They Were Promised Justice

FINAL--Helen Gardeah and Muffittee Panma.jpg

The number of Liberians who feel let down by their justice system is alarming. Many public defenders are more than likely lawyers who do not make it their duty to fight tooth and nail to win their cases. And as a result cases such as murder, rape and the recent saga of 14 abused women, who did not, as far as they are concerned, did not get justice.

In the case of Governments versus Debes, fourteen young Liberian women were allegedly taken to Lebanon by Abass EL Debes, who is accused of being the ‘master mind’ behind what many traffickers are getting rich off of – women and girls.

Debes was accused of using the women to work in Lebanese households, seizing their passports and sexually abusing some of them. These women thought they were going to receive higher education and jobs, but were instead abused and neglected.

Two of the 14 women brought home after their rescue by the Liberian government, spoke out in a recent article published by this newspaper, demanding justice that was promised them.

Panma recalled that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had a meeting with them and promised that her government would ensure they got justice.

“But with the verdict that threw our case out, we have been disgraced beyond measure,” they stated.

Debes was freed two weeks ago.

Helen Gardeah and Muffittee Panma are two of the 12 women who were not afraid to testify against Debes. Surprisingly, a couple of weeks ago, the case against Debes was thrown out at the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Tubmanburg. Judge George Smith ruled that state lawyers handling the case did not have licenses to practice and furthermore the case lacked direct evidence.

The article written by Gloria Tamba described the women as saying, “We had our individual experiences and we told our government to seek a sense of dignity for us, but we were wrong.” With the end of the case they said, they were told that “they are on their own.”
“All the promises of at least a job to help us fit into our society have never materialized and there is no one who is interested in our suffering,” Ms. Gardeah said.

Meanwhile, an American female lawyer in association with Cllr. Kofi Woods recently mentioned to this newspaper that she has begun to develop a document that will allow them to represent women who have been victimized.

“The office of Attorney Woods, is attempting to offer free legal representation for victims of sexual violence, trafficking and so on. We went to communities and talked with victims; spoke with organizations, women and family protection agency and the Female Lawyers Association to hear everyone’s side of the story. There are huge issues surrounding gender based violence in Liberia,” she stated.
She acknowledged that gender based violence is a global issue and women all over the world are faced with it.

“I was surprised that so many victims can talk about their rape so openly while victims in other parts of the world are not coming forward to talk about it.

“Logistics issues are the lack of safe houses, the lack of psychological support which is a really huge problem,” she added.

Meanwhile, the women who were trafficked out of Liberia want justice to be served and are sticking to their story. For them to put aside what has happened to them and move on as if it did not happen is excruciating and can be for any woman who has been abused.

The good news is that licensed lawyers have begun to look into the case in an attempt to get justice for the women who were abused in Lebanon.


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