Barely seven months since its opening in March, the Community Justice Team (CJT) in Kakata has recorded and mediated over sixty civil cases of minor offenses.

By UNDP Liberia

Barely seven months since its opening in March, the Community Justice Team (CJT) in Kakata has recorded and mediated over sixty 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 to the more than 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.

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.

19 year 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.

A few days later, according to Washington, Joshua came and requested Washington to rather purchase the phone because he 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 spoke about him to the centre. The mediators invited the parties concerned, including Joshua for inquiry, where it was established that the phone was stolen by Joshua.

Washington said the team ably settled the matter without cost and 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 until May this year, when confusion broke out between Evetta and Patience, which eventually led to a fist fight. The duo 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, spoke 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 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 to represent 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.

The CJT helps communities resolve issues in an effective and sustainable manner, build trust and understanding using a bottom-up approach, contribute to peace, and ensure accountability over time.

Community Justice Teams 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.

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.

They are trained by Accountability Lab Liberia with support from UNDP.

This method has proven to be effective and sustainable in helping local communities resolve issues and build mutual trust and understanding amongst community members in order to promote sustainable peace and stability.

Established to prevent disputes in local communities, the four CJTs cater to a local population of approximately 20,000 people.

The CJTs partner with local authorities including the county security/district councils, elders, chiefs and police who have been very receptive and supportive of working with the CJTs.