The UNMIL Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG) for Political and Rule of Law, Waldemar Very, yesterday disclosed that as of April this year, 69 percent of the total prison population are pre-trial detainees, and efforts must be applied to reduce that figure.
He said if a sustainable strategy for the reduction of this number is not put in place, the security and peace of Liberia will be at risk, "even with the forthcoming elections and the possibility of an increase in the prison population."
He made the statement during the opening of a three day retreat of the judicial branch of government in Gbarnga, Bong County.
The retreat was held under the theme "Strengthening the Rule of law Through Enhanced Judicial Performance."
He told the gathering to use the occasion to reflect on key issues relating to judicial performance, especially on the critical role of contributing to peace during the October presidential and legislative elections.
"And also how to take national resolution forward for the effective function of the criminal justice system," he added.
He emphasized that the judiciary must ensure that the elections are free and fair because it is critical to the maintenance of peace and security in the country.
He said Liberians are expecting a fair and timely application of the rule of law to all cases of electoral disputes whether it is the conduct of candidates or political parties, or the conduct of the National Elections Commission.
"I urge all members of the Judiciary to appreciate your role in ensuring ongoing peace in Liberia. I encourage you to use this time for deliberations to fully identify challenges, and learn from each other and international best practices about how to address them," he said.
The DSRSG explained that progress has been made in some significant areas, especially recent decisions taken to suspend erring judges and lawyers that will strengthen public confidence in the judicial system.
Vrey, however, emphasized that much needs to be done and hoped that the retreat will provide the platform for the judiciary to assess progress and commit to clear and defined actions to be taken with a timetable for implementation, which he believes will truly enhance judicial performance.
"It is important to understand that an effective criminal justice system is even more essential in this year of change for Liberia," he noted.
Supporting the DSRSG's statement that 69 percent of inmates are pretrial detainees, Justice Minister Fredrick Cherue said, "It is a fact because every day people are committing crimes like armed robbery, rape, murder, and we do not have the capacity to cope with this alarming situation."
Cherue emphasized that the number of pretrial detainees far exceeds the number of convicted prisoners.
"This is the Liberia we have and the crimes are getting higher every day. If you free five persons today, another ten persons will commit similar crimes tomorrow," he said.