INCHR Underscores Need to Overhaul Liberia’s Justice System

Acting Chair of INCHR Att. Bartholomew Colley

Monrovia – The Acting Chair of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) Att. Bartholomew Colley says Liberia’s Justice system needs to be “overhauled” to address the many human rights issues in the country.

Att. Colley said: “The effort to reform the justice system particularly that which aimed at mitigating the overcrowding of prisons has failed; therefore, it needs to be revisited.”

Reverend Colley made the remarks during the program marking the 4th anniversary of Africa’s Pretrial Detention Day Program held at the Monrovia Central Prison.

At the event, 12 pretrial detainees at the Monrovia Central Prison were released from custody in commemoration of Africa Pretrial Detention Day. 

The INCHR contributed to the process leading to their freedom.

“The INCHR, therefore, recommends that a pretrial detention task force comprising Lawyers from the Ministry of Justice, the INCHR and the Judiciary be constituted with the mandate to review pretrial detention case files of prisoners as was previously initiated in 2009 to address the overcrowding of prisons in Liberia,” Att. Colley said.

According to the Att. Colley, the INCHR call is in line with the objectives of the Luanda Guidelines of 2015 launched by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Luanda Guidelines seeks to improve the treatment of persons subject to arrest, police custody and pretrial detention in Africa.

INCHR Acting Boss added, “The importance of a criminal justice system is that it is built on core human rights principles; and the collective aspirations of states, national human rights institutions, and civil society organizations in promoting a rights-based approach to this critical area of criminal justice.”

Also, at the Pretrial Detention Day Program, other actors of the justice system reiterated the need for reform of the justice system.

According to them, the system is plagued with a poor data recording system, judges and magistrates refusal to “temper justice with mercy”, side-stepping the law, and therefore the major contributor to the high number of pretrial detainees.

Cllr. E.M. Awar representing the Justice Minister at the event said the cause for the high number of pretrial detainees is as the result of the inability for many persons to hire lawyers.

“Poor people in Liberia lacked the capacity to hire lawyers. And that is a problem in our society; therefore it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure the welfare of its citizens,” Cllr. Awar noted.

Awar added that it is the responsibility of the INCHR to monitor and advise the Liberian Government, ensuring that its justice system remains on track with international standards.

She urged stakeholders to work together to assure access to justice for everyone, irrespective of status in society.

“In this way, they will be doing justice to our children, grandchildren, parents, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and to generations to come, even those unborn,” Awar said.

Also, the Executive Director of the Prison Watch Fellowship Liberia, Rev. Francis Kollie said despite the commemoration Africa’s Pretrial Detention Day many people are in jail beyond the statutory period.

Rev. Kollie alerts: “Majority of the inmates in Liberia’s prisons are Pretrial detainees incarcerated for petite offenses.”

“This is one of the violations of their human rights,” the Executive Director said.

Rev. Kollie stressed that Liberians need to strategize means to reform the Laws and the justice system.

“Liberia needs to decriminalize petty offenses,” the Executive Director of the Prison Watch Fellowship Liberia said.

According to Rev. Kollie, officers of the Liberia National Police need to undergo some basic reforms.

He added: “Lots of cases at the police stations could be resolved at community level yet the police consider them as criminal cases.”

Meanwhile, Assistant Minister for Correction and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice, Eddie Trawally, thanked the INCHR for commemorating the Africa Pretrial Detention Day adding that it is an opportunity for the government to see how best to address the issue of Pretrial detention in Liberia.

According to Minister Trawally, correction officers should be allowed to operate to the best standards and without what he termed as undue influence.

He says the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation has consistently shared prison records/statistics with various partners in identifying the many challenges.

Trawally added that the Monrovia Central Prison is an old facility that can no longer address the present day needs.

“For example, Monrovia prison facility capacity is three hundred and seventy-five (375), but today they have approximately one thousand two hundred plus (1200 +) inmates from which majority of them are pretrial detainees,” the Assistant Minister said.

The Assistant Minister disclosed that the Ministry is considering relocating the Monrovia Central Prison to Cheesemanburg.

Minister Trawally maintained that with the availability of adequate facilities and support, the Bureau of Corrections will assure of adequate rehabilitation of prison inmates.

According to the Assistant Minister, despite the Bureau of Corrections has a huge tax, it is the least funded sector of the justice system.

“If the police are capacitated to arrest criminals and the Court is capacitated to send those criminals to jail, then the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation must also be capacitated to carry out its mandate or else there is a waste of resources within the Justice and Security circle,” Minister Trawally said.