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Peacebuilding Initiatives to Eliminate Pre-Trial Detention

The concept of peacebuilding has been around since the advent of civil society organizations in the 1970s. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung is credited with coining the term when he called for the creation and implementation of peacebuilding structures that will tackle the root causes of violent conflict all over the world. These days, peacebuilding is globally recognized as a multi-dimensional practice that covers a wide variety of tasks and activities. The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (UNPC) defines a conceptual basis for peacebuilding that involves employing a range of measures targeted to reduce or eliminate the risk of lapsing into conflict by bolstering national capacities for conflict management and resolution.

Furthermore, peacebuilding measures should be tailored to the specific needs of the country concerned, and should eventually lead to the establishment of sustainable peace and development.


Peacebuilding and pre-trial detention


Ultimately, peacebuilding aims to improve human security by respecting human rights. Unfortunately, an alarming number of people across the globe have been victims of excessive and arbitrary pre-trial detention.

The abuse of pre-trial detention is certainly a violation of the basic human right to a fair trial. While not a peacebuilding organization per se, London-based group Fair Trials International is rightfully recognized as one of the leading authorities in the fight against pre-trial detention. For its part, the UNPC’s Liberia configuration has worked closely with the Liberian government to gradually reduce the unacceptably high rate of pre-trial detention in the country. An article from the Together for a Better Peace website notes that an estimated 75% of Liberia’s entire prison population is being held in pre-trial detention as of February 2014.


A look at peacebuilding efforts in Liberia


It’s also worth noting that Liberia is just one of the countries that has benefited from the UNPC’s Peacebuilding Fund. In 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) administered a Peacebuilding Fund grant to systematically cut down on prison overcrowding and protracted pre-trial detention at Monrovia Central Prison. The fund was also utilized to educate Liberian law students in crucial administrative skills and practical legal training through a strategic partnership with the Washington and Lee University Scho... that will help out the Liberian Ministry of Justice and Supreme Court. To that end, Liberian law students were able to apply their newfound skills by essentially serving as law clerks to magistrates. Throughout the project, freshly trained Liberian law students provided urgent assistance to magistrates in processing a severe backlog of cases of pre-trial detainees who were housed at Monrovia Central Prison.

On the whole, these advanced initiatives combined to significantly reduce the pre-trial detainee population at Monrovia Central Prison while strengthening the capacities of the Judiciary office by having sufficiently skilled and knowledgeable supports in processing cases.

Image courtesy of : International-Alert via flickr "Liberia National Peace and Cultural Festival 2008"

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