By Joseph S. Sherman, Washington, DC
The gruesome sight of a lifeless and battered body on the August 11, 2005 Liberian Observer website rekindles memories of jungle justice and disrespect for the rule of law since Liberia became a lawless and pariah state in 1989. The beating or lynching to death of three alleged miscreants in Monrovia is an indication that people are fast losing their faith in the law enforcement agencies. While I cannot condone people taking law into their hands, I understand the level of frustration that can lead to such occurrences.
Group killing of alleged criminals has become frequent in Liberia. These incidents are not accidental, but the product of a legal system that has proved itself incapable of dispensing justice objectively and a police force ignorant of the rule of law.
When policing and judicial practices fail, jungle justice becomes a form of trial delivering instant remedy to appease the appetites of people made insecure. Without recourse to legitimate remedies, people resort to savage revenge. In most cases, what we call jungle justice, which is dealing with a thief on the spot, serves as a deterrent. When such a thief or criminal is handed over to the police they may later release him or her due to lack of proper evidence or bribery. There are many cases where innocent citizens have been killed due to mistaken identity or self protection measures.
These recent killings in Monrovia clearly violates article (1) of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life.” They also violate the right to fair trial enshrined in article 14 of the ICCPR.
The practice of mob justice in Liberia, however, is rooted in the country’s failure to develop from time immemorial a functioning criminal investigation system, without which there can be no fair trial. In the absence of criminal procedure, elements of the public are being encouraged to seek violent alternatives.
The Government of Liberia is obliged to bring this practice to an end and prosecute all those who have engaged in it. As mob justice has been legitimized through both the passive participation and lackadaisical attitude of the police, the government of Liberia should initiates a legal and judicial reform system that will prohibit mob justice and make fair trial a possibility in country.
About the Author: Joseph S. Sherman (MIP, MSA) was a former broadcaster of the ELCM Community Radio, Monrovia, Liberia, and a graduate of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, in New Hampshire (Intellectual Property Management-IP) and Director of a Multicultural Adult Education Center in Washington, DC