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April 12th, 2016
Finance • Justice

Building Civilian Police in Post-Conflict Liberia

The second Liberian civil war ended in 2003 with the country in chaos. The UN was placed in charge of the country’s security and established the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) under UN Security Resolution 1509. Together with the Liberian government and UNPOL, the UNMIL disbanded the existing police officers – many of whom were implicated in corruption and human rights violations – and recruited and trained a new force. A fifth of these recruits were female and there was an emphasis on community policing.

The initiative

The UN became the guiding force in Liberian security. “The 2003 peace agreement signed in Accra designated the UN as the lead body in rebuilding and reforming Liberia's civilian police capacity.” It operated in the country through UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) under UN Resolution 1509 of September 2003. UNMIL had the following objectives as regards the police:

  • To restructure the security sector, particularly the police, and to consolidate its legal framework, coupled with the reform of judicial and correctional institutions.
  • To train 3,500 officers by 2007.

UNMIL's Mark Kroeker, the UN police commissioner, formed a Rule of Law Implementation Committee in late 2003. Members included other significant decision-makers such as: Chris Massaquoi, the inspector general; the minister of justice; and the minister for national security. “The Rule of Law Implementation Committee decided to deactivate all former police and invite them to apply to join the new police service, undergo a background check process, give up their former ranks and go through basic training.” [3] Kroeker led the vetting and recruitment of 400 former police to serve as an interim local policing presence. “The first recruiting class began training at the academy in July 2004.” [4]

The challenge

Liberia has endured two civil wars in recent history, The Second Liberian Civil War lasted from 1999 to 2003. In the summer of that year, Charles Taylor resigned as president before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was negotiated between the various rebel groups in Accra, Ghana.

At that time, Liberia did not enjoy the rule of law. “Many police stations had been abandoned, destroyed or taken over by rebel forces, and rebels manned roadblocks and controlled economic holdings throughout the country ... Police stations that still functioned lacked basic equipment, vehicles, fuel and communication systems. Many police officers had fled the country. Those who remained resorted to petty corruption and bribe taking in the absence of regular wages.” [1] The wages were minimal when paid - below the minimum wage of USD52 per month.

There was a proliferation of security agencies with “overlapping functions and mandates, a combination of legitimate units such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, redundant intelligence agencies and groups created as the personal forces of various Liberian leaders”. [2]

The public impact

UNMIL brought police and local people together and also helped to improve the process for citizens reporting crimes - by establishing nearly 200 Community Police Forums. It helped to combat violence against women and improved internal accountability mechanisms.

By 2011, much progress had been made, but the police force remained understaffed and prone to corruption. “As of July 2011, the police had recruited, vetted and trained an estimated 4,200 officers, including 723 women, 324 [Emergency Response Unit] ERU members and nearly 1,000 [Police Support Unit] PSU officers.” [5]

Stakeholder engagement

There was involvement from internal stakeholders like the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of National Security, which, in collaboration with the UN, formed a committee to oversee the police force reconstruction.

There was also extensive involvement from external stakeholders, particularly from UNMIL, in designing a framework for the policy in Liberia. In addition to this, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at UN established a police division in Liberia to provide guidance and support for the project.

The project also received huge support in terms of funding by external national stakeholders, such as the governments of the US (USD5 million to police training, and USD1 million for development of the judiciary), Ireland, Australia and the UK (€2 million for demobilising police and special security service personnel).

Political commitment

There was no ruling Liberian government when this programme was begun, so it is difficult to assess political commitment. However, the minister of justice and the minister for national security were active with UN in the formation of the Rule of Law Implementation Committee to guide the reforms of the police force.

Clarity of objectives

The objective set the outset were clear and measurable. The UN set a target for recruiting and training 3,500 police officers (including the target that 20 percent of police officers be female). Thus, the objectives set were maintained throughout.

In the event, UNMIL and the Liberian police met the target of training 3,500 officers by 2007. As of July 2011, the police had recruited, vetted and trained an estimated 4,200 officers, including 723 women (see also Public impact, above).

Strength of evidence

The idea of the new system of police force ranks was developed by Joseph Kekula (the former deputy director for administration and inspector general from 2004 to 2006) and was inspired by other West African police services. There would no longer be a director of the police but rather, as in many other African countries, an inspector general.

“The [ERU] was to take the lead in countering threats that did not warrant the domestic use of the military but were beyond the capabilities and mandate of the police. The idea came from a 2007 RAND Corporation report that highlighted the risk of renewed insurgencies and recommended a hybrid force that could fill this security gap.” The report was the RAND National Defense Institute's ‘Making Liberia Safe: Transformation of the National Security Sector'.


Human resources and timeline constraints were faced by the policymakers. There were few experienced training staff available to train the recruits. However, it was gradually resolved when several UNPOL (United Nations Police) technical advisers from West Africa came forward to offer help in the training process.

The funding was provided by the UN and its national members, and the legal framework was provided by UNMIL, which was established under a UN resolution (see The initiative, above). The feasibility of building an effective police force was also dependent on the recruits themselves and on the Liberian political context.


The project was largely managed by Kroeker, a representative of UNMIL, and Massaquoi, the Liberian inspector general. Kroeker had UN policing experience in Haiti, Bosnia and the Great Lakes region of Africa, and had joined UNMIL in 2003. Dag Dahlen, a Norwegian police officer with more than 30 years' experience, including duty in Lebanon, Kosovo and Afghanistan, was appointed as UNPOL's Training and Development Coordinator. Thus, there existed skilled managers who understand the delivery context.

The Rule of Law Implementation Committee made key decisions such as the size of the force to be trained, the standards for recruitment and vetting, and the content of training. While recruiting police officers, there was a thorough process of background checks. Extensive training modules were made for the new recruits by the academy. In addition to this, a Professional Standards Division was established that oversaw complaints of misbehaviour by police.


There were no established measurement mechanisms used to gauge the impact. However, there were indicators used like the number of police officers trained and a decrease in violence rates to measure the relevant issues of security in Liberia.

In addition to this, a study was conducted in 2009 by the International Crisis Group to check the progress of the police force construction. It found that people were dissatisfied with the vetting process: some because it eliminated experienced police officers, others because it allowed through some who were guilty of human rights violations.


There was effective collaboration between the different stakeholders, principally through the medium of the Rule of Law Implementation Committee, which oversaw security as a whole and the police force construction in particular. The main actors in the Committee were UNMIL and the Liberian inspector general and the Liberian government through its justice and national security ministries.

UNPOL sponsored the in-service training for police academy graduates. The UN and the Liberian police's Community Policing Unit established nearly 200 Community Police Forums to educate the public about the role of the police, and, conversely, to sensitise local police to the needs of the communities they served.

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