Liberia: Judge of Margibi Accused of Conniving with Influential Resident to Take Away Land from Residents

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Monrovia –  Aggrieved residents of Kollie-klee community in Margibi County have accused Judge Mardea Chenoweth of the 13th Judicial Circuit based in Kakata and the Ministry of Justice through its County Attorney of Margibi Dedeh Wilson of colluding with an influential resident, Joseph Jerkins Mends-Cole to rob them of their land.

In a petitioned to the House of Representatives, the residents said Joseph Jerkins Mends-Cole whose father was given a parcel of land by their forefathers in the 1950s, has taken advantage of the situation and is now claiming 1,000 acres of land within their customary land.

They alleged that Mr. Mends-Cole is being backed by the Court headed by Judge Chenoweth due to her refusal to hear their side of the story, but using her authority to render wrongful decision against them. They called on the Margibi County Legislative Caucus and the 54th Legislature to intervene and save their land from being taken away.

“Our astute lawmakers, this is no time for politics and bureaucracies,” the residents said in the petition received by the Margibi County’s Legislative Caucus on Tuesday.

“Our astute lawmakers, this is no time for politics and bureaucracies. Your people are suffering and dying at the hands of some elites with the laws in their pockets and not on the book any longer. We ask that you please step in to help address the situation before it goes off hand.”

The landmark 2018 Land Rights Law recognizes the rights of Liberians holding land under customary tenure for the first time since the country was founded.

Chapter 8, Article 32 says, “As of the passage of the law, rural communities must self-identify and claimed their land – deed or no deed, community owns their land.

 And Chapter 11, Article 46 furthered, “Private land ownership under tribal certificate or deed are as well recognized within community’s customary land if only the community can testify to authenticate same.”

Despite these provisions in the law, residents complained that their rights are being violated with the help the court.

In several counts, they stated that the troubled deepened when a pre-trial conference chaired by the court and it was resolved that the Liberia Land Authority comes in to conduct an investigative survey and based upon its report, the court would make an informed decision.

However, on that same day, they alleged that the court issued a stay order, not only on the disputed 1,000 acres but the entire 3,000 acres of their customary community land and use PSU Police to beat and drive them away from the place they have resided since their birth.

“Our crops were destroyed and livelihoods activities were halted for two months because we were in nearby towns and villages seeking refuge for fear of being brutalized by the police,” the residents stated.

Within that time, they claimed that Judge Chenoweth issued a writ of arrest for four persons, but the police arrested 14 persons that were badly beaten and placed behind bars in Kakata. In the process, they claimed that one of those arrested, Lawrence Yeanay, suffered major external and internal injuries and was turned over to the complainant, Jerkins Mends-Cole who took him to an unknown destination for treatment but since then he has not been seen. Despite many outcries to give the whereabouts of Yeanay, the Court, under Judge Chenoweth, has refused to order Mends-Cole to produce Yeanay.

They furthered that the court has reneged to formally called the parties and interpret the investigative survey from the Liberia Land Authority. Despite the Supreme Court’s Justice in-Chamber Yusef Kabah mandating the 13th Judicial Court to drop the wrongful proceedings against the residents and resume the case under court of records, the Judge has refused.

They accused several people including the Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs of being aware of their plights but doing nothing to intervene. They also accused Margibi County Superintendent Jerry Varnie, County Attorney Dedeh Wilson, Police Inspector Patrick Sudue, Clan Chief Edwin Naymah and the County Police Commander Sylvester Hina of supporting Mends-Cole based on misinformation given to them.

Receiving the petition, Representatives Ben Fofana and Ivar Jones of Margibi District #4 and &#2 respectively, thanked the citizens for peacefully exercising their constitutional rights and promised to place their petition before Plenary for redress.

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