24 January 2013

Liberia: Land Disputes Need Special Court

Yearning for greater say in matters relating to their welfare, Liberian youths Wednesday urged their leaders to practice transparency and accountability. The head of the Federation of Liberian Youths, Mohammed Nasser, told journalists at a

Justice Minister Christiana Tah has expressed the need for the setting up of a Special Court to deal with cases emanating from land disputes.

Minister Tah made the suggestion on Tuesday in a speech at the launch of a regional consultation on the Land Rights Policy that has been formulated by the Land Commission.

"We need a special court on land matters. You would be surprised that most of the problems we have regarding land have to do with faith," Minister Tah told a stakeholders' gathering at the Monrovia City Hall.

"We need a special mandate for these kinds of cases. This is very important because people will die for land, and that they will also kill for land. So, we need a special court just to address land issues," Liberia's Attorney General said.

In order to avoid too many confusion regarding land issues, especially the case involving discretionary powers to community leaders and family members, as provided for in the newly drafted Land Rights Policy Document, Minister Tah suggested that government should provide oversight in that particular regard.

She advised officials of the Land Commission to also look at consistency of customary laws which involves different tribal and ethnic groups who have their own roles and understanding of land ownership.

Minister Tah's warning comes in the midst of increasing concerns over land disputes. In 2011, Global Witnessed issued a warning about land conflicts in Liberia. In its report, GW underscored land dispute as a potential conflict brewing instrument that, if not handled properly, could plunge Liberia back into another round of violence.

Besides the Global Witness' 2011 report, Liberia has recorded bloody clashes over land disputes in recent years, something which has led to cruel deaths and injuries in counties such as Montserrat, Lofa, Nimba and Bong.

"So, should the customary law be ethnic group specific or should we have a uniform customary law on land rights policy across the country? That is something we also need to think about," the Justice Minister said.

"One of the things that I wanted to make few comments on is the issue of customary powers spelled out in the policy for community leaders," the Minister said.

"In as much as we want to give people a lot of authorities over land and protect the people in the communities, we have had cases where community leaders and family members take advantage of their own relatives.

"There was a community in one of the counties where the most educated person in the group signed a contract with a foreign company and took almost all of the money and went to America and left his family stranded. So, I hope this is something that we can consider so that even if we're giving out some discretionary powers, there should be some oversight that should be provided by government."

Making remarks earlier, the Commissioner of Land Commission, Dr. Cecil T.O. Brandy thanked President Sirleaf for the level of support her government has given the commission to enable it carry out its work effectively, and rallied Liberians to support the LC's vision in driving the nation to lasting peace and stability.

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