The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.
Challenges: In March 2018, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which had played a critical role in stabilizing Liberia after a devastating 14-year civil war, officially ended its mission in Liberia after a gradual drawdown. Following the end of UNMIL, Liberia continues to suffer from a worsening economic downturn, which was exacerbated by a previous Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015 when Liberia‘s economy fell dramatically from over 8.5 percent pre-Ebola to around 0.3 percent in mid-2016. As Liberians continue to build their institutions, the criminal justice system faces challenges, such as limited government resources for staffing, training, procurement of equipment and supplies, and low morale. Many Liberians choose to settle legal matters outside the formal justice system that may include vigilante justice, cash payment to crime victims, or traditional/tribal justice practices.
Goals: INL programs in Liberia support a stable and secure Liberia that facilitates U.S. foreign policy and security goals in the region through assistance to the criminal justice and civilian security sectors. INL’s focus is on institutional criminal justice sector reform, while supporting operational and administrative capacity building, improving professionalism, as well as specialized skills to address transnational organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and Trafficking in Persons.
INL’s rule of law program provides technical assistance to Liberian criminal justice sector institutions to foster formal justice institutions that citizens rely on and trust as an impartial means to settle disputes, without resorting to violence or vigilante justice. Accomplishments include:
- Trafficking in Persons (TIP): Since 2018, INL assistance to the Liberia National Police (LNP) and Liberian judiciary resulted in the first investigations and prosecutions of TIP cases, and increased awareness of TIP within the law enforcement sector.
- Magistrates Sitting Program: Since January 2020, the Monrovia Central Prison released 99 pre-trial detainees, representing approximately a 10 percent decrease in pre-trial detention rate. This was accomplished through the Magistrate Sitting program that fast tracks hearing dates and records the release of pre-trial detainees. The project also provided technical assistance to circuit court judges and public defenders throughout Liberia, resulting in new procedures to process cases more efficiently through the court system.
- Support to the Solicitor General’s (SG) Prosecution Office: Since 2013, INL has supported training for the Ministry of Justice prosecutors, who work in the Office of the Solicitor General. There are few law libraries in Liberia, and no law journals, thus INL facilitates regular gatherings of prosecutors with experienced litigators and legal scholars, to fill the informational gap that can inhibit an attorney’s professional development.
- Public Defender Support: Public Defenders began to track court cases to ensure that pre-trial detainees are released in a timely manner according to a newly developed SOP on pre-trial detention. INL’s support also has improved the availability of justice for Liberian defendants by training and resourcing the current cadre of public defenders, and developing the training manual for Liberian public defenders.
INL’s police program is focused on institution–building and assisting the LNP to develop the structure, skills, and community orientation necessary to prevent, detect, and investigate crime; protect the rights of all; and maintain peace and security throughout the country. Accomplishments include:
- Successful National Presidential Elections: INL–trained LNP officers and other law enforcement agencies successfully coordinated and maintained peace throughout Liberia during the 2017 national presidential elections and the ensuing transfer of power.
- Force Development: INL has provided training and equipment to the two armed units of the LNP, the 360-strong SWAT-like Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the 1,500-strong Police Support Unit (PSU), which is charged with public order management. INL-trained LNP instructors now lead the ERU and PSU training courses. Trained ERU/PSU officers have dealt with riots and demonstrations, displaying capacity to plan and execute proper responses to these events with appropriate use of force.
- National Security Radio System: INL is aiding the Government of Liberia in establishing a national communications system for civilian law enforcement agencies to improve communication and incident response times outside Monrovia.
- Local Dispute Resolution: More than 2,500 security issues have been raised since 2011 through the Mitigating Local Disputes in Liberia (MLDL) project, which supports four county security councils, 14 district security councils, and 14 community fora as a means of strengthening early warning and crisis response and encouraging dispute resolution at the local level.
INL’s counter–narcotics program is focused on strengthening the capacity of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) to be a professional and credible organization capable of disrupting drug trafficking, and helping the Government of Liberia and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reduce drug demand through evidence-based treatment programs. Accomplishments include:
- LDEA Reforms: Since deployment of an INL Counter–narcotics Advisor to the LDEA in 2013, the organization has made a number of improvements and undergone institutional reform that includes complete restructuring, auditing of personnel and assets, advancing a merit-based promotion process, and continued internal vetting. Since the start of a UNODC transnational organized crime project in 2017, the LDEA has dramatically increased the instances of counter–narcotics interdictions, especially of a transnational nature.
- Drug Law: INL, in collaboration with UNODC and Liberia’s Ministry of Justice, helped LDEA to draft Liberia’s first drug law as well as the LDEA Act, which were passed into law in 2014. The drug law allows defendants to be charged under laws tailored to drug offenses rather than under the public health law.
- Training: INL provided technical assistance for LDEA’s first-ever new recruit specialized counter–narcotics training, which was funded and run by LDEA.