Community Justice: A Tool For Real Justice In Liberia
Last week, we convened an interactive forum on informal justice issues in Liberia. This was done in partnership with the Hague Institute for Innovating Law (HIIL). The discussions and working sessions were very enlightening and these are some of the things I will like to highlight as part of this experience.
In Liberia, there are two kinds of justice systems at work; the formal (statutory) and informal systems of law. We come from a bitter past that has connections to the question of justice and how people access justice. Our formal system of Law finds expression in our constitution – formal court system, for example. The informal system of law – interior law encapsulates tribal arrangements provided for in our interior law – chiefs hear and judge matters based on customs and traditional practices. The duality of systems of law, often leads to clashes or tend to complement each other.
There’s a lot of clamoring about the formal justice system; – it is susceptible to corruption, slow, expensive, and complex that ordinary citizens don’t see any need to make use of it. In the absence of confidence in the formal justice systems for the reasons above, many Liberians rely on the informal systems. “But the informal systems have challenges that interfere with access to justice”, one of the Speakers noted. For example, in some cultures or traditions, women are objectified and treated as inferiors to their male counterparts. This is when the formal justice system, which has provisions to protect the every Liberian citizen, becomes useful.
In a country like Liberia, where there’s a lack of public trust in the formal justice system, there needs to be increased work to innovate and develop efficient informal justice mechanisms at the level of the community. The Accountability Community Justice Project is one of those kinds of innovative projects using citizens as conflict mediators. One thing I find very interesting about this method is that it leads to peaceful coexistence even after disputes have been resolved. Unlike the formal court system, where cases are adjudicated resulting into penalties for wrongdoers, the system of community mediation ensures that justice is served in all its fairness and that parties make peace with each other. This brings in the humanness of mediation that the formal system lacks. I can commit an offense. Understand that I’m wrong and know that there are repercussions but I can still live together, in peace, with the person/people I offended. This is as easy as it sounds but the Lab is working to ensure its mediation team achieves this in every case.