Promoting Justice for Detainees in Liberia

By John Kamma, Global Fellow from Liberia

It is with great joy that I announce that I have won a €10,000 Euro grant from Catalyst 2030 to pilot a project focused on detainees in Liberia. I have already secured a permit from the Ministry of Justice to visit prisons and start working with detainees to review their cases. Together, with my local learning partners and the advocates, we will identify detainees whose rights have been violated and provide legal support to facilitate access to those rights.

“Today, we visited the Monrovia Central Prison and interacted with Prison authorities who were very pleased about our intervention to bring justice to the life of pre-trial detainees. This is a step toward our data collection process that will be used to advance evidence-based advocacy, demanding due process of law for pre-trial detainees in a competent court of jurisdiction.”—John Kamma

The project, Detainees Justice Action (DJA), seeks to; promote access to justice among detainees, support their integration back into the community, and provide sustained mental health support. We just started in Monrovia but the permit from the Ministry of Justice allows our project to scale across the country. The three-month pilot phase is now focusing on the identification of detainees whose legal rights were not met. Afterwards, we hope to start addressing the issues in court with support from the advocates.

Between June and December 2022, I was engaged in an extensive training program led by the African Civic Engagement Academy (ACEA). During that period, I had an opportunity to learn with over 2,000 participants coming from across the African continent. I applied for this opportunity because I understand that our work in the community requires constant learning, research, and networking. Throughout the program, I was exposed to knowledge about basic principles of civic engagement, inclusion, media management, non-profit management, and program design. 

The whole program was conducted online, featuring multimedia content designed to expose us to different theories. I also learned a lot about practical applications from other participants. We exchanged experiences based on our unique actions in our respective communities. I was particularly impressed with the lessons surrounding the need for partnerships and collaborations. We learned that extending partnerships with the government and other civil Society Organizations can increase our chances of success in tackling the issues we face.

“Ensuring that the government does not see you as an obstacle is key to improving relationships, obtaining support, and achieving collective goals. Sometimes the government already possesses important information that is necessary for our work to be successful.” — John Kamma

Last year I was training at the African Civic Engagement Academy and whilst there I submitted a Civic Engagement Action plan detailing the work of Detainees Justice Action. This led to my recent invitation to attend the 2023 ACEA Summit which takes place tentatively on March 17-19 in Nairobi. I am so glad for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.

“The reviewers at ACEA selected me for the Summit because they were impressed with the quality of my Civic Engagement Action Plan and with my participation in the ACEA training last year.” —John Kamma

Mobilizing a Community Clean Up in Liberia

By John Kamma, Global Fellow from Liberia

Whatever social innovation we are concerned with, our impact on the lives of the people we serve or work with matters. Implementing their good ideas is important to achieving our collective goal. And, this was the case with our intervention in the Glass Factory Community in Gardnersville, Liberia.

Glass Factory was an industrial zone before the Liberian civil war began in December 1989. Internally displaced persons and returnee refugees took advantage in the absence of the industry owners and settled there in droves, and after seeking Government permission were permitted to settle in the area as squatters. Resultantly, no one owns a land deed; instead the local authority apportioned the land temporarily amongst persons seeking occupation of it. Given this situation, more people got attracted to the land (as it is cheaper than living on a titled land deed) which has led to it becoming densely populated. This has put much pressure over the limited land space, and led to inappropriate management and disposal of waste into drainages, resulting in excessive pollution and health hazards.

With the funding received from the Collective Campaign, and to address these issues of pollution and its implication on the community’s health, on February 19 2022 we had a day of community cleaning, focusing on drainages in “Glass Factory”, with strong displays of support from the community. During the clean-up exercise, we spoke to the conscience of community residents, using a megaphone, about the health benefits of keeping the drainages clean and the importance of protecting them from getting clogged up, and how essential that is for the wellbeing of all residents.

The community appreciates our organization, the Citizens Bureau for Development and Productivity in Liberia, and our supporters for working with the community in such a meaningful and impactful way, that is heart touching. Community leaders and elders were so encouraged that they formed part of the cleanup team; choosing to be with the cleanup team in their neighborhood rather than doing nothing, they joined voluntarily. We are delighted the day’s clean-up went very well.

This endeavour implemented real community driven social change by using the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach, which builds on local talents and skills, and recognizes that those experiencing a social problem are those who need tobe involved in the decision-making processes when devising solutions. In Glass Factory, following such conversations the community member identified that throwing plastic bags and waste in drainages creates clogging which results in increased pollution and mosquitoes, with the likelihood of people getting sick. In relation to the above, residents of Glass Factory community held a conversation to find a way forward in handling these social challenges and to attend to the community drainages. They were successfully able to maximize tools, including wheel-barrow, shovels, ricks, booths, etc for an effective clean up exercise.

The volunteers committed to turning up with their own tools and equipment, and gathered for a team meeting in which they discussed actions to be taken, to effectively work on community drainages that will promote residents' health, sanitation and wellbeing. We, at the Citizens Bureau for Development and Productivity with the kind and good will gesture of our generous donors through the 2021 Goldin Global Fellow Collective Fund are addressing the social challenges posed with clog drainages by working with those close to the problem, supporting their aspirations to realize the community driven social change they so desire.

We are very grateful to #GATHER and the #GoldinInstitute for helping us 2021 Goldin Global Fellows to have acquired the skills and the resources to lead community driven social change. It is truly exciting to see this learning into practice.

LEGAL Celebrates 10 Years of Advancing Human Rights in Liberia

By Jennifer Kuwa Henshaw, Global Fellow from Liberia

We recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary which marked the progress we have made in advancing human rights for LGBT individuals in Liberia. We also used the occasion to honor the contribution of our supporters and to share our hopes for the future. The anniversary celebration took place on 26th January 2022 and brought together local and international stakeholders. Reflecting on the occasion, one of our team members remarked:

“This was our chance to step back and look at the past and present activities. To learn from where we started, where we are, and where we are going.”

We started the Lesbian and Gay Association of Liberia (LEGAL) in 2012 to advocate for the rights of marginalized groups through awareness raising activities while providing direct support to those most-affected. For ten years, we have stood firmly as the voice of sexual minority groups in Liberia, speaking against discrimination, injustices, stigmatization, violence and abuse. We also work with stakeholders to help provide economic empowerment, health services, access to justice and education, all in addition to promoting the fundamental principles of human rights.

During the anniversary, we shared the following accomplishments with guests and stakeholders who joined us:

  • Established the Protection Focal Persons at the Nine Police zones in Monrovia and Nimba county
  • Strengthened mechanisms for Institutional capacity building
  • Partnered with CSOs, Government line Ministries, NGOs, Partners, Foreign Missions, the Religious and Traditional Communities
  • Strengthened relationships with Donors who continued to support our work
  • Assigned Peers and Outreach Officers at the Community level who continue to document cases of abuse or violence committed against LBT women, girls, sex workers, drugs users, people living with complicated health issues and people living with disabilities
  • Improved Community’s awareness on human rights advocacy and the referral path way in terms of access to health and justice
  • Trained 1,183 people of whom 75% are community members. Some of the trainees are still actively involved to date
  • Hate cases recorded are 93; 52 from Montserrado, Margibi 7, River Cess 21, Lofa 1, Grand Gedeh 1, Bong 1 . Cases ranging from rape, murder, GBV, SGBV, family neglect, child neglect, child trafficking, stigma and discrimination, kidnaping, sex trade, FGM, burglary and natural disaster
  • Project locations have increased and we are now operating in 16 locations beyond Monrovia

The event was also an opportunity for us to thank our partners for continuing to support our mission. We issued certificates of appreciation to honor their contributions.

Despite having made huge progress since we started, LEGAL continues to face limitations that make our advocacy work less effective in addressing the magnitude of issues faced by marginalized groups. Some of the challenges we still face include limited funding capacity, limited partnership opportunities with the religious figures, existing stigma and limiting cultural beliefs, lack of access to basic health care services, hate related crimes against members of the LGBTIQs community, and the existing national law which discriminate LGBTIQs (the Penal Code Section 14.73,74 etc).

As we focus attention to the future, LEGAL plans to enhance the protection and access to basic health services, and human rights services for sexual minorities women, girls and other vulnerable groups. We also hope to increase advocacy and sexual reproductive education at community level. Our plan is to engage the following counties: Montserrado, Gbapolu, River Cess, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh, Mary Land, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Gbapoplu, Bomi, Cape Mount, Lofa, Nimba, Bong, and Margibi. This hope informs the core of our strategic plan 2022/2025 where we hope to continue addressing discrimination, violence, abuse, hate crimes, and stigmatization through increased community participation, awareness raising, empowermeent activities and human rights protection.

We also conducted Know Your Status Campaign on HIV and AIDS prevention, referral, treatment and stay on treatment campaign and awareness.

We also conducted training for Law Enforcement Officers for them to understand the rights of marginalized groups through the Human Right based approach through Solidarity Sisters (SoSNoL) who are the protection organization for the Marginalized groups in Liberia.

We also visited the Monrovia Prison Center and distributed Food and Non - Food Items for the inmates at the Prison Center.

We also reach out to survivals that was brutalized by an ex Military guy that said that he has a vision for God saying that he should kill all Gay men in Liberia. We also conducted a one day meeting with lawyers to have a network that they will be representing LGBTIQ members in Liberia whenever they have cases at court level with the support from ISLA.

For LEGAL To be successful in implementing such a strategic plan, we are going to need support from all our stakeholders. We are going to require USD 500,000 to implement the project for the next 3 years. Additionally, we need help in developing partnerships with religious and traditional leaders, support to repeal the law that discriminates against members of the LGBTIQs community, support to conduct a mapping study of the LGBTIQs, sex workers, drugs users in 15 counties to understand their aspirations and personnel capacity building support.

We believe that by working together we can safeguard the rights of minority groups in Liberia and beyond. It starts with Me and You!