As inscribed in the Act establishing the Land Commission, one of the duties and functions is to promote “prompt and fair resolution of conflicts over land.” Even though the Commission itself does not have an adjudicatory or implementation role, notwithstanding, the Commission has the mandate to initiate activities that facilitate the settlement of land conflicts in such a manner that will promote “equitable and productive access to the nation’s land, both public and private;” “security of tenure in land and the rule of law with respect to landholding and dealings in land;” “effective land administration and management” and “investment in and development of the nation’s natural resources.”
These four cardinal objectives empower the Commission to examine existing systems for the resolution of land disputes in the Republic of Liberia, with an emphasis on those that are non-court related. These non-court related types of conflict resolution over land commonly involve some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), including, but not limited to, negotiation, facilitated problem-solving negotiations, independent third-party mediation or some form of advisory decision-making.
Some may term ADR as “hanging heads”, “palava hut meeting” or “come let’s talk in-house”
Conversely, Alternative Land Dispute Resolution (ALDR) system is an arrangement of institutional capacities that assist parties in dispute to address and resolve conflicts over land. They include institutions, people and procedures that are often, but not always, independent of formal judicial systems that use litigation, courts and adjudicative processes to resolve land disputes. Procedures used in “alternative” systems commonly include conflict coaching for parties so that they can resolve disputes on their own, facilitate problem-solving or negotiations or mediate negotiations to reach consensus agreements. They also may involve voluntary submission by parties in dispute to a mutually acceptable third party for either non-binding advice or a binding decision on how to settle their differences.
In order to have an effective Land Dispute Resolution Systems and Procedures, citizens and communities need trusted, efficient, timely and effective ways to voice their concerns, problems and disputes over land – and get them resolved. Governments and other community organizations need effective ways to assist individuals and parties to settle their differences without going to court. Undoubtedly, ALDR offers an early, efficient and cost-effective way to resolve concerns, disputes and conflicts.
Recent statistics from the Supreme Court of Liberia indicate that over 90 percent of cases on the dockets are land-related. This is alarming, considering the herculean task that behooves the Land Commission in formulating land policies and land law reform.
Therefore, an effective land dispute resolution system, whether “alternative” or a formal judicial process should provide a predictable, credible and transparent process for all parties, which results in outcomes that are widely seen to be fair, effective and lasting. It builds trust as an integral component of broader government, organizational and community relations and increases the likelihood that small disputes can be brought to a conclusion and resolved relatively quickly so that they do not become deep-seated and escalate into more serious conflicts.
Generally, there are three kinds of dispute resolution systems, which are institutional, network and social leadership.
The institutionally-based land dispute resolution systems involve a collection of informally or formally coordinated and/or linked units, people and procedures within an organization or group. They are mandated to help parties in dispute to address and resolve specific types of conflicts. Institutionally-based systems typically handle commonly recurring issues such as citizen-citizen or citizen-government disputes issues over boundaries, encroachments, land access, land use, ownership etc. They may include a preventative focus with components to address and prevent latent or emerging conflicts from escalating through changes in policies, laws, rules, regulations or procedures.
Liberia has had a number of existing institutionally-based land dispute resolution systems. Examples include chiefs’ courts and systems affiliated with the UN or NGOs such as Peace Committees, Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC), and The Carter Center, among others. To effectively coordinate the activities of these institutions, there is a Land Dispute Resolution Taskforce (LDRT), established and chaired by the Land Commission. The LDRT constitutes government ministries and agencies, UN organizations, NGOs, civil society and other stakeholders in the land sector.
The other category of dispute resolution system is the network of social leaders or professional dispute resolvers. This type of system relies on a network of respected individuals and leaders more than a specific organization or network of organizations. Dispute resolution providers may be public officials, professional intermediaries or other people who have earned status as informal leaders in their communities.
The catalyst for this type of system’s operation generally begins when a dispute is brought to a leader in an organization or community and a request for assistance is made. The individual, who is contacted, either directly helps to resolve the dispute using a variety of collaborative processes or convenes a group of other respected individuals to help him or her do so.
The procedures used to resolve the dispute may be either informal and developed to meet a particular need or situation, or formal and well known by all concerned.
City Mayors, District Commissioners, Land Commissioners, religious leaders, respected business people and occasionally politicians have and are serving in this capacity as part of a network of respected leaders.
Thirdly, the Network Dispute Resolution Systems include a collection of informally or formally coordinated and/or linked institutions or organizations and their component systems that help a society or sector of a society address issues or conflicts. They may include government agencies, NGOs, CBOs, international organizations or a combination of the above.
Network systems often handle issues or disputes where organizations or parties have overlapping or competing jurisdictions, mandates or interests; where cooperation is needed to effect resolutions; where each entity in the system has either a unique or complementary role to play in the dispute resolution process or where appeals procedures are desirable or needed.
Network systems may include early warning and conflict prevention components to effectively address latent or emerging conflicts.
Network systems are often developed in situations where there are already two or more viable institutionally-based dispute resolution systems, and greater coordination, enhancement or minor modifications of what exists is needed for the network to become more effective in providing services.
The Commission has put together a structured system for the resolution of land disputes, which are the Land Coordination Centers established in six Counties – Lofa, Bong, Margibi, Maryland, Nimba and Montserrado.