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.
On June 30, 2016, the Government of Liberia (GOL) assumed full security responsibility from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which had played a critical role in stabilizing Liberia after a devastating 14-year civil war ended in 2003. Liberia’s economy suffered as a result of the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015, with economic growth falling from over 8.5 percent pre-Ebola to around 0.3 percent in mid-2016. As Liberians rebuild and strengthen their institutions, the criminal justice system faces challenges, such as limited government resources for government staffing, training, procurement of vehicles and other equipment, and morale. For example, limited resources for the 5,100-member LNP create difficulties paying salaries, deploying officers in remote counties, and providing resources such as gas and cell phones to allow officers to perform their work. There are critical gaps in certain basic institutional functions such as financial management, secure radio communications, human resources, and vehicle fleet and facilities maintenance. Poor roads and a six-month rainy season further complicate the government’s efforts to effectively operate nationwide.
An inefficient and unreliable court system has led to prison overcrowding and pre-trial detention rates of approximately 60-80 percent, often with a wait of a year for an initial court appearance. Legal, administrative, and management skills need strengthening. Citizens have little awareness of their rights or what it means to be a responsible citizen. Many Liberians choose to settle legal matters informally, with vigilante justice, cash payment to crime victims, or traditional justice practices that are illegal.
INL’s primary goal in Liberia is to enhance the government’s capability to professionally manage civilian security responsibilities while maintaining security throughout the country. INL supports the GOL in strengthening the rule of law with programs, advisors, and training for legal practitioners and administrative staff involved in the criminal justice system. INL’s focus is on broad criminal justice sector reform, while supporting immediate needs that bolster professionalism, and improve capacity and basic skills.
Our 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:
- Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV): In 2015, INL’s dedicated advisor to the Solicitor General’s SGBV Crimes Unit (CU), provided training and mentoring to reorganize the CU’s management structure and internal processes. This includes developing a system that holds individual prosecutors accountable for specific cases. These efforts led to a nearly 700 percent increase in criminal sexual offense indictments – from 25 in 2014 to 199 in 2015. The SGBV advisor assisted in revising the process for appointing defense counsel for all incoming SGBV pre-trial detainees and for half of current detainees.
- Magistrates Sitting Program (MSP): Throughout 2014 and 2015, INL justice advisors mentored prosecutors and public defenders who appear before magistrates in the “Fast Track Court” at the country’s central (and most overcrowded) prison in Monrovia. This Court expedites the initial court appearance for pretrial detainees, which can often take months or years. The MSP now continues on a weekly basis without INL mentoring, and both public defenders and prosecutors assigned to the MSP file motions and use strategies and techniques learned from INL justice advisors.
- Support to the Solicitor General’s (SG) Prosecution Office: Since 2013, INL has supported quarterly training for the Ministry of Justice prosecutors, who work in the Office of the Solicitor General. Information is scarce and unreliable in Liberia, yet effective lawyering depends on researching law and procedure, and keeping abreast of changes in the law. There are few law libraries in Liberia, and no law journals, so INL supports 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: INL support 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.
Our police program is focused on institution building and improving the capabilities of LNP to possess 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:
- 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 1,000-strong Police Support Unit (PSU), which is charged with public order management. INL-trained LNP instructors now lead the ERU and PSU training courses. Over the past three years, trained ERU/PSU officers have dealt with riots and demonstrations largely without assistance from UNMIL, displaying capacity to plan and execute proper responses to these events with appropriate use of force.
- National Security Radio System. INL is aiding the GOL in establishing a national communications system for civilian law enforcement agencies to improve incident response times outside Monrovia. Prior to 2015, the LNP only had limited analogue radio communications in the center of Monrovia. Through INL support, the LNP now has working digital communications in Liberia’s largest county, and LNP personnel have working knowledge of how to program radios.
- Local Dispute Resolution: More than 1,000 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 encouraging dispute resolution at the local level. Between October 2015 and May 2016 alone, 120 disputes were resolved.
- Financial Management. INL assisted the LNP to develop its first requirements-based budget to justify sufficient future resources. The LNP now has the capacity to build and justify its annual budget request.
Our counternarcotics 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 embedded INL Counternarcotics Advisor to the LDEA in 2013, the organization has undergone institutional reform that includes complete restructuring, auditing of personnel and assets, a merit-based hiring process, and continued vetting.
- 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 new drug law allows defendants to be charged under laws tailored to drug offenses rather than under the public health law.
- Training: INL facilitated implementation of LDEA’s first-ever new recruit specialized counternarcotics training, which was funded and run by LDEA.