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Carter Center Helping Traditional Leaders in Liberia Resolve Land Disputes

In Liberia, the Carter Center is helping traditional leaders better manage local disputes, including rival land claims.

The 18-month project aims to improve the resolution of local disputes in Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Maryland, and Margibi counties by helping indigenous leaders and local officials broaden their understanding of conflict mediation.

Carter Center Associate Director for Conflict Resolution Tom Crick says building a responsive justice system requires the active participation of all citizens at all levels.

"The institutions on the ground that most rural Liberians still turn to everyday for their justice are the traditional institutions. And, so working with the ministry of internal affairs, it seemed to make sense to try to deliver some extra capacity, to share some ideas, and also to facilitate in small, small ways ways that the chiefs can better address disputes, how they themselves can talk the truth, can talk straight, how the communities can come together where they may be divided over land issues, over ethnic issues, over religious issues and really discuss these things in a peaceful way," said Crick.

Bong County town chief Jerry Gondeh says it is a way to help Liberians move forward.

"We are tired of getting back to war. We know what the war in this country did to all of us," he said. "The key problem we face in Liberia now after the war is the land issue, people encroaching on other people's land. And, this is a serious problem across Liberia."

Some returning refugees from Liberia's long civil war found other people had taken their land. But many of the proper owners no longer had the paperwork to prove their claim. So the disputes often end up before Liberia's National Traditional Council.

Bong County community leader Timothy Flomo says he is optimistic that the Carter Center program will help resolve fights about land.

"We are confident that this will help us to resolve conflicts among ourselves," he said. "You know, since the war in Liberia, we have all had problems in our communities. But with the support that we are getting from the Carter Center and our own readiness to stop hurting each other, we think we can move forward."

The Carter Center's Tom Crick says there has been good progress in re-establishing the rule of law since Liberia's civil war ended in 2003.

"I think people realize that there is some fragility still, but I think that people are working very hard and are committed to addressing the problems," he said. "I think that there are more and more people looking for the path of unity, of trying to bring groups together rather than dividing people. And, providing that that continues and that people look in that direction, the future is very bright."

The program is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and includes instructors from both the United Nations Mediation Response Unit and the Carter Center. There is training in alternative dispute resolution and a review of specific laws governing land and other local disputes. Once the program is complete, county-based dispute monitors will provide ongoing logistics and training for local leaders.