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Improving Access to Justice: Liberia

The Carter Center is helping the government to ensure justice for all Liberian citizens, not just those who can afford it. Without equal treatment and equal access to some form of acceptable process for everyone, old resentments and inequalities will linger.

Where the formal justice system is not yet working or accepted, transitional alternatives must be found to give local people access to justice that is consistent with national legal principles. To this end, the Center is working to strengthen the capacity of traditional dispute resolution processes (see Policy Dialogue and Reform) and is supporting the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) in a community-based pilot project that provides concrete, practical solutions to everyday justice problems in underserved rural areas. The JPC is a national organization that has historically engaged in human rights monitoring and advocacy.  Together, the JPC and The Carter Center have created a cadre of 32 Community Legal Advisers (CLAs) who receive ongoing training and monitoring and are currently working in Bong, Lofa, Nimba, and the five southeastern counties, helping to guide people through the different formal, informal, and traditional means available for settling disputes. They work closely with lawyers on staff and are trained in legal procedure, labor law, family law, basic criminal law, mediation training, and advocacy skills.

Specifically, CLAs:

  • Provide information on rights and the law;
  • Help people interact with government, courts, and traditional authorities;
  • Mediate small-scale conflicts; and
  • Advocate for justice.

Community legal advisers have offices in the primary cities in each county of operation.  In addition, each county has a specified "mobile team" to visit extremely rural areas and to ensure that geographic contiguity to primary cities is not a precondition for the quality of justice one receives.

As former President Jimmy Carter has written (PDF):

An often overlooked yet critical element to achieving this aim [of post-conflict reconstruction] is the prioritization of the restructuring and empowerment of community-based justice mechanisms that have been damaged or discredited by the war. Doing so gives ordinary people an active stake in the transition to a more just society and provides some means for people to protect themselves, their communities, and their country from injustices that can lead back to war… Despite the successes of [community-based primary health care approaches], a comparable idea that access to justice should be rooted in community-based services has yet to be embraced in a similar manner.

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Carter Center Photos (Click to enlarge)
Liberian women learn about their rights under new Liberian laws during a SEWODA workshop in Maryland, held in April 2007.

liberia improving conflict resolution
(Click to enlarge)
The Crusaders for Peace help to educate Liberians on changes in the law through traditional cultural performances.

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