Mitigating Sexual Violence in Liberia based on Recommendations from OHCHR & UNMIL
Synopsis of Sexual Violence in Africa
Sexual violence against women and girls can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse and psychological or emotional abuse. All types of violence against women and girls are unacceptable and must be stopped! It doesn’t matter if they occur in the home or in a public place. Sexual violence against women and girls in the African region is a serious and complex issue requiring urgent action.
By Melvin B. Moore, Contributing Writer
According to a report by Ghana Statistical services 2016 on “Domestic violence in Ghana: Incidence, Attitude and Determinants” revealed that 30 percent of women experienced sexual violence at least once over their lifetime. In Burkina Faso, women represent 51.7 percent of the population. According to human rights NGOs, rape occurred frequently, primarily in rural areas. Although authorities prosecuted rape cases during the year, however, statistics available on the number of cases reported or prosecuted remained a huge challenge.
In Nigeria, the Nigerian police force reported that it received a total of 717 rape cases between January and May 2020; out of these, 631 cases have been conclusively investigated and charged to court while 52 are still under investigation. Experts argued that the cases hugely escalated during the total lockdown imposed in the country to curb the spread of Covid-19. They also reported that 90% of reported rape victims were females. In Kenya, It’s estimated that 14% of Kenyan women and 6% of men aged 15-49 have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. It was also reported that women and girls experience sexual violence more than men and boys.
Statistics on Rape reported in Liberia
A report by the UN Mission in Liberia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in 2016 that rape was Liberia’s second most widely reported violent crime. According to statistics released by the ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MOGCSP) in 2014, 708 cases of rape, including gang rape, were reported to law enforcement authorities, health care providers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); this figure grew to 803 during 2015. Out of these 1511 cases, only 836 identified by MOGCSP were registered by the police, and the police sent only 259 cases to the court. According to data obtained by the Human Rights and Security Service (HRPS) in Liberia from circuit courts, only 24 people were convicted in 2014 and 34 were convicted by the court in 2015. Today, rape is still one of the most prevalent crimes perpetrated among women and girls. According to a report published by FrontPage Africa from the Bureau of Corrections at the Ministry of Justice shows that for the months of January to June 2020, more than 600 cases of aggravated assault, sodomy with criminal intent and rape were reported and are currently being investigated; out of these, 107 cases have been tried in court leading to 44 convictions and 42 acquittals.
What needs to be done?
A report conducted in 2016 by OHCHR & UNMIL titled “Addressing Impunity for Rape in Liberia” made several recommendations to the former President of Liberia H.E Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to help mitigate the high prevalence of rape among women and girls in Liberia. Due to the failure of her administration to implementing those recommendations made by OHCHR & UNMIL, today Liberians women are being victimized. Therefore, it’s prudent that the current government led by President George Manneh Weah see reason in implementing the following recommendations found below. This will help the Government to ensure it is acting with due diligence to implement its human rights obligations with regard to rape and SGBV.
Recommendations by OHCHR & UNMIL
To the Government of Liberia in general:
- Review the various provisions of the Penal Code that address rape in order to harmonize them with applicable international human rights standards and review relevant national legislations and policies in order to address gaps and inconsistencies.
- Promptly enact the Domestic Violence Act, which provides that marital rape is a criminal offence.
- Promptly set up a Sexual Crimes Division within all Circuit Courts, as mandated by the Act of 2008 which added Chapter 25 in the Judiciary Law; ensure they are adequately staffed and resourced to efficiently fulfill their mandate.
- Ensure that the SGBV Crimes Unit of the Ministry of Justice is adequately funded to fully implement its mandate.
- Take all necessary legal measures to protect and assist victims and ensure that relevant State institutions contribute to prevent, protect and respond to sexual violence.
- Secure funding and partnerships for the development of forensic investigation capacity (e.g. rape kits, DNA testing) as well as training of law enforcement and health care personnel in forensic investigation techniques.
- Build the capacity of all relevant professionals who are in regular contact with victims and potential victims of SGBV, and with perpetrators, at all levels.
- Ensure SGBV service providers are adequately and timely remunerated so that they can properly fulfill their duties.
- Secure technical assistance from the United Nations including to implement relevant recommendations made under UPR, and by the United Nations treaty bodies and Special Procedures in order to enhance criminal accountability for sexual violence; consider extending an invitation to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
- Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), signed by Liberia on 22 September 2004.
To the Ministry of Justice:
- Institute a functional centralized national system to record and track cases of SGBV and make this system accessible to all relevant institutions.
- Ensure that the Criminal Court “E” judges can hear cases concurrently in order to increase the number of trials per term of court.
- Provide adequate protection for victims and other witnesses through witness protection Programmes, safe homes and appropriate provisions for testifying in court (ensuring that trials are held in camera in Criminal Court “E” and circuit courts).
- Pursue and encourage plea bargaining and ensure that the improved rate of indictments is maintained and supported by sustainable procedures and practices.
- Establish mechanisms to regularly monitor Ministry of Justice staff, including LNP officers, prosecutors, judges, and public defenders, and make them accountable for any crime, misconduct or malpractice that has hampered accountability for rape.
- Ensure WACPS officers and SGBVCU prosecutors regularly check in with one-stop centres and follow the established referral pathway for coordination among Ministry of Justice actors and one-stop centres.
- Increase the number of women recruited into LNP as well as those assigned to WACPS.
- Increase public awareness programs to ensure that victims of SGBV know how to report cases and get access to protection and other services.
- Ensure WACPS is fully funded and efficiently managing its funds to ensure adequate collection of evidence and prompt transportation of survivors to hospitals or safe homes.
- Ensure that case liaison officers and social workers at SGBVCU receive adequate funding to support victims (including transportation to courts).
- Ensure that the SGBV Crimes Unit hotline is adequately funded and remains fully functional 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
- Conduct training for law enforcement officials and judges to address harmful judicial gender stereotyping, and to handle cases in the best interest of victims and survivors.
- Conduct gender training for WACPS and other LNP sections, including trauma-informed interviewing techniques; obtain forensic testing facilities (e.g. “rape kits”) and train WACPS and other relevant professionals in their use.
- Conduct trainings with judicial actors, including police, city solicitors, county attorneys, and others, to ensure proper processing of cases involving juvenile offenders and their transfer from magistrate to circuit court; ensure that trainings are followed by a monitoring and evaluation process.
- Seize the opportunity of available expertise of the United Nations Team of Experts on the Rule of Law / Sexual Violence in Conflict, to enhance technical and institutional capacity to address accountability for sexual violence crime.
To the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection:
- Enhance data collection and monitoring of rape cases, with greater attention placed on interaction between victims/survivors, law enforcement and the formal justice system.
- Collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health to ensure the effective operation of safe homes, “one-stop” centres, and rehabilitation Programmes.
- Collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and civil society to conduct public awareness campaigns on how to report rape.
- Partner with the Ministry of Education to develop and implement SGBV sensitization into the teacher training curriculum, and to incorporate SGBV awareness discussions into the overall school curriculum.
- Conduct gender awareness training targeting men and boys in local communities, to combat harmful stereotypes about women that contribute to societal acceptance of rape, particularly in the context of marriage and intimate partnerships.
- Facilitate community discussions on the practice of “compromising” cases, its harmful effects on victims and survivors, and how to mitigate these effects, with a particular focus on the role of traditional actors.
- Consider setting up trust funds for legal aid for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
To the Ministry of Health:
- Ensure timely support services for survivors, including adequate and readily available supplies of post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) kits and prompt collection of evidence.
- Train health care personnel in the collection of forensic evidence, since many victims report to health care facilities before going to the police.
- Establish mechanisms to effectively investigate and address the allegations of corrupt practices in medical sector and ensure that required service to victims of rape and sexual and gender-based violence is provided without any delay.
- Collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection to ensure the full operation of safe homes and “one-stop” centres, including provision of all necessary medical training and supplies.
- Increase awareness on existing support mechanisms including the 72-hour window in which physical evidence can be collected from a survivor, about the location of one-stop centres and the fact they are free of charge.
To the Ministry of Internal Affairs:
- Facilitate discussions with traditional actors, including Traditional Councils, regarding the practice of “compromising” rape cases and the use of rape by Poro societies to punish women for perceived contraventions of cultural norms.
- Ensure that traditional and cultural practices are in conformity with human rights standards.
To the Independent National Commission on Human Rights:
- Prioritize monitoring of rape and other forms of sexual violence and bring to the Government’s attention cases of police and judicial misconduct and corruption.
- Advocate with the Government for the implementation of Liberia’s international and regional human rights obligations in the area of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly for the implementation of UPR recommendations, as reflected in Liberia’s National Human Rights Action Plan.
- Engage with international and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the UPR and treaty bodies, to continue to draw attention to the issue of sexual and gender-based violence.
- Advocate for the swift passage of the Domestic Violence Act.
To the Law Reform Commission:
- Collaborate with the judiciary to clarify relevant legal and procedural issues among judges, magistrates, and other legal practitioners.
- Collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection to conduct public awareness and education on rape reporting and rape laws (similar to public education and awareness conducted on the inheritance law).
To civil society organizations:
- Include the human rights implications of impunity for sexual violence in advocacy strategies, and regularly provide information on human rights violations related to sexual violence in public reports.
- Collaborate with the Independent National Commission on Human Rights to advocate for the speedy passage of the Domestic Violence Act.
- Engage with the Government and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights to develop and conduct sensitization and public awareness on laws relating to sexual violence and provide resources for reporting rape and supporting survivors.
- Organize awareness-raising campaigns to fight against violence against women on a regular basis, and at all levels.
To the United Nations and other international partners:
- Continue to provide technical support to the Government, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights and civil society to support initiatives aimed at addressing sexual violence; support these actors in networking with international human rights monitoring mechanisms for appropriate assistance.
- Promote effective coordination among United Nations Agencies Funds and Programmes and international partners contributing to the Joint Programme on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and other SGBV capacity support.
- Ensure that any efforts undertaken to address sexual violence are founded on a human rights-based approach, with the active participation of all relevant stakeholders, especially women, children and persons with disabilities.
- Use good offices and advocacy to remind the Government of Liberia of its international human rights commitments, including through the UPR, Special Procedures and United Nations treaty body mechanisms.