15 February 2019

Liberia: 'Justice System May Undermine Liberia's Peace'

The President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, on Thursday, Feb. 14 told a gathering of stakeholders in Bomi County that if the necessary steps are not taken to address many human rights violations in the justice system, they could likely jeopardize the hard-earned peace in the country.

Cllr. Gongloe said there are too many people for years who have been in jail at different prison facilities throughout the country, who do not know the reason they are being kept there.

"The justice system is gradually turning into a jungle justice where there is no control because people are in jail without being acquainted with their rights as provided for by the law. This could lead us back to the past where we allowed our justice system to completely break down that caused the civil war," Cllr. Gongloe said.

"Go to the prison compound and you would see people there who have not been charged or been able to see a judge, but our justice system allowed them to be there," Cllr. Gongloe said.

He was speaking at the LNBA's Pro-bono Campaign about the Legal Aid Clinic in the county.

The LNBA's clinic is being funded by the USAID Legal Professional Development and Anti-Corruption (LPAC).

"We have to stop immediately and the clinic is here to help the judiciary to deal with some of the human rights violations," Gongloe stressed.

Cllr. Gongloe said the clinic is to provide free legal services to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to defend their interests whenever they are accused of committing a crime.

"Look, our justice system is killing the peace we are enjoying and the clinic is here to make you know about the law and your rights," Gongloe said. "But, you have to take advantage and go there, because lawyers are there to help address your concerns."

In support of Cllr. Gongloe's statement, Mr. Jerome M. Doe, prison superintendent in Bomi County described the justice system as a "dumping site."

Doe said because it was one of the major challenges that need to be addressed seriously to reduce over-crowdiness at prison's facilities.

"Can you imagine that some people have been in jail for years only because of the police charge sheet, and they have not even been indicted, but, they are still in jail because our justice system says they must be there," Doe confessed.

"To be in jail because of a charge sheet is wrong and that needs to stop to reduce the over-crowdiness at our prison facilities," the Prison superintendent noted. He was quick to point out that with the help of the LNBA Pro-Bono program, "seven inmates have been released."

Dr. Gerald E. Meyerman, LPAC's Country Director, lauded the LNBA for the efforts made toward the access to justice in the county. He, however, reminded the gathering that nobody was above the law and "it does not distinguish between the poor and the rich."

Meyerman also used the occasion to admonish the gathering to take advantage of the clinic. "Since the justice system is now the problem, you do not have to go there for minor offenses. You can go to the clinic to solve some of those problems without you paying any money," Meyerman said.

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