessary medications. The Ebola crisis further exacerbated these needs.

In 2010, building upon nearly two decades of fostering peace and democracy in Liberia, the Carter Center Mental Health Program launched a five-year initiative to help create a sustainable mental health system in Liberia. The initiative has centered upon training a sustainable mental health workforce, assisting Liberia's Ministry of Health in implementing the national mental health policy and plan, as well as reducing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and empowering family caregivers.

Training a Sustainable Mental Health Workforce and Responding to Ebola

From 2010 through 2015, The Carter Center and its partners trained and graduated 166 mental health clinicians in eight groups. The Center's partnership with Liberia's Ministry of Health and the Liberian Board of Nursing and Midwifery also has resulted in an accreditation exam for graduating mental health clinicians. These accredited clinicians now work throughout the country in all sectors of health service delivery, and at least one mental health clinician works in each of Liberia's 15 counties.

Since 2010, program alumni have made a lasting impact in their communities by establishing new services at the ground level. Clinicians have opened 10 clinical practices in prison systems, trained nurse midwives to screen for maternal depression, treated refugees from the Ivory Coast conflict, supported the nation's first mental health consumer organization, worked in Ebola treatment units, and provided psychosocial support to individuals and families affected by the Ebola virus. Some alumni also are educators who return to classrooms to ensure the next generation of primary care workers will be better prepared to deliver mental health care.

Assisting with Implementation of National Mental Health Policy

The Carter Center has provided significant policy support to Liberia's Ministry of Health and its mental health agenda. The program was instrumental in facilitating the drafting of a bill for national mental health act legislation. The bill protects and promotes the human rights of individuals living with mental illnesses and provides a policy platform for future work.

With support from Liberian partners, The Carter Center continues to advocate for the bill's passage. Furthermore, The Carter Center responded to calls from the Ministry of Health in the National Mental Health Plan and helped to establish the Liberian Center for Outcomes Research in Mental Health (LiCORMH). LiCORMH is an independent research body focused on the translation of effective interventions into routine mental health care practice, clinical epidemiology, and community-based participatory research and evaluation.

Reducing Stigma

To reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses and empower family caregivers, The Carter Center has conducted a wide range of anti-stigma training courses. Between 2010 and 2015, The Carter Center conducted trainings for nearly 200 pharmacists, journalists, and law enforcement officers, as well as faith/traditional leaders, users, and caregivers, on anti-stigma knowledge, attitudes, and practices. Anti-stigma efforts have led to the development of the nation's first consumer advocacy group. This group, called Cultivation for Users' Hope, has worked with The Carter Center in training and educating journalists, pharmacists, law enforcement officers, and mental health clinicians about the rights and experiences of people living with mental illnesses.

Current and Next Steps

In 2015, The Carter Center began implementing a three-year initiative to address the psychological effects of Liberia's Ebola crisis and to promote psychosocial health in the country. The project, Supporting Psychosocial Health and Resilience in Liberia, is funded by Japan through the Japanese Social Development Fund, a trust fund administered by the World Bank, and is expected to reach approximately 18,000 beneficiaries in two counties: Montserrado, where the capital Monrovia is located, and Margibi.

Building on its success from 2010 to 2015, The Carter Center will focus on strengthening the capacity of the Liberian institutions assuming responsibility for ongoing training, policy, and anti-stigma efforts during the coming three years. By the end of 2018, The Carter Center will have facilitated the integration of post-basic mental health training into Liberia's national curriculum for nursing schools, and transitioned the training of a specialized mental health workforce to Liberia's Ministry of Health.

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QUICK FACTS: LIBERIA

Size: 111,369 square kilometers


Population: 4,195,666 


Population below poverty line: 64 percent


Life expectancy: 59 years


Ethnic groups: Kpelle, Bassa, Grebo, Gio, Mano, Kru, Lorma, Kissi, Gola, other


Religions: Christian, Muslim, traditional, other, none


Languages: English (official), some 20 ethnic group languages, of which a few can be written or used in correspondence

Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016

 

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