Liberia SSR Snapshot


Key Information

Location: West African coast 

Population: 4.7m (World Bank 2017)

Capital: Monrovia, with 1.2M people (UN 2015)

Area: 111,369 Km2

Mineral wealth: iron ore, diamonds and gold

Local authorities: 15 counties  (Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Gbarpolu, Lofa, Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Nimba, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland).

Languages: English (official) and around 30 others.

Constitution: The Constitution of Liberia, 6 January 1986 

Political system: Republic

GDP Growth rate: 2.4% annually (World Bank 2017)

GDP per capita: 456 USD (World Bank 2017)

Most Productive Sectors: mining accounts for over half of the country’s export revenue.

Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty line: 54.1% (World Bank 2014)

Literacy rate adult age 15 and above:  42.9% (World Bank 2007)

External Debt: 860m USD (UN 2015)

Ibrahim Index for African Governance: 28/54 (2017)  

Freedom House Index: Partly free (2018)

Corruption Index: 122/180 (Transparency International 2017)

Human Development Index: 0.427 (2016


Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction and General Background
  2. Political Overview
  3. Current Political Context
  4. Security Sector Overview
  5. Security Sector Reform
  6. Legislative and Civilian Oversight
  7. Police Reform
  8. Defence Transformation
  9. Justice and Prison Reform
  10. Transitional justice, Human Rights and reconciliation
  11. Gender
  12. Donor Support and Coordination
  13. Future Considerations
  14. List of Acronyms
  15. Further Reading

1. Introduction and General Background   

Cultural and Geographic Background

Located on the West African coast, the Republic of Liberia is a Sub-Saharan state bordering Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, as well as the North Atlantic Ocean. The country covers 111,369 Km2 and is divided into 15 counties; Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Gbarpolu, Lofa, Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Nimba, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland. Montserrado, where the capital Monrovia is located, is both the smallest, a land area of 194 Km², and the most populous county, with a population of over 1.1m inhabitants (2008 Population and Housing Census).

Currently, the population of Liberia is 4.7m. The population is overwhelmingly indigenous (95%), comprising 17 officially recognised ethnic groups. Kpelle, Bassa, and Grebo represent the three largest tribes (2008 Population and Housing Census). Americo-Liberians and Congo people constitute the remaining 5% of the population.

Liberia has experienced inter-cultural tensions between different ethnic groups for decades, being driven and compounded by often discriminatory government policies. When Liberia gained independence in 1847, indigenous groups were prevented from participating in political life.

English is Liberia’s sole official language and serves as the country’s lingua franca . The majority of the population is fluent in Liberian English, a combination of a variety of different forms of English. In addition, over 30 indigenous languages are spoken by native groups. In spite of a multi-ethnic composition, over 85% of Liberians profess either Christianity or elements of both Christianity and other traditional indigenous religions. 

Just like other developing African countries, Liberia is experiencing a significant rural-urban migration, as people move to the cities in search of better living conditions and employment opportunities. As of 2017, approximately half of the population (49.7%) lives in urban settings and this number is in rapid expansion, with an urbanisation rate of 3.3% (2016, World Bank).

Economic Background

In spite of ranking as one the 5 countries with the highest ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP, Liberia is also among the poorest countries in the world, with about 68% of the population living below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day (World Bank). In addition, the wealth gap between the richest and poorest in Liberia is significant; the richest quintile of the population holds 41.3% of the income, whilst the poorest quintile holds 7.7% (World Bank). The GINI coefficient for Liberia is 36.5 (Human Development Report)

Agriculture has historically been a one the most profitable sectors, accounting for more than 40% of GDP, however, the Ebola crisis in 2013-2016 has severely restricted domestic production. Mining is another profitable sector, accounting for over half of Liberia’s export revenue.                                         

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2. Political Overview

Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, was established by freed American and Caribbean slaves. The country was first founded as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), a group supporting the migration of free African Americans to the African continent, based on the belief that they would experience better living conditions than in the United States. The country became the first African republic to self-proclaim independence on 26 July 1847. Modeled on the U.S. government, the 1847 Constitution established Liberia as a unitary representative democratic republic, grounded in the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. After gaining independence, Liberia was divided into five counties, the number of which progressively expanded to reach fifteen by 2001. Whereas the Constitution calls for mayors and government representatives at the county and local level to be elected by popular vote, fourteen years of war and financial constraints have impaired the holding of local elections since 1985 (BBC, 2008). In terms of general elections, the Liberian President is elected by majority vote in a two-round voting system taking place every six years. Based on the U.S. model, the President can only serve up to two terms in office. The presidential campaigns of 2005 and 2011 were both won by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected head of state in the continent. New elections, which took place in October 2017, caught international attention as they entailed the first peaceful government transfer through democratic elections since 1944 (IFES, 2017). In a long-delayed runoff for the presidency (BBC, 2017), George Weah was elected President on the 26th December with more than 60% (BBC, 2017). Jewel Howard-Taylor, Charles Taylor’s former wife, is his vice-president. The organisation of free, fair and transparent elections where disputes were resolved peacefully through established mechanisms in accordance with the law was widely seen as monumental milestones demonstrating the effective dissemination of Rule of Law principles.

Originally, the 1847 Constitution precluded the indigenous community from fully participating in the political and economic life of the country. All the civil and political rights, as well as ownership over natural resources, were placed in the hands of the English-speaking American descendants residing in the newly formed republic. Practicing acts of discrimination similar to those they themselves had experienced as slaves in America, it was only in 1951 that the indigenous people of Liberia were allowed to participate. The exclusion of indigenous representation within the government and unprivileged economic standing for the benefit of the American descendants – amounting to 5% of the total population – exacerbated the tensions which would fuel Liberia’s political instability starting in 1980.

On April 12, 1980, a group of young soldiers, belonging to the Krahn ethnic group, succeeded in a military coup. The movement’s leader, Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, suspended the Constitution and declared himself president of the new government. Under Doe’s presidency, all members of the previous government - of Americo-Liberian descent – were replaced with indigenous Liberians. ). Krahn’s dominance of the new government which quickly isolated the remaining ethnic groups (SWAC/OECD, 2011), along with Doe’s decision to ban all political parties from assembling and demonstrating, was at the centre of the resentment that would drive the country into a fourteen-year long civil war.

First Liberian Civil War 1989-1999

The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia group founded in the Ivory Coast in the late 1980s, invaded Liberia on 24 December 1989 in an effort to overthrow Doe’s government. Under the leadership of Americo-Liberian descendant Charles Taylor, the original group of 15,000 rebels was joined by the Gio and Manu ethnic groups, frustrated by the discrimination suffered during Doe’s rule. The conflict polarised the Liberian population even further, with the rebels massacring Khran civilians and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) – consisting mainly of Khrans – decimating Gios and Manus. With the help of the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), an Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was set up in late 1990, precluding the participation of all members of the major warring factions. However, clashes did not stop. President Samuel Doe was captured, tortured and finally murdered by a group of rebels on September 9, 1990. More troops from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal were brought in to support ECOWAS’s enforcement of a cease-fire, which was concluded on November 1990. Regardless, fighting persisted throughout the 1990s.

On 19 August 1995, the Liberian parties to the conflict agreed on the Abuja Accord. A comprehensive ceasefire was established on 26 August. A six-member Council of State, including representatives of the major warring factions, was set up to remain in power until elections, scheduled for the following year. The Agreement included a formula for the distribution of government posts. Despite some initial progress, by April 1996 the Accord collapsed. The United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) and ECOMOG established check-points and undertook patrols in Monrovia; however the breakdown of law and order by the fighting parties continued to escalate.  

In a climate of mistrust, a ceasefire was restored by ECOWAS on 26 May. By the end of the month, most fighters had left Monrovia. In early September, UNOMIL’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Task Force was reactivated. The disarmament and demobilisation process began in November 1996. Despite these positive developments, the security situation in Liberia remained volatile.

With the assistance of UNOMIL, ECOMOG, the European Union (EU), International Foundation for Electoral Systems, UNDP, and donor countries, elections were organised and held by the Liberian Independent Elections Commission. On 19 July 1997, Charles Taylor was overwhelmingly voted as President of the new post-conflict government (Brookings, 1998). International observers declared the elections to be free and fair.

Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003)

The peace-building project following the first civil war collapsed in 1999. The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a group of dissidents relying on Guinea’s support, emerged in northern Liberia with the declared aim of removing Charles Taylor from government. Taylor responded to LURD’s attacks by deploying irregular ex-NPFL fighters. As fighting raged around Lofa, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties –as well as in the surroundings of Monrovia - the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and Liberians seeking refuge in neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire, grew increasingly (UNHCR, 2003).

In early 2003, a second opposition group – the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) – emerged in the south of the country. Clashes between the dissidents and government troops escalated in a number of areas. Monrovia was under siege by both rebel armies. Under increasing international pressure, Charles Taylor resigned and went in exile in Nigeria on 11 May 2003, prompting the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the Interim Government of Liberia, LURD and MODEL. Moreover, representatives of civil society were strongly involved in the peace discussions. On 18 August 2003, the Peace Agreement was signed and the second Liberian civil war formally ended, in spite of some sporadic fighting continuing in the aftermath of the treaty. Upon request of the Security Council, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was established to observe and monitor the implementation of the CPA and support Security Sector Reform (S/RES/1509, 2003). Extended multiple times by Security Council resolutions, UNMIL’s mandate came to an end on 30 March, 2018 (S/RES/2333, 2016).

Post-Conflict Political Environment (2003-2017)

In line with article XXI of the Accra CPA, the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) was installed in October 2003. Supported by UN peacekeeping mission, the NTGL replaced Taylor’s government and ruled until democratic elections confirmed Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the country’s next president.

In June 2006, Sirleaf officially launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was mandated to investigate Liberia’s turbulent conflict history, report on gross human rights violations (GHRV), and foster peace, unity, and reconciliation (International Crisis Group, 2011). Sirleaf was re-elected in 2011 and concluded her term following the general elections of December 2017.

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3. Current Political Context

George Weah is Liberia’s current Head of State. Jewel Howard-Taylor is his vice-president. George Weah is leader of the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), which is an alliance of the Congress for Democratic Change, National Patriotic Party and Liberia People’s Democratic Party. The CDC won 21 out of the 73 seats in the House of Representatives. 

With the first round of elections in October 2017 seeing no single candidate receive a majority vote, a second run-off vote between the top two candidates was held. The run-off vote was temporarily put on hold when the third-place candidate from the October election, Brumskine, claimed that there were systematic irregularities and fraud. However, the Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to order a re-run and allowed the second round to follow (BBC, 2017). Despite the allegations, the elections resulted in the first democratic transition of power in Liberia for 70 years.

In his State of the Nation address in January 2018, Weah stated that improving public sector transparency was one of his government’s key priorities (World Bank, 2018).

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4. Security Sector Overview

The 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) called for the complete restructuring of the country’s two main security institutions, the Liberian National Police (LNP) and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). By the end of the war, both institutions were widely viewed as sources of insecurity for Liberians across the country, owing to 14 years of unlawful behaviour and a general blurring of the distinction between security and politics (Search for Common Ground and SIPRI, 2011). The issue of security sector reform (SSR) formed an integral part of peace discussions in Accra (Jaye, 2009). In addition, the CPA outlined the need to disarm and restructure the special security units, including the Special Operations Division, the LNP’s Anti-Terrorist Unit, and Special Operations Division, as well as putting an end to a number of commercial interests controlled by the security services (Griffiths, 2011).

SSR efforts began in 2004, following the completion of DDR with the demobilisation of 103,019 ex-fighters. However, the national security strategy was only adopted in 2008. An initial emphasis was mostly placed on training military and police, at the expense of other bodies such as the judiciary, prison services, border security, customs and immigration, intelligence, drug enforcement, and oversight and accountability mechanisms. UNMIL, established in 2003 to support the SSR efforts, encouraged the implementation of the ceasefire agreement; while protecting United Nations staff, facilities, and civilians; supporting humanitarian and human rights activities; and assisting with national security reform, including national police training and the formation of a new, restructured military (UNMIL, 2003).

Approved officially in 2008 and revised in 2014 and 2017, the National Security Strategy outlines the government’s long-term goals for its security sector, specifically describing the process of reforming Liberia’s army and police. It created a high-level framework for the various security services to develop their own specific policies in a more coordinated and coherent manner (Search for Common Ground and SIPRI, 2011). The Strategy promoted the dissolution of the Ministry of National Security, National Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, the latter two being merged into the Liberian National Police – though the subsequent National Security Reform and Intelligence Act (NSRIA) of 2011 exempted the Drug Enforcement Agency from being abolished and merged the Ministry of National Security and the National Bureau of Investigation with the LNP. It also called for creating security councils with civilian oversight mechanisms at the district and county level (Griffiths, 2011).

The Liberian security sector is very fragmented. Its numerous actors include:

  • Presidency of Liberia
  • National Security Council
  • Ministry of Justice (MoJ)
  • Legislature
  • Supreme Court
  • Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL)
  • Liberia National Police (LNP)
  • National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)
  • National Security Agency (NSA)
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
  • Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN)
  • Department of Customs  
  • Ministry of National Defense (MoD)
  • Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA)
  • Security forces of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC)
  • Liberia Telecommunications Corporation Plant Protection Force
  • Forestry Development Authority (FDA)
  • Roberts International Airport Base Security (RIA)
  • Liberia National Fire Service (LNFS)

Additionally, non-statutory bodies – i.e. private security companies and community policing groups – operate alongside, if not in replacement of, the state in the provision of security. The presence of such a wide array of security actors with overlapping mandates and poor oversight mechanisms represents a source of concern for SSR performance (Jaye, 2009).

In 2008, the Government of Liberia launched the Liberia Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS I), highlighting peace and security, as well as governance and the rule of law, as two of the four pillars on which the strategy was to be implemented. The decentralisation of security and justice sectors was identified as central issues. In the past, the provision of security and justice had been uneven across the country, with Monrovia collecting a disproportionate degree of attention and aid (ACCORD, 2013). An important step towards the devolution of security and justice mechanisms was the establishment of the Regional Hub Model. Established by the Government of Liberia in collaboration with UNMIL, the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) and the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), the regional hubs have been accorded funding of over $13 million USD (UNMIL, 2013). To raise awareness of the hubs, the government has launched a public awareness-rising programme and a Public Services Office (PSO) to promote knowledge about the services and strengthen utilisation of the hubs. On 12 February 2013, the first regional justice and security hub was launched in Gbarnga, Bong County.

Despite some achievements, a far-reaching, holistic approach to SSR is yet to be implemented. Pursuant to the 2003 CPA, the restructuring of military and police forces was identified as the central SSR priority. Viewed as a predominantly technical exercise, governance issues were overlooked in SSR discourses (Jaye, 2009).

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5. Security Sector Reform

Legislative and Civilian Oversight

The Constitution of Liberia grants the Legislature with no formal authority to oversee and investigate the executive branch, including national security institutions. Nevertheless, reform efforts have progressively promoted legislative oversight of SSR. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have committees on defence, security, and intelligence, with powers to inspect and inquire, as well as the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Fighting the systemic corruption entrenched in the public sector is one of the hardest challenges for postwar Liberia. Some notable progress was achieved with the establishment of the General Auditing Commission (GAC) in 2007, and the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) in 2008, with a view to conduct audits of government agencies and prosecute corruption cases. Nevertheless, mechanisms to eradicate corruption have produced limited results, raising internal security concerns (HRW, 2013). With poor logistical infrastructures and insufficient transportation, police officers have been routinely accused by the Liberian population of requesting fees to reach crime scenes, as well as accepting payments to release detainees held in custody or prison (HRW, 2013). The resulting mistrust in the police, in turn, strengthens popular support for vigilante groups, which are often perceived as the sole reliable providers of ‘justice.’

Both the Constitution of Liberia and the 2009 Access to Information Act recognize access to information as a fundamental right to protect government accountability. However, for the majority of Liberians this hardly represents the reality on the ground. Much of the legislative work is conducted in committee sessions and action can be delayed for years, raising concerns on the legislature’s levels of both transparency and efficiency. In the context of SSR, no clear civilian oversight mechanisms are available for the activities of, or the National Security Agency (NSA). Furthermore, as the role of the judiciary is not mentioned in the NSRIA, independent avenues of appeal and recourse are not envisaged (Sayndee, 2015).

In 2003, Liberia Governance Reform Commission (GRC) was created in order to strengthen postwar public institutions. In 2007, the GRC was transformed in the Governance Commission (GC), as part of a long-term strategy of reforming the governance agenda. The first pillar of the program, covering political and legal reform, included a policy of decentralisation designed to extend the security system outside of Monrovia. The GC’s decentralisation efforts were reflected in the National Defence Act of 2008.

Police Reform

Adopted by the Security Council in September 2003, Resolution 1509 formally established UNMIL’s role in reforming the security sector. Specifically, the resolution stated that UNMIL would “ assist the transitional government of Liberia in monitoring and restructuring the police force of Liberia, consistent with democratic policing, to develop a civilian police training programme”, ( S/RES/1509 (2003))Before and during the conflict, the LNP had systematically preyed upon the population it was sworn to protect, and by the end of the country’s civil war had completely lost the trust of the population (Search for Common Ground and SIPRI, 2011). As part of the post-war transition, UNMIL was tasked with assisting the transitional government of Liberia to develop a civilian police training program, recruit and train police, and participate in efforts to restructure the LNP (Malan, 2008). From the onset in October 2003, UN police officers (UNPOL) have assisted the LNP in efforts to maintain law and order, as well as providing training and advisory services.

Since the end of the conflict the Liberia National Police have embarked on institutional development in a number of areas, including the introduction of the LNP’s Community Policing Policy and the Community Policing Program-National Action Plan and BIN’s Alien and Border Community Policy to strengthen community engagement and partnerships, and enhance early warning and response mechanisms. The police are rolling out nationwide community policing programmes to improve police- community relations.

The national police, with support from UNMIL, also improved civilian oversight to help professionalize the service and enhance public trust. The Professional Standards Department, which investigates reports of officer misconduct, has established a database to record and track cases of police misconduct. However, operational, logistic, and budgetary constraints are still significant. As a result, UNMIL has continued its operations following the LNP reform to provide direct operational support. The mission’s mandate will expire in March 2018, as established by S/RES/2333 (2016), causing concern among the population on how security will be ensured following the mission’s departure.

In 2003, many among the 3,500 Liberian police officers remaining in their positions lacked basic qualifications or were believed to be linked to rebel groups. To create the new Liberia National Police (LNP), all existing police were deactivated. Out of almost 3,000 police officers who had registered to join the new police, only 756 remained after undergoing vetting. As of 6 June 2017, the strength of the national police stood at 5,127 officers,including 970 women. With little over 100 officers per 100,000 people, the LNP is still well below the median for the rest of the continent (HR Watch, 2013). Besides, the majority of the police service, or 3,858 officers, including 748 women, were deployed in Montserrado County as at that date, leaving only 1,284 officers deployed throughout the rest of the country.

Attempts have been made to deploy more police forces to rural areas, in particular through the development of the Regional Hub Model project in Gbarnga, Zwedru and Harper. The hubs, as a forward operating base for the LNP’s Police Support Unit, enabled the forward deployment at the hub of Police Support Units (PSU), quick-response armed units that deploy on request by the regular Liberian National Police. Surveys conducted in the counties covered by Hub 1 (Bong, Lofa and Nimba) show that between 2012 and 2014 more people in these areas felt safer suggesting that decentralizing security and justice to the counties have indeed improved security. Despite such developments, the perceptions of the police remain generally unfavourable. Recent surveys conducted reveal that many Liberians continue to perceive state security institutions as corrupt, ill-equipped, inaccessible, and ineffective. Half of respondents believed they would have to pay for the police to investigate a crime, and only 25% believed the police would take their case seriously. Over half of respondents described the police as corrupt.

Defence Transformation

Pursuant to article VII of the CPA, one of the central and most important planks in Liberia’s SSR platform was reforming the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), an institution that had lost the trust of the local population entirely during the war (Search for Common Ground and SIPRI, 2011). The CPA requested explicitly that the United States play a leading role in the process of rebuilding the armed forces. The US-led reform program, which was sub-contracted to DynCorp, included completely dismantling the existing army, recruiting and vetting recruits, and training, equipping, and sustaining the new force until it became operational. Approximately 13,770 demobilised soldiers were offered widely differing amounts in compensation, depending on their seniority and length of service. An additional 400-450 personnel from the Ministry of National Defence were also replaced with newly selected candidates (Malan, 2008). The recruitment process for the new AFL was open to all Liberian citizens as an opportunity to rectify the historical discrimination of applicants from rural areas.

In line with the 2008 National Security Strategy and National Defence Act, Liberia’s Ministry of National Defence released its first National Defence Strategy on February 11, 2014. The document is meant to provide strategic guidance, force development requirements, and a framework to identify the roles and missions of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The strategy follows an extensive consultation process with key internal stakeholders (including civil society groups and other government departments and agencies), as well as key international donors.

The US-led approach resulted in the vetting and training of a pool of nearly 2,000 military personnel, with no ethnic group exceeding 15% (Sayndee, 2015). In spite of inadequate infrastructures and transportation means, the deliberate effort to reach potential recruits in all fifteen counties of Liberia played a critical role in promoting the AFL’s credibility as a truly national force. By 2013, the AFL’s restructuring was recognized as stable and qualified enough to send a peacekeeping contingent to Mali (McFate, 2013).

Justice and Prison Reform

Liberia has a dual justice system involving a formal court hierarchy under the judiciary, and a system of customary courts originally authorized under the Hinterland Regulations. The legal framework governing the dual justice system is full of gaps and ambiguities and is in need of revision.  There is a lack of clarity as to whether the Hinterland Regulations remain legally in force. The Regulations contain provisions that refer to outdated geographic divisions and rules. The existing confusion around the Hinterland Regulations and other issues of standardization, such as jurisdiction, are neither sustainable nor conducive to successful dispute resolution

At the end of 2017, twenty-one circuit courts, 152 magistrate courts and 74 specialized courts are now operational in all fifteen counties, totalling 375 judges. 80 prosecutors and 35 public defenders are deployed across the country. The legal framework governing the justice system has been improved, including by the adoption of laws to expand the jurisdiction of magisterial courts, reduce case backlogs and redefine rape. UNMIL provided technical support for the review of the Rules of Court and Judicial Canons, the code of conduct for lawyers and judges . The judiciary has developed a framework for the restructuring of the Office of the Court Administrator, established a Court Inspectorate Unit and broadened oversight bodies of the judiciary and the legal profession.

To tackle Liberia’s high incidence of rape, a Women and Children Protection Sections, responsible for investigating SGBV and other crimes affecting women and children, was established at an early stage within the Liberian National Police, along with a specialised SGBV Crimes Unit within the Ministry of Justice, and a specialised court with exclusive jurisdiction over SGBV offences. The Ministry of Justice’s SGBV Crimes Unit and the establishment of Criminal Court E for sex-related crimes are important steps forward. The performance of these specialized mechanisms nevertheless remain poor, with a negligible fraction of cases reaching trial.

Despite the huge progess made since the end of the conflict  the formal system nevertheless remains constrained by systemic dysfunctions including the limited capacity of police to sufficiently collect evidence, cumbersome jury trial procedures, short-court terms, limited logistical capacity to bring witnesses and victims to appear in court, poor capacity of public defenders to hold peers to account, high absenteeism rates of judicial actors during court terms, rudimentary and flawed case management and tracking systems, and lack of accountability for performance the high fees, bribery, the perceived lack of transparency and efficiency of these institutions limits to establish its legitimacy among the people. (Isser, Lubkemann, and N’Tow, 2009). See alsoVinck et al. (2011), KAIPTC, Local Rules? The practices of Conflict Resolution by the United Nations in Liberia, 2017) Perception survey sconducted reveal for example that for many communities the establishment of justice and security hubs has changed little in their relationship to the formal justice and security sector and they continue to rely on community policing and traditional mechanisms for resolving conflicts It is often believed that even if the courts were to deliver timely and affordable results, many Liberians would still refrain from using the formal system, due to the principles and values via which it operates (Galvanek, Janel B. 2016. Pragmatism and Mistrust: The Interaction of Dispute Resolution Mechanisms in Liberia. Berlin: Berghof Foundation.

Transitional justice, Human Rights and reconciliation

From 2004 on, Liberia ratified a number of key Human Rights instruments including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ; the Convention against Torture and other cruel Inhuman or Degrading treatment ; the Protocol aiming to the abolition of death penalty ; or the convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some legal provisions that are inconsistent with Liberia’s obligations to protect civil and political rights remain in place, however, and have been used to curtail fundamental freedoms. The establishment of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) and the development of a National Human Rights Action Plan 2013 - 2018 represent in this regard a significant development in view of INCHR mandated responsibility as the publicly accessible institution to address human rights complaints and violations. The Commission’s Human rights monitors are now deployed in all fifteen counties.

However, the root causes of Liberia’s conflict remain unaddressed in the absence of meaningful national reconciliation and/or accountability for human rights violations and abuses. Released in 2009, the TRC’s final report identified in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Head of State, a leading figure in support of former president Charles Taylor (TRC Final Report, 2009).  Until now really few recommendations of the report have been implemented.

Technical support to the development and implementation of the strategic framework for the National Reconciliation Road Map nevertheless led to some success in advancing non judicial recommendations presented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009: “Palava Hut” hearings focused on forgiveness were held from 2016 on.


With a history marked by SGBV, the fight against it was highlighted as a national priority: a Gender Children and Social Protection Ministry was created, as well as SGBV Task Force, a SGBV Crime Unit and a special court to prosecute such crimes, the Criminal Court “E”.

Regarding the gender mainstreaming within the defence and security forces, a Gender and Security Sector National Task Force (GSSNT) that comprises representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, LNP, BCR, BIN, DEA, LNFS, Coast Guard, AFL and EPS, National civil society partners and UNMIL, UN Women and USAID was established.

The Task Force stands out for allowing information sharing about general obstacles and specific institutional difficulties in advancing gender-sensitive policies and practices, and for fostering coordination between the gender units of the national security institutions in their attempts to address these challenges. The establishment of the Task Force has led to an increasingly coherent approach to gender mainstreaming across the Liberian security and justice sector, and resulted in a network where mutual support, training, and mentoring of new gender units/offices’ representatives is being provided.

Concrete successes have been the establishment of a gender office within the AFL, and reinforcement, in particular, of the LIS, DEA and BCR gender offices through the development of Terms of Reference for their operationalisation. Other key activities of the Task Force have been the development of an outreach program to encourage women to join security institutions and support for development and alignment of institutional gender policies and work plans. The National Task Force has been strategic in emphasising the significance of establishing policies and practices that strive for gender equality across the security sector in Liberia. It has underscored the importance of this agenda vis-a-vis national security policy and decision-makers, which overall do not prioritise gender mainstreaming in policies and implementation.

The number of women in the Liberian security institutions has incredibly increased, with the exception of the AFL.  As of 2017, the LNP counts 18% of female officers by 2017 (from 2% in 2003); LIS: 28%; Bureau of Corrections (BCR): 18%; Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA): 17%; AFL: 4%[1].

The UNCT, including the UNDP and UN WOMEN, is expected to remain supportive of the Taskforce after the departure of UNMIL. The Taskforce programmes include efforts to establish a platform to advocate for the sustain promotion of women in leadership positions, increase women’s representation to a minimum of 30% through all the recruitment processes and promote gender mainstreaming and equality across Liberia.

[1] Gender Security Newsletter, GSSNT, Vol.1 No.2, Nov-Dec 2017, p. 11.

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6. Donor Support and Coordination 

Since 2003, Liberia has experienced a substantial inflow of resources to support the rebuilding of the country. As funding for SSR is not channelled through government structures, a clear picture of how resources are managed cannot be obtained by looking at the Liberian National Budget, but rather by examining the donors’ internal budgets. In general, much of the international assistance for SSR has been funnelled through UNMIL. Furthermore, in 2010 the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank decided to relieve Liberia of $4,6bn in debt obligations in response to the country reaching its Heavily Indebted Poor Countries ‘completion point'. Though not a direct contributor to SSR, this decision carried significant implications for security sector funding, as debt relief enabled the country to redirect budget priorities to the financing of key services and infrastructures, including SSR.

In addition, bilateral funding commitments play a major role in the country’s development and reform process. As the largest bilateral donor to Liberia, the United States has a long history of supporting the country’s development. The U.S. was pivotal in supporting the reform of the armed forces, though their work was subcontracted to a number of private contractors. Furthermore, the U.S. contributed to police training, as well as to the development of the judicial system. In addition, the UK, Australia, and Sweden contributed to secure funding for reform in these areas.  The overlapping of mandates and financial commitments, in the absence of a concerted strategy among individual donors, can be accounted as part of the explanation of Liberia’s SSR pitfalls in spite of substantial donor support.

Nevertheless, a Public Expenditure Review (PER) jointly submitted by the UN and the World Bank estimated a financing gap of $86m for SSR for the period 2013-2020 (World Bank, 2013). Careful scrutiny to assess SSR priorities will thus be necessary in light of these financial constraints, in particular following UNMIL’s upcoming exit from the country. In 2017 a new expenditure review of the security sector was launch.

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7. Future Considerations

With UNMIL’s full withdrawal on March 2018, the functioning and stability of Liberia’s democratic process is entering a critical phase. Whereas Liberia’s accomplishments in SSR since 2003 should not be discounted, the country still faces a number of challenges. The restructuring of the armed forces by a private American contractor has promoted professionalized military personnel, yet this top-down approach has also contributed to high dependence on external guidance. More generally, Liberians remain unsatisfied with the security sector. Limited policing and high levels of corruption among the ranks are the culprits behind low public confidence (World Bank, 2013).

Provided that most communities outside the capital heavily rely on a customary system, both in the settlement of disputes and for the provision of security, inclusion of customary actors and local leaders will facilitate SSR efforts. Furthermore, a case-by-case analysis of the security challenges affecting the diversity of communities and tribes residing outside Monrovia will enable a more inclusive and responsive assessment of SSR priorities as well as their diversification. This targeted approach will be particularly relevant as UNMIL withdraws from the country, leaving an ample margin of uncertainty on how bilateral support from different actors will be coordinated as not to hinder previous accomplishments and future reform processes.

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8. List of Acronyms


AFL Armed Forces of Liberia MNS Ministry of National Security
AfT Agenda for Transformation MODEL Movement for Democracy in Liberia
CPA Comprehensive Peace Agreement NBI National Bureau of Investigation
DDR Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration NSA National Security Agency
ECOMOG Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group NSRIA National Security Reform and Intelligence Act
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States SGBV Sexual and Gender-Based Violence  
EU European Union SSR Security Sector Reform
GAC General Auditing Commission  TRC Truth and Reconciliation Commission
GRC Governance Reform Commission UNMIL United Nations Mission in Liberia
LACC Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission UNOMIL United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia
LURD Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy UNPOL United Nations Police

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9. Further Reading :

Blair, Robert, KARIM, Sabrina, et MORSE, Benjamin. Building trust in a reformed security sector: A field experiment in Liberia. International Growth Centre, 2016

Boucher, Alix, Priorities for Security and Justice during Liberia’s Transition, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, January 2018

Flomoku, Pewee, and Lemuel Reeves, “Consolidating Peace: Liberia and Sierra Leone,” ACCORD 23:44-47, 2012

Gompert, David C., Oliker, Olga, Stearns, Brooke, Crane, Keith, and K. Jack Riley, “Making Liberia Safe: Transformation of the National Security Sector,” RAND Corporation , 2007

Human Rights Watch, “No Money, No Justice”: Police Corruption and Abuse in Liberia, 2013

International Crisis Group, “Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils,” 2004

International Crisis Group, “Liberia: Resurrecting the Justice System,” 2006

Isser, Deborah H., Lubkemann, Stephen C., and Saah N’Tow, “Looking for Justice: Liberian Experiences With and Perceptions Of Local Justice Options,” United States Institute of Peace , 2009

Maina, Grace, and Abu Sherif, “Enhancing Security and Justice in Liberia: The Regional Hub Model,” The African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes , 2013

“National Security Strategy of the Republic of Liberia,” 2008

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The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.