— Launch non-political protest; say they will not leave the street until President Weah meets their Demands
As many women and human rights organizations have rallied to start a civil protest against rape across Liberia Today, the organizers have announced that they will not leave the streets of Monrovia until the government, headed by President George M. Weah, declares rape a “National Emergency.”
“We will remain in the street until the President answers to our demands, in simple terms, we will stay in the street until the government declares rape as a national emergency,” Norwu K. Harris, Program Officer of March for Justice said.
The group’s petition is expected to be delivered to the President and members of the 54th legislature, while they await a response in the street.
In Liberia, rape is a non-bailable offense. However, there is much debate on how strong the existing legislation on the crime might be. Due to the weak justice system in the country, as well as acts of compromise on the part of family of survivors and police, prominent voices have have been calling for the death penalty as a deterrent against the crime. Recently President George Manneh Weah added his voice to that of the Armed Forces Of Liberia Chief of Staff, Prince Charles Johnson, III, as well as this year’s National Independence Day orator, Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Dunbar, who all boldly declared their support for capital punishment against convicted rapists.
But Liberia’s development partners, as well as many women and human rights groups believe that capital punishment is no solution to the rape pandemic, when acts of compromise persist across Liberia’s weak social and justice systems and when criminal court E is not fully decentralized.
Brenda B. Moore, Founder and Executive Director of Kids Education Engagement Program (KEEP) once told the Daily Observer that all the government needs to do is implement those laws to ensure perpetrators face the full weight of the law through a strengthened justice system.
At a press conference held in Monrovia on Monday, August 24, Madam Harris declared: “on August 25-27, we will collectively re-enforce our position against rape by demanding the President of Liberia [declares] rape as a national emergency. We will gather in the in-country capitals throughout Liberia to demand speedy access to justice and accountability for survivors of rape and victims domestic violence.”
She said since February, over 1958 rape cases have been reported; only a handful of the perpetrators have been arrested while many others are walking with impunity, which can cause a speedy increase in the harmful act.
“Every day, there are reports of rape involving boys, girls, and women. A 15 years old boy used a razor blade to penetrate a 3-year-old baby’s vagina in Gbarpolu. Before that, a 13-year-old was gang-raped by 8 men and that was before a 29-year-old adult allegedly raped twin girls in Logan Town after a 50-year-old father raped his 13-year-old daughter in Montserrado County. Rape is a new epidemic,” Madam Harris said in fear.
Even the police are part of the problem, Madam Harris said, citing a recent instance of officer Harrison Robert of the Criminal Investigation Division of Liberia National Police, Zone 9, Depot 4, was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl who was held in police custody. According to Madam Harris, up to now, Officer Robert has not been arrested or prosecuted.
“A 15-year-old reported her attempted rape to the King Gray Sub-police station, instead of the police helping to protect her-she was allegedly raped by the officer on duty… today, Emmanuel Wesley is on the run, and he has not been arrested,” Madam Harris said.
“We say enough is enough; we are tired of hearing political excuses. With all the reports on the drastic increase in sexual abuse and normalization of violence against women and children, we believe the time is now to declare rape as a National Emergency.”
She called on the government, through the justice system, to take practical actions to end the growing culture of impunity by amending the New Rape Law and Children’s Law and add harsher punishment for perpetrators of rape as well as ensure speedy access to justice for victims.
“As young people,” Madam Harris said, “we do not want to live in fear. We are tired of living in constant fear of being the next sexual abuse victims or being attacked by politicians to stand out for justice in Liberia.
“We want more safe homes to build and maintain for survivors of sexual abuse, we want justice and accountability, but most importantly, we want the Liberian government to recognize and declare a national emergency and take deliberate actions to end the crisis.”
She said at no time did they invite political institutions to participate in the planned protest, adding that all those who have expressed interest in the protest did so on their own terms and they have the right to peacefully assemble but, should understand that the protest is civil as such. “They are mandated to follow as we lead,” she said.
“We will take legal action against any political party who intends to disrupt our civil protest to raise our voice against rape. We, however, call on Liberians from every walk of life to turn out on August 25-27 to speak on behalf of rape against young boys and girls,” Madam Harris said.