Human security in Liberia: Local perspectives on formal and informal security sectors
Full article text
Despite extensive initiatives to reform and enhance the security sector in Liberia since the end of the war, many Liberians still look to UN peacekeepers or informal security structures for their safety. As the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) draws down, how is human security really being delivered?
Dismantling and rebuilding Liberia’s security services was a priority when its 14-year civil conflict ended in 2003. All parties to the war, including the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), had been implicated in serious human rights abuses. Outside Monrovia, there had been virtually no civilian police presence since 1990.
The SSR process has engaged local communities relatively openly, at least with regard to LNP. There were county-level consultations on security needs with local administrations, communities and civil society in 2006. Similarly, consultations at district and county levels informed the security components of Liberia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (2008–11) and accompanying County Development Agenda. Since 2009 the LNP has made efforts to adopt community policing models.
Police lack sufficient equipment, resources and infrastructure, especially outside of Monrovia, where human power, vehicles and equipment are concentrated. A typical county LNP detachment has one or two functional pick-up trucks and a few motorcycles for perhaps 100 officers spread over several thousand square kilometres. LNP commanders acknowledge that large areas without road links are simply beyond their reach. In the three counties surveyed, there were no radios or secure communications, no computers or forensic equipment and rarely any electricity. There is seldom a budget for fuel, stationery or telecommunications. LNP remains effectively confined to towns and highways.
The informal security sector in Liberia is very mixed in terms of its integrity and effectiveness. But given weaknesses in official structures and their limited reach beyond Monrovia, informal security and justice are an essential reality for many Liberians.
There have been some efforts by LNP and the UN to reach out to community watch groups in order to make them aware of key rights and laws, provide basic equipment such as torches and high visibility clothing, and encourage them to liaise with community policing initiatives. Community police have engaged trade union security groups to deter them from enforcing their own justice.
Considerable progress has been made since 2004 in reforming Liberia’s security sector and there have been valuable initiatives to include and consult local people. But reform is slow and still has a long way to go, while LNP capacities have declined in key areas even as the drawdown of UNMIL transfers greater responsibilities to Liberian institutions.