With support from United Nations Development Program and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNDP/OHCHR) joint program, the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) over the weekend concluded a week-long town hall meetings in Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties.
The meetings, which brought together about 900 local community residents from Foya, Voinjama, Salayea, Gbarnga, Bong Mines, Saclepea, Ganta and Sanniquellie, were intended to provide the avenue for interaction between the citizenry and actors within the justice and security sectors as a trust-building mechanism and a platform for the exchange of legal knowledge and information on how the justice and security sectors work.
At different intervals of the meetings, representatives of citizens from the three counties expressed their frustration in accessing justice due to the high fees imposed on them by law enforcement officers assigned in those counties.
They accused the officers and court administrators of charging huge sum of monies for case registration, arresting fees and transportation of the accused to the prison, something they said was unbearable taking into consideration the present economic situation.
The Participants also complained about the high fees being charged by Judges in securing bonds for criminal reappearance. They then called on the lawmakers to reverse the trend. In response to the allegations, the police and court officials at the meetings, expressed regret for the situation, while at the same time, attributing it to the lack of adequate financial and logistical support from their respective entities.
In making the rule of law work, justice and security actors that participated in those meetings, underscored the importance of citizens’ role in complementing efforts by government particularly when officers are not fully equipped to effect arrest and pursue suspected criminals.
Participants then requested FIND to serve as advocate in ensuring that the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary make appropriate allotments through the national budget to address the huge logistical challenge.
Local residents also called on FIND and their donors to continue such awareness to reinforce or strengthen networking between the citizens and actors within the country’s justice and security sectors.
Roosevelt A.K. Woods, FIND executive director, thanked the participants for speaking openly about the challenges facing the justice and security sectors, stating that his organization will engage the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary for a workable solution to problems confronting the two sectors.
Woods further informed the participants of the entity’s intention to meet with the stakeholders in the justice system to strategize on means to transport, and relocate convicts at the Gbarnga, Voinjama and Sanniquellie prison facilities to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County as a means of reducing the over overcrowding of those facilities.
The town hall meetings are part of ongoing activities being implemented by FIND, under the UNDP/OHCHR joint program titled, “Strengthening the Rule of Law in Liberia: Justice and Security for the Liberian People.”
Under the initiative, FIND is currently providing legal aid assistance to over 90 indigents in Lofa, Nimba and Bong Counties, and also organizing series of sporting events in the three counties bringing together the citizens on the one hand, and actors of the justice and security sectors on the other hand, where awareness is being carried out through the distribution of tracks, brochures and other demonstration materials on how the justice and security sectors work.
FIND’s vision is to see communities and the citizens achieve social justice, respect for one another, and know their rights and civic duties to live in a social environment of dignity and peace. Since its establishment in 2002, FIND has been mobilizing citizens to participate in decision-making processes at all levels in their communities, through dialogue with stakeholders on governance issues.
It collaborates with partners to build a strong advocacy network through meetings, community forums and radio programs.