Comparative law and justice/Liberia
Part of the Comparative law and justice Wikiversity Project
188.8.131.52 19:43, 9 February 2010 (UTC)
- 1 Basic Information
- 2 Brief History
- 3 Economic Development, Health, and Education
- 4 Governance
- 5 Courts and Criminal Law
- 6 Rights
Liberia is a country located on the western shores of Africa was founed in 1822 by the free slaves that left variuos parts of America. It is a country made up of various ethnic groups, dialects, and customs. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was not colonized by Europe during the great "Scramble" for Africa and liberia had been controlled by america.The country had a rocky start with constant fighting between the natives and the new settlers. There are 3,441,790 people residing in Liberia. The capital of Libeira is Monrovia, with a population of 1,010,970. The coubntry gained it's independence on July 26, 1847. The official language is English but there are various dialects spoken by the ethnic groups that reside there. There are 16 ethnic groups that make up the Liberian population.95% of the population come from ideginios gropus such as Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, Dei, Bella, Mandingo, and Mende. 2.5% of the population are Americo-Liberians and the rest are Congo people. The Kpelle gropu being the largest ethnic group is made up of 20% of the population, 16% Bassa, 8% Gio,7% Kru, and 49 % fall into the other Ethnic groups.44% of the people are between the ages 0-14 (male 760,989/female 758,554, 53% are between the ages of 15-65 (male 904,770/female 920,704) and only 2.8% are age 65 and over male 47,013/female 49,760). The country's total landmass:111,369 sq km Liberians enjoy beatiful weather during certain seasons of the year. The climate is often described as tropical, humid and hot. The winters are dry with hot days and cool to cold nights; summers are cloudy with frequent heavy showers known as the "rainy season" by the locals. The country borders Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The North Atlantic Sea surrounds this tiny country that is approximately the size of Tennessee.Mount Wuteve is the largest mountain in Liberia. The three largest rivers are St Paul, St John ,and the Cestos River. Liberians have a wide range of religious beliefs but they are placed into three catergories as Christian, Muslim, and Indigenous Beliefs. 40% of Liberians are Christian, 20% are muslim, and 40% hold Idigenous Beliefs.
Liberia was already an inhabitted country before African Americans (brought there by the American Colonization Society ) settled there in 1822. The country was made up various tribes and dialects. The natives of Liberia and the former slaves from America had tension and feuds almost everyday. The settlers recreated American society, building churches and homes that resembled Southern plantations. And they continued to speak English. They also entered into a complex relationship with the indigenous people -- marrying them in some cases, discriminating against them in others, but all the time attempting to "civilize" them and impose Western values on the traditional communities. The African Americans that arrived there also wanted to be free of any "white" rule so in 1847, so 25 years after settling in Liberia; they became Independent. The African Americans though small in number dominated the indigenous people for many years by creating laws that restricted them certain rights such as education, voting ,marriage, and even owning properties. The two groups live in direct contradiction of each other, as the country suffered numerous financial blows to it's economy. Liberia's first and seventh president was Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Roberts did not much to improve the situation between Americo-Liberians and Indigenous groups. The country flourished during its first couple of years of freedom but after a while they started to face a depression.The cost of imports was far greater than the income generated by exports of coffee, rice, palm oil, sugarcane, and timber. To relieve the pressure of poverty, Liberia borrowed from Britain several times. By 1909, the government was bankrupt and forced to borrow further, in large part from the United States. Liberians did not take it lying down by the 1920's the country expanded it's borders with new building projects to get the country up and running. In 1944 the newly elected President William Tubman allowed international investments in Liberia. With the discovery of new minerals in the country, President Tubman became modernizing Liberia. Along the coast of the country, schools, railroads, and hospitals were erected. Things became to turn around economically, but tension between the indigenous groups and the Americo-Liberians grew stronger. Under Tubmans' administration, new laws were enacted to grant voting and other rights for indigenous groups. Liberia became a founding member of the United Nations as well as Organization of African Unity. Tubman was heavily criticized for being too influenced by America due to his stand against communism. Though he started out making much needed change in the country, President became more authoritian, even changing the constitution. He served seven consecutive terms in office, gagged the press, and arrested those who criticize him. By 1971 the country was slipping into poverty again. Things became worse after Tubmans death, the vice President William Tolbert succeeded him. Tolbert 's tried to boost the country's economy but Tubman later years as president had severally damaged the country. Tolbert's cabinet opposed any effort he made to change the economy, especially his efforts to bring indigenous people into the government. In 1979 he tried to raise the taxes on rice, Liberia's main source of income, but this led to a violent uproar. Tolbert was killed the following year by Samuel K. Doe, a 28 year old indigenous master sergeant. 13 of his cabinet members were publicly executed.Doe formed a new government known as the People's Redemption Council. The majority of the people welcomed this new government at first, but they soon realized that Doe's regime was not much different than Tubmans in his latter years as president. Doe started behaving like a dictator; he rigged the election so that he would be president, he favored people of his tribe, giving them seats in the government, and started executing those who questioned him. Members of other indigenous tribes soon fled the country as violence against them erupted by Doe's army. The tribes settled in Ivory Coast, there they met Charles Taylor. Charles Taylor was a former cabinet member of Doe's, who fled the country after stealing money from the Liberian government. Taylor trained and organized men for a takeover. In 1990 Doe was captured and tortured to death by one of Taylor's rebel group. A civil was broke out between the Liberian Army and rebel groups. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the country as the war raged for five years. I lost many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, during the bloodshed. Taylor called for a ceasefire after the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and the Organization of African Unity held a conference to end the war. Taylor kept his word and the war ended. In 1997 he was elected president. Liberia did not enjoy peace for long, Taylor did little to improve the country. He spent his time trying trying to increase his wealth and status. In 1999 another was broke out, led by the Organization of Displaced Liberians. The women of Liberia rose up and formed an organization known as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. The grouped met with Taylor forcing him to attend peace conferences in Ghana. With pressure from Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, the U.S. and other international groups Taylor resigned and went into exiled in Liberia. The war ended in August of 2003. Two years later Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president. Johnson Sirleaf is the first female president of Liberia and first female Head of Sate in Africa.
Economic Development, Health, and Education
Economic Development.The Liberian Civil War tremendously devestated the countries economy.The Liberian economy relied heavily on the mining of iron ore and on the export of natural rubber prior to the civil war. Liberia’s economic freedom score is 46.2, making its economy the world’s 163rd freest in the 2010 Index. Liberia is also ranked 40th out of 46 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, and the countries overall score is below the world and regional averages. The countries GDP is $836 million, with a $204.9 GDP Per Capita. Average annual income was not available but as of 2000 80% of the people fell below the poverty line. Liberia main imported material are fuels, chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods and foodstuffs from several Asian countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Japan,china, and Taiwan. Liberia spends $1.197 billion exporting goods like rubber, timber, iron, diamonds,tin, gold, cocoa and coffee from India,United States of America, Poland, Germany, and Belgium. The country has a high infant mortality rate; there are 138.24 deaths out of 1,000 live births. Female infants have a lower mortality rate than males with 122 deaths out of 1000, while male infants are a shocking 154 out of every 1000. Liberian females have a life expectancy of age 43, for males life expectancy is 41. 58% of the population can read and write. Males have a higher literacy rate than females. 73% of the male population can read and write while only 42% of women can read and write. Most males obtain 11 years of schooling, while females complete only 8 years of schooling, 3 less than men, and 2 less than the country's school life expectancy.
Liberia is a republic, which means that the people choose their leaders. The majority of the people have an impact on who gets to run the country and how they go about running the country. Liberia, due to its relations with America has a constitution which was established on January 6, 1986 hundreds of years after the country became independent.Liberia has a high level of governmental corruption, another causality of the countries' brutal civil wart. Like the U.S.there are three branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial. Though all three branches are equal on paper, in practice, the executive branch runs the country and has the most power.The executive branch is ran by the President who is Head of Government and Chief of State.The executive branch is also made up of the Vice President and the Cabinet. Cabinet member's are elected by the president and confirmed by the state. The presidency is for 6 years and can presidents can serve for two terms. The country has a bicameral legislature system with 64 seats in the House of Representatives, and 30 in the House of Senates. Representatives serve a six year terms while Senators (excluding junior Seniors) serve a nine year term. The Judicial branch is headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The voting age in Liberia is 18 and up, in order to vote, voters must have a valid registration card. Elections are held on the second Tuesdays of an election year Presidential election:There will be a two-round system for the offices of President and Vice-President. (The two candidates will run on a single ballot). A candidate needs to get an absolute majority of the votes, meaning at least 50% of all valid votes cast plus one vote. If none of the candidates has an absolute majority, a second round will be held with only the two candidates who had the highest votes. If a second round is held, the candidate with the majority of votes is elected
Senate: There are 15 counties in Liberia,Bomi, Bong, Gbarpolu, Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Lofa, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado, Nimba, River Cess, River Gee and Sinoe. Each of the 15 counties are allowed to have two seats in the Senate. Senate elections in Liberia follow a simple majority system, meaning the two candidates who obtain the highest and second highest numbers of valid votes casted will be elected.
Representatives:There are 64 seats in the House of Representatives. Each of those seat will correspond to an electoral district. The 64 districts are defined by the NEC on the basis of voter registration results. Each of the 15 counties are divided into districts that correspond to an approximately equal number of voters. The more voters registered for a county, the more seats that county will receive. However, each county is guaranteed by the law to receive no less than 2 seats/districts. The candidate who obtains a simple majority in his or her electoral district will be elected to that seat. Voters will vote for a candidate, not for a party.
Judicial Elections: The members of the Supreme Court are elected by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Each of the five justices have lifetime tenure. Below the Supreme Court are 15 circuit courts, one in each county.
Liberia does have Judicial Review on paper but the Executive branch runs the country. The executive has more power in practice over the government and the people than the other two branches. There is a strong role for judicial review in Liberia because thought the branches are separate, they are not equal.
Courts and Criminal Law
The Liberian Supreme Court is the highest in the country and is modeled after the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court gets its power from the 1839 Constitution of the American Colonization Society.With several constitutions under it's belt (There have been two Constitutions of Liberia since its inception as a sovereign Republic:* the 1847 Constitution of Liberia and* the 1986 Constitution of Liberia the Supreme Court always retained it's judicial powers. Article VII of the 1984 constitution outlines the powers and structure of the court. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction and original jurisdiction.Appellate jurisdiction is the power of a court to review decisions and change outcomes of decisions of lower courts. Besides the Supreme Court there are 15 circuit courts located in each of the 15 districts. Circuit courts have original jurisdiction in serious cases that include offenses such as rape, aggravated assault, and murder. Along with the circuit courts are magistrate courts which hear both civil and criminal cases . In very serious cases/matters including rape, murder, or burglary, the magistrate courts must refer to Circuit Courts after preliminary hearings are conducted.
Punishment in Liberia tends to be more about humiliating the offender than rehabilitating the offender. Since Liberia is a mixture of African and American culture, the punishments are a unique blend of the two worlds. The country is suppose to let the court punish the offender but many of the victims and their family take actions into their own hands. Liberia has two types of punishments, sanctioned and unsanctioned punishments like the U.S. and customary punishments. Sanctioned punishments include long and harsh prison sentences and excessive fines; those awaiting trial can be held in prison indefinitely. Unsanctioned punishments in some ways are harsher than sanctioned punishments, the offender and his or her family are stigmatized for the rest of their life. Offenders are treated with contempt, and society never lets them forget what they did, regardless of what there crime was. Liberia was pro capitol punishment up until 2005, for certain crimes such as terrorism, armed robbery, and carjacking, but later resurrected some elements of it.Statutory Rape is punishable by no more than ten years in prison, though the legislatures are trying to pass laws that have longer and harsher prison terms form rapists. Under current Liberian law, rape is a first degree felony if the rapist inflicts serious bodily injuries on the victim, and faces the death penalty or life imprisonment.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Liberia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Liberia uses corporal punishment to enforce school rules. Customary law has trial by ordeals. The chief of each clan follows customs and traditions to decide a person's guilt or innocence. Clan chieftains use the traditional practice of trial-by-ordeal to resolve criminal cases. The Supreme Court ruled that trial-by-ordeal is unconstitutional. The grounds for the ruling was because one of the ordeals involved placing a heated metal object on a suspect's body in an attempt to abstract the truth. Though unconstitutional,the practice continues under an executive order. Human rights group are still trying to abolish trial by ordeal practices throughout the country. They have yet to prevail as of 2004. Liberia does have corporal punishment. Corporal punishment can be used when students are often late, misbehaving, not studying, getting answers wrong to a question, engaging in inappropriate behavior with the opposite or same sex, and for lying. Teachers have various forms of punishments that they use such as lashes, standing in the corner, kneeling in rice, and being called degrading names. The saying it takes a village to raise a child is taken seriously and literally in Liberia. People other than parents can spank and use other forms of punishment on a child. Growing up as a child, if I did something wrong, my grandparents would punish me, then my aunt and uncles would call and lecture me for a hour, on top of that my cousins would tease me for days. Children have no right to privacy or rights in Liberia as far as the parents are concerned.
Liberia has an adversarial court system. The key actors in the Liberian court system are the Judges, lawyers, and the police. To be a judge in Liberia you have to complete 8 years of graduate school.The University of Liberia for example offers two programs for attaining a Bachelor of Laws Degree - three (3) years morning Program and 5 years evening Program. Upon completion of their courses, students have to pass the Bar exam in order to practice law at the the lower courts either as an attorney or a judge. After at least three years of practice as an Attorney of Law, another bar examination can be taken to allow admittance to practice in the Supreme Court of Liberia and to be considered a Counselor at Law.
The law enforcers in Liberia are very corrupt. The police are ill equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection or investigation. The Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberia National Police, the Antiterrorist Unit, also called the Anti terrorist Brigade, and the Special Security Service (SSS), are the country's law enforcement groups. These security forces are ineffective and only add to the country's high crime rate. They are known to torture, beat, and otherwise abused or humiliated citizens. The Government investigated some of the alleged abuses by the security forces; however, offenders rarely were charged or disciplined. Liberia National Police are in charge of the country's internal security.
Crime Rates and Public Opinion
The crime rate in Liberia is high, and is exacerbated by the high rate of unemployment. Liberia ranks 138th out of 179 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2008. In 2004 Liberia had a 16.8 murder rate per 100,000. Robbery is on the rise due to the country's high level of poverty and unemployment. Sexual violence consistently comes first or second (after armed robbery) in monthly police crime listings in the capital Monrovia. The youngest rape survivor was a 21 month old girl. The Liberian government set up a rape and sexual abuse court in 2008, so far only 4 cases have been processed and tried. There is a huge discrepancy between the medical and police report when it comes to rape. Women are afraid to speak because of the taboos that are associated with rape and sexual abuse. People, especially women and young girls feel afraid to travel by night and day. Money laundering scams has also risen.
Liberia laws as stated before are based on American statutory laws and cutomary laws. The people get their rights from the Liberian Constituion. According to the Constitution, statutory laws and common law of the formal legal system govern all Liberians, whereas the old Rules and Regulation Governing the Hinterland refer to the adjudication of cases for “civilized people” and “natives.”
There are two types of regulations concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption in Liberia. There are tribla regualtion and "civilized" regulations. 30% of Indigenious men practice polgamy, but 'civilized" men practice this as well. In indigeniuos marriages the male pays a dowry known as a 'brideswealth" to the family of the girl he wishes to marry. Marriage is viewed as a process not as an event; the man can make payments towards his futre bride. Once the woman is married she has no rights under customary laws. She belongs to her husband. The brideswealth also gives the husband full custody of any child born to his wife during their marriage. Customary law does not allow the woman to inheirt anything after her husband dies, she does not even have custody of her children after the husband dies. The legal age for women to get married is 18, for males 21 but customary laws and traditional allow for a girl to be married at age 12 or 13. The civil marriages on paper guarantees women the same rights as their husband but in practice this is not the case. The government passed a new civil law recognising shared child custody, but in the matter of parental responsibility it appears that discrimination against women persists. Family decisions are generally made by the male, with strong inputs from his family (particulary his male relatives). Currently there are not any written laws geared towards elders, but people are seriously frowned upon if they do not take care of their aging or sick parents.
Children are highly valued as potential workers and supporters of their parents in old age. Under cusotmary laws children have no rights. They are there to work, help, and obey their parents. They start working at a very early age. The Constitution provides children with a little more freedom than customary laws. Under constitutional laws children are protected from abuse, but this is not always the practice. Liberians define abuse differently than Americans. Women under statutory laws are promised the same rights as men but women in Liberian society are burdened by traditions. Husbands are allowed to beat their wives. The country is making progress in some areas, for example, In 2006, the government passed a law punishing spousal rape. Prior to 2006, spousal rape was not considered rape, let alone a crime.
Liberia's Constitution is very similar to the America's Constitution. Article 11 of the Liberian Constitution says  a. All persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining and security of the person and of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution. b. All persons, irrespective of ethnic background, race, sex, creed, place of origin or political opinion, are entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution. c. All persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law. Articles 11-15 are a reflection our First Amendment rights, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, etc. Article 21 gives Liberians the right to counsel, speedy and fair trail, search and seizures cannot be conducted without a warrant, and excessive bails and fines cannot be imposed on a person. On paper people have these rights but it practice that is another story.  The Government's human rights record remained poor, and there were numerous, serious abuses in many areas. Liberia is a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. TRC investigates gross human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in Liberia between January 1979 and October 14, 2003 during the civil war. TRC seeks to reconcile and forgive, assist and aid, and seek the truth. The group primary focus is on women, children, and ex-combatants. The organization seeks justice against abuses which include massacres, rapes, unlawful killings and economic crimes.