On November 7, 2011, one day before Liberia’s runoff election to determine the next president, an opposition party demonstration was shattered by gunfire that was alleged to have come from law enforcement agents. One person was killed, eight injured.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promptly appointed a Special Independent Commission of Inquiry to ensure that those responsible were brought to justice. The commission’s initial report was produced quickly and was incomplete.
President Johnson Sirleaf recognized that Liberia needed special expertise to help the commission produce recommendations. So the embassy contacted the new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) for assistance. CSO quickly dispatched a seasoned prosecutor from its Civilian Response Corps to advise the commission.
Stephen Andersson, a U.S. Department of Justice Corps member, arrived in Monrovia and quickly began work with his Liberian counterparts to investigate the incident. “Because I was getting involved at that point in the process,” Andersson recalls, “I was concerned that I’d be considered a meddlesome outsider. So I began by listening, and I reached out to all potential stakeholders.” With close assistance from the U.S. Embassy, Andersson helped the team uncover new evidence—including photographs and 15 key seconds of video evidence. He then worked with the commission to draft its final report and recommendations.
“It was critical that there was commission ‘buy-in,’” Andersson says. “The members needed to do the work themselves because Liberia is their country, the work was theirs, and my time was short.”
Acting on the report, the Ministry of Justice suspended several police officers and began investigating another group of officers who may have been involved. Also, a member of the protective service responsible for guarding the president was suspended and recommended for criminal charges.
Andersson’s work in Liberia, which he calls “one of the high points of my professional career,” is a great example of CSO’s innovative teamwork with stakeholders. Putting the right person in the right place at the right time helped prevent violence and destabilization.