Liberian laws are written in English and traditional leaders and other local authorities find it difficult to fully understand these laws which have made the customary laws dominant in the rural settings.
A project under the title “strengthening the capacity and Resilience of traditional leaders on Statutory system, human rights and COVID-19 in Bong County”, which was launched on January 22, 2021 in Gbarnga, Bong County is looking to explain and simplify key human rights and other statutory laws to traditional leaders and locals in three districts in Bong County-Jorquelleh Districts #1 and 2 and Suakoko.
The project with funding provided by UNDP in Liberia, is being implemented by Her Voice Liberia, a local civil society organization working in the areas of access to justice, human rights and other thematic areas.
Speaking at the launch, UNDP Liberia's Programme Associate Marzu Stubblefield Quaye said over the years, her agency has supported the Judiciary particularly Criminal Court E in Liberia.
Ms. Quaye said UNDP support is meant to strengthen the justice sector in the country and the Government of Liberia in its efforts to build a society based on the principles of rule of law, human rights, and justice.
She added that the UN agency will continue to provide support to the formal court system, as the support is designed to be catalytic, increase public confidence in the sector, strengthen state-society relations and create an enabling environment for development.
“While the reach of formal courts have in recent years been expanded to rural areas, 80% of Liberians mainly in rural settings, reportedly pursue justice through traditional means," said Quaye.
She noted that many of those in this category, do not pursue the formal court system in getting justice but seek the informal means.
Quaye added that most of the cases are heard by traditional leaders who are also part of the Justice actor chain but need to understand their roles in determining cases in line with the legislation.
"This will require defining new roles and aligning with human rights norms and gender equality,” the UNDP Liberia Programme Associate indicated.
She expressed hope that when these traditional leaders are trained they will implement accordingly, promising that UNDP would provide similar support for the program to extend to other counties if the impact is made and traditional leaders are making use of what is being taught.
Also speaking, the Paramount Chief for Jorquelleh District, Chief Mary Lateh said they as traditional leaders do not fully understand the statutory laws and rely on the customary laws to handle issues in the various towns and villages under their control.
Chief Lateh said while it is true that customary laws are being used, whenever issues emerge it is the statutory laws that are mostly used to prosecute people in the courts and as such, it is very good for them as traditional leaders and chiefs to understand the statutory laws.
The traditional chief said she will ensure that the project makes the required impact in her district because it was very important to all traditional leaders and chiefs.
The Traditional Investigator for Bong County who spoke on behalf of all traditional leaders that attended the launch of the project expressed happiness for the project.
Investigator Dakeh Paye said in order for the traditional leaders and chiefs to know which cases to handle and which ones to refer to the Statutory legal system, they need to understand the key differences between the customary and statutory system.
She said, as traditional leaders of Jorquelleh and Suakoko Districts where the project is being implemented, they will give their fullest support for the success of the project.
“To understand the written laws is very good for our work, and we want to say this project is for us and not you because we need the knowledge”, Traditional Investigator Paye added.
For his part, the Commissioner for Suakoko District, Washington Bona also expressed happiness over the project and said he is grateful to UNDP and Her Voice for selecting Bong County for its implementation.
“Today, I am very happy for your to come to Bong County to work with us to make us understand the laws. I promise that we will work with the project so that traditional people understand these laws”, Commissioner Bona pledged.
The County Attorney of Bong County Jonathan Flomo hailed the project, adding that it brings value to the work of traditional leaders in dispensing justice.
Attorney Flomo indicated that he appreciates the fact that Her Voice will be working with justice actors in Bong County including his office in implementing the project, so as to get the relevant impact needed for the succes of the project.
He noted that he looks forward to working with the project team, adding that, the project will also lay emphasis on the need to abandon the use of trial by ordeal, still being practiced by some traditional societies. The practice was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Liberia.
He expressed thanks to UNDP and Her Voice Liberia for such a project which he described as significant and meaningful for the Rule of Law.
J. Cammue N. Dormey, a representative from the office of Superintendent Esther Walker assured that the Superintendent is in full support of the project.
Dormey said the office of the Superintendent is happy to see such work being done with traditional leaders to make them understand statutory laws.
In closing remarks, the Executive Director of #HerVoice expressed delight over the level of assurance from local authorities in the county. Attorney Margaret M. Nigba said her organization hopes to see the project making meaningful impact.
Attorney Nigba challenged traditional leaders that will benefit from the project to use their understanding of the laws to resolveconflicts and admonished them to make use of the statutory legal system in handling matters that require such.