25 January 2013

Liberia: Supporting Special Court for Land Dispute Cases

Land disputes, which have existed as a chronic problem throughout Liberia, became exacerbated after 17 years of civil war that uprooted hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and properties, ended nine years ago.

By the time the genuine owners of those homes and properties returned at the end of the wars, illegal occupants of their properties refused to vacate and instead went up in arms with challenge and defiance.

Years before this phenomenon emerged, protracted multiple litigations exhausted serious land buyers who were obliged to make repeated court appearances because they bought lands from crooked persons who resell lands that had already been sold.

And because Liberia lacks a special court to deal exclusively with land cases, appellants as well as defendants, depending on whichever way a decision in their land case fell, waited for gavel in the hand of a favorable judge in the lower or higher court before reviving their land cases dormant for years on court dockets, believing victory is in sight.

Therefore, many inconclusive land cases still lie dormant at the Temple of Justice including the Old Krutown land case, the Camp Johnson land case involving multiple ownership but without definite demarcations. The seesaw Vai town land case between two closely-knit families is a classical example of land disputes that lingered for nearly a century at Temple of Justice, leading to payment of leases and other fees by business houses into a court-approved escrow account.

But these cases are just a tip of the iceberg in view of the avalanche of land disputes that erupted following the end of the civil war.

While those seeking redress in land disputes before war times found reasons to choose legal means, it is scary that many individuals and communities wanting settlement in land disputes these days prefer jungle justice that already caused chaos and reportedly claimed deaths in some instances during recent years.

After appreciating the overwhelming negative implications of land disputes pervasive in the country, we support Justice Minister Christiana Tah's recommendation for establishment of a Special Court to deal with land dispute cases.

She made the recommendation when a regional consultation on Land Rights Policy formulated by the Land Commission was launched Tuesday.

The worldwide watchdog organization, Global Witnessed warned in 2011 that land disputes were potential conflict brewing problems that, if not handled properly, could plunge Liberia into renewed violence.

And surely enough, coming events have begun to cast their shadow with bloody clashes already recorded over land disputes in the past few years in many places including Lofa, Nimba, Bong, Margibi and Montserrado Counties.

"We need a special court on land matters. 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," Cllr. Tah urged here Wednesday.

She also suggested that government provide oversight in order to avoid too much confusion about land issues, especially those involving discretionary powers to community leaders and family members as provided for in the newly drafted Land Rights Policy Document.

As we express support for the recommendation of a court exclusively for land dispute cases, we suggest that it should be fast track in order to bring quick relief to persons afflicted by such cases.

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