The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.
On June 30, 2016, the Government of Liberia assumed full security responsibility from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which had played a critical role in stabilizing Liberia after a devastating 14-year civil war ended in 2003. UNMIL ended its mission in Liberia following a gradual drawdown in 2018. Following the end of UNMIL, Liberia continues to suffer from a worsening economic downturn, which was exacerbated by a previous Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015 when Liberia‘s economy fell dramatically from over 8.5 percent pre-Ebola to around 0.3 percent in mid-2016. As Liberians continue to build their institutions, the criminal justice system faces challenges, such as limited government resources for staffing, training, procurement of equipment and supplies, and low morale. For example, the Liberia National Police (LNP) struggles to pay salaries, deploy officers in remote counties, and provide resources such as gas and cell phones to allow officers to perform their work. There are critical gaps in certain basic institutional functions such as financial management, secure radio communications, human resources, and vehicle fleet and facilities maintenance. Poor roads and a six-month rainy season further complicate the government’s efforts to effectively operate nationwide.
An inefficient and unreliable court system has led to prison overcrowding and pre-trial detention rates of approximately 60-80 percent, often with a wait of a year for an initial court appearance. Legal, administrative, and management skills need strengthening. Citizens seem to have little awareness of their rights. Many Liberians choose to settle legal matters informally, with vigilante justice, cash payment to crime victims, or traditional justice practices that are illegal.
The INL program in Liberia supports efforts to strengthenthe rule of law with programs, advisors, and training for legal practitioners and administrative staff involved in the criminal justice system. INL’s focus is on broad criminal justice sector reform, while supporting immediate needs that bolster professionalism, and improve capacity and basic skills as well as specialized skills to address transnational organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and Trafficking in Persons.
- INL’s rule of law program provides technical assistance to Liberian criminal justice sector institutions to foster formal justice institutions that citizens rely on and trust as an impartial means to settle disputes, without resorting to violence or vigilante justice.
- Trafficking in Persons (TIP): Since 2018, INL assistance to the LNP and Liberian judiciary resulted in the first investigations and prosecutions of TIP cases.
- Magistrates Sitting Program: Since January 2020, the Monrovia Central Prison released 99 pre-trial detainees, representing an approximately 10 percent decrease in pre-trial detention rate. This was accomplished through the Magistrate Sitting program that fast tracks hearing dates and records the release of pre-trial detainees. The project also provided technical assistance to circuit court judges and public defenders throughout Liberia, resulting in SOPs to process cases more efficiently through the court system.
- Support to the Solicitor General’s (SG) Prosecution Office: Since 2013, INL has supported quarterly training for the Ministry of Justice prosecutors, who work in the Office of the Solicitor General. There are few law libraries in Liberia, and no law journals, thus INL facilitates regular gatherings of prosecutors with experienced litigators and legal scholars, to fill the informational gap that can inhibit an attorney’s professional development.
- Public Defender Support: Public Defenders began to track court cases to ensure that pre-trial detainees are released in a timely manner according to a newly developed SOP on pre-trial detention. INL’s support also has improved the availability of justice for Liberian defendants by training and resourcing the current cadre of public defenders, and developing the training manual for Liberian public defenders.
INL’s police program is focused on institution building and improving the capabilities of the Liberian National Police (LNP) to possess the structure, skills, and community orientation necessary to prevent, detect, and investigate crime; protect the rights of all; and maintain peace and security throughout the country. Accomplishments include:
- Successful National Presidential Elections: INL-trained LNP officers and other law enforcement agencies successfully coordinated and maintained peace throughout Liberia during the 2018 national presidential elections and the ensuing transfer of power.
- Force Development: INL has provided training and equipment to the two armed units of the LNP, the 360-strong SWAT-like Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the 1,000-strong Police Support Unit (PSU), which is charged with public order management. INL-trained LNP instructors now lead the ERU and PSU training courses. Trained ERU/PSU officers have dealt with riots and demonstrations, displaying capacity to plan and execute proper responses to these events with appropriate use of force.
- National Security Radio System: INL is aiding the Government of Liberia in establishing a national communications system for civilian law enforcement agencies to improve incident response times outside Monrovia.
- Local Dispute Resolution: More than 2,500 security issues have been raised since 2011 through the Mitigating Local Disputes in Liberia (MLDL) project, which supports four county security councils, 14 district security councils, and 14 community fora as a means of encouraging dispute resolution at the local level.
- Financial Management: INL assisted the LNP to develop its first requirements-based budget to justify sufficient future resources. The LNP now has the capacity to build and justify its annual budget request.
An INL counter-narcotics program is focused on strengthening the capacity of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) to be a professional and credible organization capable of disrupting drug trafficking, and helping the Government of Liberia and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reduce drug demand through evidence-based treatment programs. Accomplishments include:
- LDEA Reforms: Since deployment of an embedded INL Counternarcotics Advisor to the LDEA in 2013, the organization has undergone institutional reform that includes complete restructuring, auditing of personnel and assets, a merit-based hiring process, and continued vetting. Since the start of a UNODC transnational organized crime project in 2017, the LDEA has dramatically increased the instances of counter-narcotics interdictions, especially of a transnational nature.
- Drug Law: INL, in collaboration with UNODC and Liberia’s Ministry of Justice, helped LDEA to draft Liberia’s first drug law as well as the LDEA Act, which were passed into law in 2014. The drug law allows defendants to be charged under laws tailored to drug offenses rather than under the public health law.
- Training: INL facilitated implementation of LDEA’s first-ever new recruit specialized counter-narcotics training, which was funded and run by LDEA.