SOS to Liberian President: Accept Carter’s Call To Action – End Abuse, Demand DNA


Monrovia – Each and every Liberian owes it to our future and to those young victims of abuse and violence to speak truth to power. For tomorrow, it could be one of your own.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

For now, though, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask you madam President to demand a DNA test of the government official serving in your administration, it would go a long way in sending a clear message to others in ending the impunity that is unfolding before our very eyes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following Letter has been submitted to the Liberian presidency.

The name of the official in her government has been omitted here for now, pending a DNA, which we are pressing Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to demand.

She has the name of the official.

Dear Madam President,

In a few months, you will be leaving the office of the Liberian Presidency and regardless of how history judges, defines or remembers you, you have laid a precedent as the first woman to lead an African nation – and no one can take that away from you, no matter how hard they try.

I’ve just completed a four-day annual conference hosted by the Carter Center for Human Rights Defenders around the world, and was opportune to meet former President Jimmy Carter who shared and autographed for me a copy of his book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power”.

It is a book that hits close to home and crosses boundaries in addressing the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare. For President Carter, “In nations that accept or even glorify violence, this perceived inequality becomes the basis for abuse.”

I write to you Madam President because I feel that time is running out; that you are the only one alive today who can take the issue of violence against women in Liberia, by the horn and set in motion a phenomenon that could save the lives of scores of young Liberian girls – and in some instances boys, who are fallen prey to a rising wave of violence by men in position of power, some serving in your own government.

Quite recently, our newspaper reported a story about a member of the national legislature, Representative, Morais T. Waylee (UP-District #2 Grand Gedeh County), a member of the House of Representatives who has been allegedly sexually involved with a 13-year-old child, leading to a pregnancy.

The little girl’s family have told FrontPageAfrica that she had to undergo C-section to give birth to the child, confirming that the lawmaker has accepted responsibility for the act and has promised to shoulder the financial burden, but asked that it remained under cover.

Although the lawmaker has denied knowing the girl and claims he did not have intercourse with her as it is being alleged, very little has been heard on the investigative front.

Gender advocates are being silent and so are female lawmakers and those seeking election to the national legislature.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection released a statement this week detailing a series of rape, domestic violence and child abuse incidences over the last few weeks.

While we welcome the ministry’s condemnation of the rape of the alleged rape of a 13-year old girl by a member of the National Legislature from Grand Gedeh County, this is not enough to help the young woman, whose life has been shattered and forever stigmatized.

Additionally, the Gender, Children and Social Protection Ministry reports another situation of domestic violence involving Esther Essay, 30, who had her tongue cut off during a fight with her husband, Aloe Essay. That case has been forwarded to the Circuit Court in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

In another case, the ministry reports that on April 20, 2017, Alicia Tokpah of Ganta Nimba County had her eyes plugged off by her fiancée during a fight.

The fiancée has been arrested by police and the case has been transferred from the Ganta Magisterial Court to the Sanniquillie Circuit Court in Nimba County.

This has been the case since your administration came to office in January 2006.

Memories are still fresh over the 2012 saga of 14-year-old Olivia Zinnah, who endured suffering and years of pain and surgeries following a rape when she was just seven years old.

Olivia’s pain was unbearable forcing her to succumb to rape-related injuries. Sadly, she was limited to traditional healing – including herbs and sorcery. Her body became decomposed from the infection making her barely unrecognizable.

In March 2016, a 16-year-old victim, identified only as Grace, in an appearance before the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women as part of a delegation of young women from the organization Rise Up, spoke of how girls in Liberia who are forced into sex have no legal rights.

“Even though you are 15 or 16, if you go to a court they’ll say well, you’re sexually active, you weren’t raped.

“Some are girls who are forced to stay with their “godfathers,” 10 or 15 years older than them, and have sex.

They are like the man’s toy, he can keep you [as long as he wants you] or put you in the trash.

The girls don’t know what STDs he has been exposed to, and when he lets them go these girls are afraid to get tested because they don’t trust there will be confidentiality.

But they have to keep living, they find another man — and the STDs can spread further.

There are laws to protect girls, but the issue is to implement the laws.”

I feel bad that our country, which introduced to the world; the first woman to lead an African nation is about to lose her with these burning issues still unsolved – And it would be a tragedy if it remains that way, until your final hour, minute and second in the Presidency.

A 2016 United Nations report documented the high incidence of rape in Liberia and the widespread impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, and provided a number of recommendations to the government, other national and international stakeholders, including the UN, to urgently combat the scourge.

Those recommendations include developing forensic investigation, harmonizing rape provisions in the penal code and enacting the Domestic Violence Act, which would make spousal rape a criminal offense.

The report indicates a high number of rapes reported in all the 15 counties across the country, with 803 cases in 2015. “Rape is the second most commonly reported serious crime in Liberia,” the report says.

According to the report, Liberia has a high incidence of rape as part of “a legacy of impunity arising from 14 years of civil conflict,” from which the country is still rebuilding.

According to the WHO, “between 61.4 and 77.4 percent of women and girls in Liberia were raped during the war.”

Despite this, there has been no criminal accountability for perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia, including perpetrators of wartime sexual violence.

As I write, the lawmaker who allegedly stole away the adolescence of a 13-year-old little girl is roaming around Monrovia, still receiving salaries while many more young girls live in a state of silence unable to come forward because their family, friends, or a loved one has taken money from the perpetrators to remain silent.

I know because, in my own family, a skeleton is being unraveled out of the closet. Although certain family members have tried for months to keep it a secret from me – out of fear that I would write about it, I left them alone because I knew this day would come.

An official in your government, madam president impregnated a niece of mine when she was only sixteen years of age. Under the new revised laws of Liberia, the Age of Consent is 18.

The age of consent is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity.

Individuals aged 17 or younger in Liberia are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape or the equivalent local law.

This means that in our country, statutory rape law is violated when an individual has consensual sexual contact with a person under age 18. In this case, it led to pregnancy.

I have been informed that the official of government, whose name we are withholding while we await your intervention to push for a DNA, was initially supporting the child, who turns one-year-old in July but has now abandoned the child and her mother.

The family I am informed is now pursuing a DNA test to pursue the matter.

To our readers, I apologize for holding out so long but I had to because of the nature of the case and the unwillingness of the family to consent to go public.

But more importantly, I feel I had to accept President Carter’s call to action, on an issue that hits close to my doorsteps.

This is a major problem in Liberia today, one that is keeping many victims’ from telling their stories, out of fear or because family and friends are receiving money to hush the agony burning within these victims.

As I started to write this letter to you, I finally confronted a family member, who had been in the knowledge of this but held back from telling me and asked her about the status of the saga involving my niece.

This is what the family member said about the current condition of the mother and her daughter: “They’re not doing good. I’ve been helping them, but I think it’s his responsibility. At first, he was scared because he thought I was going to sue him.”

“That’s why we took care of them during the pregnancy and your aunt got involved because she wanted the money.

She took money from him and never gave the children. I’ve been helping them, but I can’t take on his responsibility when he’s running around here doing the same with so many little girls.”

Many in your circle Madam President may come to you and say but ‘why didn’t I come to your quietly about his before going public?’

The truth is, I feel it would be unfair to the many victims whose voices are not being heard if this silence continues to linger.

The fact of the matter is madam President, we have the European Union to thank for the unveiling of the one and only court, Criminal Court E, dedicated to hearing sexual offenses.

And yet, our judicial system routinely allows predators to walk free while the victims remain silent because their friends and family members are taking money from the predators to keep the victims’ silent.

I fully recalled one particular instance when Criminal Court ‘E’ Judge Ceaineh Clinton Johnson admitted releasing on a US$25,000 bail a Lebanese national (Jaafar Bashir, 44), who was charged with raping young Liberian children within the age range of 7 and 15.

Judge Johnson also released on a similar bail another Lebanese national, (Ali Saksouk, 21), who was accused of raping a 13-year old child.

Two other Lebanese rape convicts, Anthony Kassabli and his father Dib Edmond Kassabli, were also released by Judge Johnson on bail. Anthony was released for health reasons, while his father was given executive clemency by you.

I am not sure how much or how far this letter will go in addressing this burning issue, Madam President, but my conscience will rest much calmer, knowing that I have finally let this off my chest.

I feel a bit of responsibility on my shoulders that a former US President, now 92, still passionately feels strongly about violence against women and human rights and obliged to do what I can in lending my voice, in addition to what our newspaper have been doing in the past and continues to do.

Over the past few days, I was fortunate to have interacted with a lot of human rights defenders from around the world, some of whom have gone through similar challenges and experiences; and like me, are alive to tell about it.

Sadly, there are many more who are no longer in our midst.

What is unfolding in Liberia is not a new phenomenon.

In fact, President Carter and Senator Bernie Sanders, in conversation with human rights defenders this week, outlined the many challenges that even the United States is enduring under President Donald Trump.

When I asked Senator Bernie Sanders what the US Senate would do about the massive cuts the Trump Administration has targeted for the US Department of State, he said emphatically that there was no way in hell that Congress would support Mr. Trump’s calculated attempt to diminish America’s role in aiding least-developed countries.

Those cuts at least on paper are poised to hit a lot of human rights defenders who benefit from funding in their quest to keep leaders and government on their toes.

Even former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn program which Liberia would have benefited from has been slashed by Mr. Trump.

But most importantly, I’m unsure what this revelation would mean for me, personally.

My previous revelation against a former minister in your administration led me down a spiral slope of a 5,000-year prison sentence.

But if it is the price I have to pay again, for bringing the issue of rape and violence against women to light, it is one I am willing to once more.

Ironically, in the past few days, my colleagues and I spoke about overcoming fears. The sad reality is that much of the experiences shared were mimicking reflections that crossed continents and boundaries.

We all realized that “Much of what we have shared in the past few days, is familiar, problems we have faced for years. Marginalized people have long faced severe repression.

“Violence against women and girls continues unabated around the world, enabled by regressive dictates of religious and political institutions. Women human rights defenders remain under intense attack, and we are vilified and stigmatized for our work, but we will not be deterred. We will challenge and overcome the weapon of fear.”

It is my hope that whatever you may not be able to tackle now, may be on the agenda of those looking to replace you.

I hope voters in the upcoming election will read between the lines and demand of their candidates, much more, particularly on issues of this nature.

I also hope that women who have made it to the center of the national legislature will take on these issues with much more passion and vigor and not just seek power just for the sake of fulfilling a quest for gender balance in government.

Actor Tim Robbins’ character, Andy in The Shawshank Redemption, based on the Stephen King Novella, is famously remembered for saying to Red, played by Morgan Freeman that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

For Liberia’s sake, I hope and pray that we can see beyond today’s realities and do what is right for the future.

We must encourage victims to speak up; government must offer incentive and safe havens and protection for those brave enough to tell their stories.

Mothers and fathers must be discouraged against shielding perpetrators of violence and abuse.

Each and every Liberian owes it to our future and to those young victims of abuse and violence to speak truth to power.

For tomorrow, it could be one of your own.

For now, though, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask you Madam President to demand a DNA test of the official serving in your administration, it would go a long way in sending a clear message to others in ending the impunity that is unfolding before our very eyes.