Carter Center Slideshow: Bringing Justice to Rural Liberians, One Village at a Time

  • Community justice advisor J. Matthew Cooke meets with clients Wreejay Nyantee and her ex-husband, Moses Sayweah, to inform them of the new law on women's inheritance rights and help resolve their dispute. (Photos: D. Hakes/The Carter Center)

  • Village Townmaster and Chief John B. Boi poses in front of his house in Bor Town. Village elders and women played a critical role in making sure the agreement was honored, including witnessing the land distribution. Their participation as esteemed community members gave the agreement legitimacy in support of the new national laws.

  • Community justice advisor J. Matthew Cooke walks toward Bor Town. To reach this isolated village of 200-300 residents, Cooke travels 60 miles each way by motorbike, often during the rainy season when roads become virtually impassable. There is no road into the village, so he parks his bike and crosses a small "monkey bridge" by foot and takes the path to the hilltop where Bor Town is located.

  • Children pose on the "monkey bridge" that crosses a river and leads to Bor Town.

For residents of Bor Town, Grand Bassa County, Liberia, a trip to the nearest magistrate's office to solve a dispute isn't just an expense that many in this subsistence-farming community cannot afford; it is also a major trip - eight hours walking by footpath, one way.

The Carter Center works in Bor Town and other rural communities across Liberia to provide free practical solutions to everyday justice problems, in places where many people are unaware of their rights under the law. A team of community justice advisors travels by motorbike and foot to conduct workshops on rule of law messages and mediate cases for clients.

Bor Town resident Wrejay Nyantee, 58, attended one such workshop on marriage and property laws and learned that she had a right to half of all property belonging to her now ex-husband. He willingly had divided their houses, orange and rice farms, and some land, but wanted to keep a rubber farm for himself, since they can be quite profitable.

At first the ex-husband refused to discuss the case, but after growing pressure from community members, many of whom also had attended the workshop, he finally agreed to talk to a community justice advisor from the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), the Carter Center's local partner.

"It took three months of sitting between them and teaching them about the law to mediate this dispute. It involved a lot of listening and working to guide the conversation toward reconciling differences," said justice advisor J. Matthew Cooke. "I helped them to resolve their problem themselves and made peace between them. It also made peace in the community, and made other communities want to know how to get that peace."

A ceremony was held to officially divide the land, and Bor Town's elders, women, and youth served as witnesses to the land distribution.

"I tell people to contact me if they have a problem so I can put them in touch with the human rights man - the JPC," said Nyantee. "In Liberia, small things become big things, but through the JPC man, this did not become a big thing."

The village continues to live in peace, and Nyantee and her ex-husband remain on good terms.

"Nyantee now has high expectations that she will be self-sufficient and make more money from the rubber farm," said Cooke. "She told me on several occasions that she will not have to depend on someone else for her livelihood. The man realizes that no one in Liberia is above the law. Every time I go into the community now, he treats me like a friend and as someone he can trust on these matters."

"The goal of my work is to see and create peace in communities," said Cooke.

Since 2007, more than 5,000 cases have been opened by the Carter Center's community justice advisors across Liberia, giving access to justice to many who otherwise could not afford or access it. With support from USAID, and with the backing of the Ministry of Justice, this project plays a significant role in building the peace in rural Liberia where there was little trust in the formal legal system in the aftermath of the country's civil war.

Related Resources
Read more about the Carter Center's Access to Justice work in Liberia >
Read more about community justice advisors in Liberia >

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