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Opinions of Sunday, 12 August 2018

Columnist: Martin K. N. Kollie

Rising impunity and injustice in Liberia: Shielding rape and sheltering rapists

Dear Ms. Nizigama:

With an innermost sense of grief and sympathy for a 13-year-old Liberian girl who bled profusely to death as a result of being gang-raped on July 21, 2018 in Maryland County by 3 adults, I find it essentially compelling to inform your office about this sad, shocking and disturbing episode – an episode that echoes a stressful memory and traumatic moment.

Rape is becoming an entrenched culture in Liberia if it is not already. The rising wave of impunity and injustice is breeding a fertile ground for this harmful, inhumane, abominable and inimical act to virulently flourish throughout Liberia. The shielding of rape and sheltering of its culprits remain visibly pervasive in Africa’s first independent nation.

The latest incident of gang rape involving a 13-year-old minor in Barrobo Statutory District has seriously provoked me as a youth and student activist to vehemently raise a national and global alarm against this distasteful crime especially in a country where incidences of violence against women and children are smashing and common.

On July 21, 2018, another girl child was gang-raped in Weajah Town, Barrobo Statutory District, Maryland County, according to community inhabitants. The life of this promising child had to end on August 5, 2018, as a result of this uncivilized act. In my opinion, perpetrators of this act must face justice and be made to account for such evil.

Before this 13-year-old girl could die, she did accuse 3 of her neighbours for gang-raping her, namely: Geekor Matu, age 42, Alphonso Gaysu, age 38, and Roland Kwabo, age 18. The deceased girl often assisted these alleged felons by fetching water for them. She was allegedly gang-raped by these men on the night of July 21, 2018, while hauling water for them to bath.

According to the deceased’s father, Benson Nyanti, the alleged culprits threatened to kill his daughter if she had told anyone about what they did. Due to this fear, the deceased’s ailment worsened which led to continuous bleeding. After some women in Weajah Town noticed such bleeding, the deceased was hurriedly taken to the J. J. Dossen Memorial Hospital in Harper, Maryland County for medication.

After 2 weeks of medication at the J. J. Dossen Hospital, the survivor/deceased was discharged. While home, she began to bleed again. Due to the distance of a health facility, Nyanti’s daughter had to die on Sunday, August 5, 2018, around 8:00 pm while there was plan underway to quickly rush her to J. J. Dossen Hospital in Harper.

With the exception of Roland Kwabo who is currently in police custody, 2 of the suspects (Geekor Matu and Alphonso Gaysu) are on the run. The General Town Chief of Glofaken, William Seaford, condemned the act and called for increased police presence and patrol. The head of a local CSO Maryland Civil Society Organization, Lucy Jappy Momo, strongly condemned the gang-rape.

(Ref: Follow this link to read more about this rape case via Bush Chicken Online News http://www.bushchicken.com/maryland-gang-rape-results-in-death-of-13-year-old-girl/). It can also be found on other sites. The urgency to follow-up on this gang-rape case could guarantee justice, discourage impunity, and strengthen our collective resolve to unceasingly fight against this felonious crime (rape).

Beyond this end, I humbly seek your involvement and indulgence to vigorously pursue this case to its logical and legal conclusion in the best interest of this deceased child. With your full and timely intervention into this painful saga, impunity and injustice could for once be curtailed in bold and pragmatic terms.

I plead with you (UN Women) and entreat your partners (GoL/MoGCSP, pro-Women advocacy groups, AFELL, religious bodies and civil society actors) to promptly take full charge of this gang-rape case and demand JUSTICE without any further delay. The culprits of this non-bailable offence must not go with impunity because they did not only commit rape but murder as well.

The deep-rooted culture of IMPUNITY must end now without any further negotiation for family interference, out-of-court settlement, and community mediation or arbitration. Too often, these archaic measures have undermined justice and left thousands of survivors stigmatized for lifetime. We cannot allow rape and rapists to keep on winning this war. We must defeat them with every fibre of our being!

We must unshield rape and unshelter rapists for good. It begins now with this gang-rape case. I encourage UN Women, GoL, pro-Women advocacy groups, civil society actors, communities, religious bodies, INGOs, NGOs, feminists, activists, and media institutions to jointly collaborate in putting an END to all forms of violence against women and children.

This genuine collaboration must begin with ENDING impunity through justice, speedy trial, mass awareness/education, increased campaign, and friendly spaces for children especially girls. The need to protect and enforce every provision in Liberia’s 2005 Rape Law is a matter of national imperative. For instance, Liberia recorded a total of 892 sexual and gender-based violence cases of which 506 were rape cases (MoGCSP Report, Jan. – Sept. 2017). This is horrific!

Ms. Nizigama, the scars of rape and rising violence against women and girls across Liberia are ingrained. The harsh and stigmatizing impact on survivors is aching and sometimes suicidal. This is a catalogue of just few alleged incidences/cases of rape and sexual/gender-based violence lately in Liberia:

1. A 13-year-old girl was gang-raped by 3 men on July 21, 2018, in Weajah Town, Barrobo Statutory District, Maryland County. This led to her death.

2. A 15-year-old girl was raped by a 47-year-old man, Sean Tolbert, in Mamba Point in April 2018.

3. A 42-year-old man, Varney Swaray, admitted raping his 13-year-old stepdaughter in February 2018 on Paco Island, Congo Town.

4. A 41-year-old man, Chris Worjloh, sodomized 2 boys (Aaron Zaizay and Emmanuel Getty) on 2nd Street, Saye Town in January 2018.

5. Former Lawmaker of Grand Gedeh County, Morias Waylee, raped his 12 years old niece in 2017, etc.

These are just few of the thousands of rape cases just from January 2017 – August 2018. I commend UN Women, MoGCSP, and all anti-rape campaigners/advocacy groups for STANDING UP so far against this national dilemma (rape).

But more needs to be done to aggressively tackle to this menace. We must lift our batons up high against this antisocial misdeed (rape). Our spirit of oneness, resilience and audacity could bring an end to impunity and finally capture RAPE on THE FRONTLINE.

It is now time for everyone to join this CAMPAIGN because rape seems to be winning the war of late. The promises made to women, children, and all human beings in international and local protocols to guarantee human dignity, welfare, and best interest are being undermined by rape. I admonish the UN Women and its partners to upsurge their campaign against rape especially in terms of prevention mechanism.

I call for full adherence and unbiased enforcement of every provision within these legally-binding statutes and principles which are fundamental to protecting human dignity and the inalienable rights of every human being:

a. The 2005 Rape Law of Liberia
b. The 1989 Convention on the Right of the Child
c. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
d. The 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
e. The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Today and henceforth, I am committing my services voluntarily to join you on the frontline so that together we can put an end to these harsh cruelties against our sisters, nieces, daughters, mothers, children, and other vulnerable groups. Enough of this cruelty barbarity! As I grieve over the pathetic demise of this 13-year-old girl (name withheld), I am overwhelmed by uneasiness and discontent.

This uneasiness leads me to recommend thirteen (13) measures that could help to remedy this national tragedy (rape):

1. The comprehensive revision of the 2005 Rape Law of Liberia with more focus on enforcement and severe penalty(ies) for culprits of rape. A National Conference on Rape and SGBV is key.

2. The setting up of an aggressive National Anti-Rape Taskforce (NAT) with effective SGBV hubs in all 15 counties. Every district in Liberia MUST have an Anti-Rape Taskforce with effective SGBV hubs in various communities.

3. The establishment of a Special Court that has the statutory mandate to hear and fast-track cases of rape and all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

4. The rolling up of a national strategic plan or roadmap which primarily focuses on prevention, response and control mechanism, justice and psychosocial support for survivors, etc.

5. The establishment of friendly spaces for children, women, and vulnerable groups. Liberia needs more safe homes for survivors of rape and victims of SGBV.

6. The need to increase support to WACP-LNP, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Association of Female Lawyer of Liberia, pro-Women and Pro-Children advocacy groups, CSOs and CBOs with focus on combating rape and SGBV, etc.

7. The Ministry of Education must embed SGBV as a course within the National Curriculum to be taught in all high schools including universities. Establish SGBV and Anti-Rape Clubs in these high schools and universities.

8. The prohibition of pornographic videos, audios, publications, magazines, and leaflets.

9. Increase tariff on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, enticing wearing, etc. The shutting down of all ghettos is as well pivotal.

10. Increase investment in girls’ education. Empower women and girls through life-skills, vocational education, entrepreneurship (SMEs), employment, etc.

11. Increase access to education and basic information on prevention of rape and raise mass awareness in high schools, vocational institutions, universities, marketplaces, urban communities, churches, mosques, intellectual centers, and rural settlements.

12. Ban all children from visiting video clubs, entertainment centres, ghettos, bars, gambling booths, motels, and all unsafe environments. Launching a workable campaign to get thousands of street children especially girls back in school is a national imperative.

13. Make primary and junior high education absolutely free of charge for children with specific focus on girls (Long-term plan). Promote adult literacy program for women especially rural women.

Ms. Nizigama, with much courtesy and esteem, I remain optimistic of your rapid response and intervention in this very serious matter. I am hopeful that UN Women along with its partners including government, pro-Women advocacy groups, and human rights organizations will take full charge of this gang-rape case.

IMPUNITY is not an option. JUSTICE is inevitable – It is the foundation for sustained PEACE, genuine RECONCILIATION, national SECURITY, and the consolidation of our emerging DEMOCRACY. Let us STAND UP against this tragedy (rape) to save Liberia and protect Liberians.

Patriotically yours,

Martin K. N. Kollie