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Local Partnerships Key to Success of Liberia Access to Justice Project

In rural Liberia, the formal justice system often is not yet working or accepted, and many communities lack legal resources such as a police station or magistrate. They turn instead to village chiefs and elders to keep the peace.

The Carter Center works in these areas to provide support and education to improve the quality of local justice, helping local people access justice that is respectful of local traditions but consistent with national legal principles. Partnerships with traditional leaders like Mama Tumeh, head of Liberia's Traditional Women United for Peace, are crucial to the success of the Access to Justice Project.

"The Carter Center has empowered us traditional people to talk about the issues that affect us and to solve our problems peacefully," says Tumeh. "There is a lot of enthusiasm to learn more."

  • Mama Tumeh welcomes a Carter Center delegation to her village in 2011. She has partnered with the Center since 2006 to engage traditional communities in discussions about their role in the new Liberia and ways to ensure that national laws are implemented locally. (Photo: The Carter Center/D. Hakes)

  • A sign points to Mama Tumeh's village from the main road between capital Monrovia and Cape Mount. Beyond her role leading Traditional Women for Peace in Liberia, Mama Tumeh has taken a leadership role in discussing women's rights and harmful practices within traditional women's groups at the national level. (Photo: The Carter Center/D. Hakes)

  • Carter Center representatives visit with Paramount Chief of Bong County Arthur Wennah before the Center and local partner presented rule of law messages to the community. (Photo: The Carter Center/D. Hakes)

  • Over many years of engagement in Liberia, The Carter Center has developed long-lasting, strong partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, including the National Council of Chiefs and Elders, whose Monrovia headquarters is pictured here. (Photo: The Carter Center/D. Hakes)

  • Young women are the largest group to use Carter Center-supported community justice advisors in rural communities in Liberia. Advisors travel from village to village providing free legal advice and helping Liberians solve problems through peaceful dialogue. (Photo: The Carter Center/N. Farese)

Workshops, discussions, and dramas sponsored by The Carter Center and civil society partner organizations including Traditional Women United for Peace help women and men learn about and understand new laws, including the provisions of a new aggravated rape law. Other new laws aimed at empowering women have established that women in customary marriages can own and inherit property, a wife of a deceased husband is no longer considered to be his family's property, children born out of wedlock are the responsibility of both parents, and a dowry is a gift that does not have to be returned if a marriage ends.

Mama Tumeh's support has been critical to the Center's work in this post-conflict country, where many citizens, especially rural women, have never been granted or even demanded these rights.

The Center places an emphasis on increasing the ability of partner organizations to affect change on their own. Working with leaders like Mama Tumeh, the Center becomes a valuable bridge between the needs and concerns of the government and traditional leaders, including women and youth.

"In this way, the Center has been able bring the everyday concerns of rural citizens closer to the policy making process," said Tom Crick, associate director of the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program. "Given Liberia's history of division and exclusion, this process helps bring the interests of all citizens closer together."

When the initiative launched, Mama Tumeh helped connect the Center to what is now called the National Council of Chiefs and Elders, a key partner along with the Ministry of International Affairs. Together they work to engage traditional communities in discussions about their role in the new Liberia and ways to ensure the national laws are implemented locally.

"I encourage my fellow traditional people to get more engaged in working with The Carter Center. That has been happening and it has made a difference in those communities," said Mama Tumeh.

Read more about the Carter Center's work in Liberia >

"Before you can stand, you have to hold the hand of a person. The Carter Center is that hand."

Woman in Mama Tumeh's village in Brewerville, Liberia

More Information

More than 138,000 people in 1,200 rural communities have been reached by direct civic education through The Carter Center and its partners through dramas, community forums, and radio programs that "tell the story" of the country's rule of law.

Since 2007, more than 6,000 cases across Liberia have been opened by community justice advisors from the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission with support from The Carter Center, giving access to justice to many who otherwise could not afford or access it. Young women are the largest group that uses the community justice advisors.

The Center's staff also train and support rural community leaders in alternative dispute resolution techniques in partnership with the Land Commission.

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