Barely seven months since its opening in March this year, the Community Justice Team (CJT) in Kakata has recorded and mediated over sixty (60) civil cases of minor offenses.
The CJT uses an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism at a cost-free center established to help citizens reduce the extensive bureaucratic impediments in accessing the formal justice system by mediating their cases.
This project is funded by the governments of Sweden and Ireland through UNDP/OHCHR Rule of Law Justice and Security Program in Partnership with Accountability Lab.
The lack of legitimacy, affordability, accessibility and timeliness of the formal justice system in Liberia often prevents any feasible recourse to the law for most citizens.
“The communities and the local authorities- including the joint security and justice actors in Kakata have been very receptive and supportive to our work. We have received more than 60 cases so far. The most common of them are theft, misapplication and sometimes, domestic violence…” said William Vincent, Lead Mediator, Community Justice Team in Kakata.
Established to cater for the over 5,000 residents of the Bassa Community in Kakata, Margibi County, the CTJ is now receiving complaints from neighbouring communities in the City. The Centre has nine mediators, 4 females and 5 males working.
Vincent says the team is also strategizing on carrying out mobile awareness and sensitization in various communities to inform the people about the free mediation service being offered.
19year old Washington T. Nanyan, repairs phone and is a resident of Bassa Community. He unknowingly bought a stolen phone from a friend. The friend, Joshua had initially taken the smartphone (Techno L-9) to Washington for minor repairs and programming and was charged $10 USD for the service.
Few days later, according to Washington, Joshua came and requested Washington to rather purchase the phone because he (Joshua) couldn’t afford the $10 USD service cost.
“It was at that point I gave him L$1,500 ($10 USD), added to the other money ($10 USD) that he owed me. So, I paid $20 USD in total for the phone; but I didn’t know it was a stolen phone.
Later, the phone owner saw the phone with Washington and complained him to the centre. The mediators invited the parties concerned, including Joshua for inquiry. He said following the explanation, it was established that the phone was stolen by Joshua.
Washington said the team ably settled the matter without cost and void of going to the police or court. “I think it was good that they settle it here, because if we had gone to the police, we were going to pay money and they were also going to put me in jail for buying stolen item. But, the Community Justice Team settled the case here at no cost whatsoever,” he said.
Extensive bureaucratic red tape coupled with transportation, legal costs and opportunity costs of foregone work make the justice system not only physically but also financially unavailable to many Liberians.
Evetta Kesselee, 18, and Patience Dixon, 20, are close friends. They live in the same neighborhood and regularly visited each other.
Not until May this year, when confusion broke out between Evetta and Patience which eventually led to a fist fight. The dual refused to speak to each other. The matter involved a man who seemed to be dating both women at the same time.
Evetta, not satisfied with the enmity between them, complained to a mediator at the Community Justice Team.
The CJT invited the parties and the matter was amicably resolved. “I decided to go to the Center because a friend told me that they can look into (mediate) cases free of charge. If we had gone to the police, we would have been asked to register our case and maybe, transport the officer assigned to make the arrest,” said Evetta.
Patience expressed appreciation to the CJT for the intervention. She and Evetta have re-kindled their friendship through this initiative.
Mediators are carefully selected from within the community representing its demography. They work closely with residents to resolve disputes before they are taken to the police or reach the point of violence.
They also work with local leaders and the Liberia National Police within the area to identify cases that can be referred to the Community Justice Center.
It helps the communities resolve issues in an effective and sustainable manner and builds trust and understanding using the bottom to top approach and contributing to peace and ensuring accountability over time.
The Community Justice Teams (CJTs) are actively working in four densely populated communities in West Point and Logan Town in Montserrado County, Bassa Community in Kakata, Margibi County as well as Demieta / Kokoyah Road in Gbarnga, Bong County.
They are trained by Accountability Lab Liberia with support from UNDP.
Community Justice Teams have been able to mediate over 341 cases in three counties (Montserrado, Margibi & Bong).
On 2 October 2018, the Community Justice Teams and Mediation Centers (CJTs) reported that since the launch of its civil society initiative in 2017, under the UNDP/OHCHR Joint Rule of Law Programme, Accountability Lab-Liberia has established four community justice teams and mediation centers (CJTs) in four densely populated communities in West Point and Logan Town in Montserrado County, Bassa Community in Kakata, Margibi County as well as Kokoyah Road Community in Gbarnga, Bong County.
The four Community Justice Teams (CJTs) have recorded and mediated over 341 minor offenses and community disputes that would have potentially resulted to conflict/violence in those communities.
This method has proven to be effective and sustainable in helping local communities resolve issues without recidivism and build mutual trust and understanding amongst community members that promote sustainable peace and stability.
Working in close collaboration with local community leaders and the Liberia National Police as well as other justice and security actors, the CJTs or mediation centers use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms at a cost-free center to help citizens reach a mutually agreeable solution to end conflict at local community levels before they reach the point of violence or taken to the police and courts.
Established to prevent disputes in local communities, the CJTs are expected to cater to approximately 20,000 local population.
The CJTs partner with local authorities- including the county security/district councils, elders, chiefs and police who have been very receptive and supportive to work with the community justice teams.