The president of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Atty. Vivian Neal, has called for revisiting the Liberian laws in order to make them more effective in meeting current realities.
Atty. Neal made the call on August 6, 2020, at a one-day policy dialogue on the Domestic Violence Act, held at a resort in Monrovia under the theme: “Action for Equality and Justice.”
Citing the high increase in Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) cases in the country, the AFELL president said the initiative by ActionAid Liberia through partners to review the laws that speak to the rights of women and children for strengthening and reform is one of the possible steps to prevent and minimize SGBV in society.
“We are calling on the government to be more committed to ending SGBV that is ravaging the lives of many in our country, especially our young children,” Atty. Neal said.
She indicated that ActionAid Liberia has called on the association to join forces with JSGB Legal Services to review existing laws relating to the rights of women and children, and analyze them for SGBV implications, harmonization and policy recommendations.
Atty. Neal said the statistics of appropriately 900 reported cases of SGBV against women and children from January to May of 2020, as stated by the government through the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection is alarming.
She said this clearly indicates that the country has a prevalence rate of SGBV, adding, “We as civil society must continue to contribute our ideas and efforts to finding a lasting solution that will end violence against women and children.”
Atty. Neal added that “We hope that the result of our work will be very fruitful and rewarding.”
Cllr. Isaac L. George Jr., Director of the Division of Sexual Gender-Based Violence Crimes Unit at the Ministry of Justice, said there is a need to have safe homes in the 15 counties for victims of SGBV because it helps to protect victims.
Cllr. George said some of the judges are currently faced with many challenges including lack of access to some of the laws protecting women and children.
“We have some of the judges who are yet to see or read the domestic violence law and the rape law, and it continues to cause problems for them. Therefore, we need total public awareness of the laws. If a law is passed, there is a need for both citizens and judges to be informed about the law instead of just making laws and keeping it without public education,” Cllr. George said.
He said if the laws cannot be implemented, it serves no purpose and it should be a serious concern for everyone.
According to him, some of the counties have only one judge who serves as criminal, probate, and domestic violence judge; a condition he said is causing an increase of cases at the various courts.
Additionally, Cllr. George said he does not support the death penalty law suggested in recent times for rapists.
“Again, some of the domestic violence and rapes are done by relatives of family members. If we agree to the death penalty, most of the cases will not be reported due to fear of death of a friend, relative or family member by firing squad or hanging. This may cause serious problems,” Cllr. George said.
Yesterday’s event brought together various institutions including the Ministry of Health, Liberia Land Authority, Women for Positive Actions, Women Entrepreneur and Environmental Links, Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection, Her Voice Liberia, Professors from the University of Liberia and lawyers among others.
Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, president of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) who served as one the presenters, said domestic violence law is meant for the protection of the safety and security of everyone who lives in a household from physical abuse by any member of the household, especially husbands against their wives and children.
Cllr. Gongloe clarified that the law is consistent with Article 11 (a) of the Constitution of Liberia which provides “All persons are born equally free and independent and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, among which are the right of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of pursuing and maintaining the security of the person and acquiring, possessing and protecting property, subject to such qualifications as provided for in this Constitution.”
The human rights lawyer also agrees that there is a need for massive public awareness and education about various laws, stressing. He added that Liberia has enacted more laws but does not intend to enforce them.
Caroline Bowah Brown, Country Director of Medica Liberia and lecturer of the University of Liberia’s Department of Economics, agreed with Cllr. Gongloe that the Domestic Violence Act provides the legal framework to protect citizens.