— Calls on lawmakers to join the fight against the menace
By William Q. Harmon and Gloria T. Tamba
Action for Justice and Human Rights (AJHR), a local-based human rights organization, has expressed shock over the “unprecedented number” of rape cases that are being reported in the country. This also comes along with an uncontrollable number of cases involving other forms of domestic violence meted mostly against women.
The AJHR statement comes following a program marking the celebration of this year’s Day of the African child, held on Monday, June 17, 2019, at which the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, announced a huge surge in domestic violence recorded cases.
At the center of this report is the issue of rape, which is reaching an unprecedented level just in the first quarter of 2019.
“AJHR is deeply concerned about the increase in sexual violence cases in Liberia. The number of rape cases over the months has significantly increased with almost 90 percent of the victims being children,” the executive director, Satta Sheriff, said at a press conference in Monrovia on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.
“In line with our duties and role as an NGO founded to advocate and ensure access to justice and respect for human rights with emphasis on children and girls’ rights, we remain committed to advocate and ensure the protection of all human rights and to the fight against sexual violence in the country,” Ms. Sheriff said.
The group wants all stakeholders to work together to bring sexual perpetrators to justice and to ensure safe spaces for abuse survivors.
The Gender Ministry reported a total of 803 sexual gender-based violence cases from a single quarter (January to March 2019). In that report, rape alone constituted 513 cases. According to the ministry, only 216 perpetrators were arrested among the hundreds of suspected perpetrators.
This means over 578 perpetrators are still on the run. The saddest fact is that, out of the 803 SGBV cases, 605 were cases of children under 17 years.
With this report, AJHR described the situation as “unacceptable and beyond pathetic.”
“As an institution we demand justice for every victim or survivor affected by the harsh reality of the sexual violence situation,” Ms. Sheriff said.
“This is a disheartening situation in this country. Our government needs to arrest this situation in order to ensure justice for those victims,” she said.
“We have come to openly stand with the parents of the late Odell Sherman to demand full medical autopsy on her remains. We stand with the late Yatta Kamara, who was allegedly raped to death; we also want to join ranks with the many voices to call for full investigation into Yatta’s death. We stand with the 15 and 13 year-olds that were reportedly gang raped to death; the five-year old, three-year old, and two-year old girls, including the six other males mentioned in the ministry’s SGBV report, and all those who were sexually abused. We say enough is enough! None of the survivors deserve any of the abuse, blame and shame that they receive after being raped or abused. No girl or boy should be allowed to experience rape or violence in its totality,” Ms. Sheriff declared.
AjHR also call on the Gender Ministry to increase their efforts in exercising their mandate against sexual violence; “it is not only enough to speak out and become vex about violence. This cruel act of violence will only stop when practical steps are taken to ensure the survivors are supported, and the perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice. The time to act is now!” Ms. Sheriff added.
She wants the judiciary and legislature play a role in the fight against sexual violence. It is being observed that the over crowdedness of cases on the docket at Criminal Court ‘E’ is one of the major reasons for delay in speedy access to justice for survivors.
“We call on the legislature and judiciary to join the fight, instead of amending the rape law; we must work to improve our judiciary system, expand the jurisdiction of Court ‘E’ and increase the number of judges,” Satta said.
She then encouraged parents, community leaders, CSOs, and religious groups to join the fight against sexual violence, noting, “rape is everybody business.”