‘Rape Should Not Be Used as Weapon in Elections’

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Coalition of Liberian Women want President George Manneh Weah to, among other things, “Investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrated the rape of Madam Botoe’s female supporters while exercising their rights to political participation."

— Liberian women decry intimidation against women in Gbarpolu senatorial race

By William Q. Harmon

Liberian women have expressed outrage over reports of assaults, detention and threats against the life of Madam Botoe Kanneh, the leading candidate in the special senatorial race in Gbarpolu County, and her supporters who are reportedly being intimidated as a tactics of stealing her imminent victory at the polls.

Despite being the county’s leading candidate, Madam Kanneh is also the lone female in the county’s senatorial race and a group of women under the banner, Coalition of Liberian Women, are of the belief that the unwarranted acts against their candidate coupled with threats with the ‘Country Devil’ are tactics not only employed by some of her male opponents — many of whom are believed to be political heavyweights, to deny her the mandate that has been given her by the majority of Gbarpolu voters whos valid ballots have been tallied so far.  

The incident of intimidation meted against the leading candidate and her team took place in the town of Nomodatonau, District 3, near the Sierra Leone border.  She has since been rescued and taken to a safe location.

At a press conference yesterday, Cllr. Yvette Chesson Wureh of the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) for Women’s Empowerment, who read the press statement on behalf of the women coalition, said the intimidation tactics are meant to cower women into submission politically and have them disinterested in seeking political offices and by extension national leadership.

Cllr. Chesson-Wureh, a lifelong women rights advocate, noted that it is unacceptable for Botoe Kanneh to have been beaten and harassed along with several members of her campaign team by people believed to be officers of national security apparatuses.

“Two of the women on the campaign team were raped while in police custody. The women experienced horrific forms of human rights abuses. They were ordered to stand in the sun with their arms raised for hours without food,” she alleged.

It is also reported that the candidate’s brother, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, who heads Liberia’s Law Reform Committee, was also beaten while in police custody.

According to Chesson-Wureh, Liberian women are worried that government officials are creating barriers to prevent  a leading female candidate vying for a seat in the male-dominated Senate. 

Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa County, who just won re-election in the Special Senatorial Election, is the only female in the 30-member male dominated Senate. She, along with Madam Kanneh, an independent candidate, and Nimba County Edith Gongloe-Weh of the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP), were the only three women who were making headway in the polls until setbacks began for the latter two.

Madam Kanneh, one of nine contestants in the Gbarpolu senatorial race, is leading by 449 votes (4722 or 25.68 percent); followed by Rep. Alfred Gayflor Koiwood of the ruling party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (4,273 or 23.24 percent). The National Elections Commission (NEC) ordered a rerun in Nomodatonau because the town’s 2021 voters did not participate in the Dec. 8, 2020 election, since the town’s Paramount Chief, Mcgill Wleh, seized the ballot boxes and election materials.

The rerun was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, December 15. The day before the election, Chief Wleh brought in the traditional male devil, a tactic intended to prevent Madam Kanneh and her supporters from entering the town to participate in the electoral process.

“In our investigation, we reviewed several videotapes where Gbarpolu County’s Superintendent J. Keyah Saah was seen threatening local officials that they would lose their jobs, if they do not vote for Koiwood, the CDC candidate,” the women have disclosed.

The women reminded the government that what happened to Madam Botoe and her supporters is not an isolated incident. Rape and violence against women are on the increase, and in the last two years, there has been a rise in assaults against women during the electoral process.

“Rape should not be used as a weapon in elections. It is a violation of women’s rights, and Liberia as a signatory to the various human rights laws, must comply,” Madam Chesson-Wureh noted.

The women coalition’s spokesperson has therefore called on President Weah to ensure that justice is served in the situation in Gbarpolu and perpetrators are held according to the laws and that what is due Madam Kanneh is accorded her.

She called on the President and the Minister of Justice to promptly Investigate reported human rights abuses by the Liberia Immigration Services (LIS) and other military and paramilitary officials who were involved in the incident.

“Investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrated the rape of Madam Botoe’s female supporters while exercising their rights to political participation; investigate the voice recordings circulating on social media where Superintendent Keyah Saah is heard mandating local officials to vote for the ruling CDC candidate on the instruction of President Weah and  arrest all suspects involved in the threats, detention, and assault on Madam Botoe and her supporters,” said Madam Wureh in a statement.

The women coalition also called for the immediate dismissal of Paramount Chief Mcgill Wleh of Nomodatonau, Superintendent Keyah Saah and other officials involved in disrupting the process by seizing the election materials, bringing out the male devil and instigating voter suppression, all violations of the law and the Code of Conduct. They also want President Weah to issue a public statement reassuring women in Gbarpolu County District 3 that they would be protected when the 2,021 voters head to the polls in the rerun.

Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor had earlier expressed concern over the incident, noting that females who muster the courage to aspire for national leadership positions should be protected and tactics of intimidation and harassment have no place in a civilized democracy.

The VP called on NEC to act swiftly to ensure that the situation is amicably resolved.

She also wants the Liberian National Police to do all in its power to ensure that Madam Kanneh is protected, adding that the actions meted against female senatorial candidate have the proclivity to dent Liberia’s democratic credential and undermine the  peace and security here.

Liberia is a signatory to many human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), United National Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, UNSCR 1820 and other human rights protocols that not only recognize women’s right to fully participate in political and public life, but also bans using rape as a weapon of conflict.  Electoral violence is a crime against humanity.

The women have said that these laws, which the country affixed its signatures to, must be respected.

In addition, Section 10.21 of the new election law encourages candidates and political parties to travel throughout the country to canvass for elections; subsequent provisions prohibit administrative, military/and or paramilitary from interfering with a person’s rights to participate in politics.  The new election law gives the NEC the authority to recommend to the government the dismissal of any official involved in interfering in the electoral process.

Meanwhile, also present at the press conference were former minister of Foreign Affairs, Olubanke King Akerele; the political leader of the Movement for One Liberia, MacDella Cooper; former Paynesville City Mayor, Cyvette Gibson; representatives from the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, among others.

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