Tackling the Crisis of Corruption, Rape and Impunity

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Corruption and Rape, according to available information is on the rise in Liberia and more alarming is the culture of impunity attending the actions of perpetrators. For weeks now, news of the disappearance of billions of newly printed Liberian dollar banknotes have played both in local and international media. But hardly has the furore quieted down and then almost suddenly, thrust into the public limelight came the case of serial rape involving individuals associated with the More than Me Academy.

In the Thursday October 18th  edition of the Daily Observer, lead stories on both the back and front pages speak of rape and the apparent helplessness of victims of their crimes to seek and obtain justice. In the Nimba County town of Yao Lepula of Buu Yao District, Madame Fanyean is crying out for justice for little 8 year old daughter who was raped by one Bill Gbueh, after local Police had concluded that the little girl was not raped but was rather instead suffering from an infection.

In Monrovia, public demonstrations have been held against the Katie Meyler’s More than Me Foundation for turning a blind eye to the serial rape by her associate of young and underage girls enrolled at that institution. Katie Meyler had more or less enjoyed celebrity status in Liberia and perhaps abroad on account of her story purporting to be committed to assisting Liberian girls living in difficult circumstances.

The United Nations is on record for calling for an end to what it called widespread impunity for sex offenders. The UN also noted that up to three quarters of all women and girls have been raped. A new report has found that children under the age of five have been among those sexually attacked. In 2015 for example, while there were 800 reported rape cases, only 34 convictions were made. Officials reported that due to the widespread stigma and discrimination against rape victims, the incidence of rape remains vastly underreported.

Investigative reports on the occurrence of rape have found that justice for victims remain elusive and the dispensation of cold, neutral and unfettered justice is being hampered by institutional weakness, corruption, financial constraints and lack of sufficient due diligence. Put together, these factors have bred a culture of impunity for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence, and have placed women and children at continued risk of sexual violence

Moreover, victims are reported to face serious and almost insurmountable challenges should they attempt to hold perpetrators accountable. In many cases, perpetrators are recognized by victims as community members, relatives or as “Movers and Shakers” and as a result many women harbor deep seated fears either of reprisals or of shame if they dare report such abuse. Some analysts attribute this situation to the legacy and effects of the prolonged civil war.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that between 61 and 77 percent of all women and girls were raped during the Liberian civil conflict. The UN reports that in 2015, nearly 80 percent of rape victims were under the age of 18 including at least five cases of girls under the age of five. Yet, in the face of all these disturbing developments, there has been little or no criminal accountability for perpetrators with “cultural and patriarchal attitudes hampering investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

As evident in the More Than Me case of serial rape, there were attempts at cover up. And such cover up attempts were at the highest level involving the very head and founder of the More Than Me in a manner and style akin to those of Catholic dioceses around the world that have engaged in massive cover up of sexual abuse committed by priests against minors. Such abuse, according to reports, have gone with virtual impunity although, there now signs that the glass ceiling of impunity is being cracked.

In the case of our dear Liberia, the rising incidence of rape and entrenched corruption can correctly be attributed to impunity. The prolonged civil war had devastating and long lasting impact on the psyche, morals and outlook of a people many of whom were exposed to prolonged and demeaning conditions of human existence.

In the face of debilitating and crippling economic conditions, many Liberians it would appear, seem apparently resigned to a fate of poverty and misery ordained by the fantasies and whims of their leaders. The disappearance of billions of currency banknotes apparently without trace has aroused the ire of the people but after weeks of claims and counter claims with no apparent closure in sight is creating general feeling of disillusionment which portends danger to long term peace and stability.

Corruption, according to the World Bank Group, poses a major challenge to its goals of ending poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity for the poorest 40 percent of people in developing countries. Further, according to the World Bank, corruption has a disproportionate impact on the poor and most vulnerable. Corruption, for example, increases costs and reduces access to state provided services such as health, education and justice.

Every stolen dollar, for example, restricts the ability of the poor to enjoy equitable access to opportunities for self-actualization. It tends to erode confidence in government, effectively undermines the social contract and perpetuates income and social inequality, renders the nation fragile and often leads to violent extremism and conflict.

“Impunity, according to Louis Jouinet, means the impossibility, de jure or de facto of bringing the perpetrators of human rights violations to account-whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings -since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to them being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, convicted.”

In the Liberian context, this definition can be extended to include corruption which, by all means, is also a form of human rights abuse. President Weah’s inaugural pledge to fight corruption was, by all accounts, a pledge to tackle Impunity. The case of the missing billions, provide an excellent opportunity to actualize this pledge by holding accountable those responsible for the disappearance of the missing billions.

Authors

3 COMMENTS

  1. If I may, is this editorial an apologia or should it be considered a defiant rationalization for poor performance by a hardworking and ethical press?
    Because that it took a British journalist to expose years of sexual violence against teenage girls at an American NGO-run academy in Monrovia, which was founded to empower them in an already traumatized postwar fragile country, speaks volumes to the negligence of a press acting more as part of the political opposition than a societal watchdog. Of course, had the beehives of media outlets not prioritized politics over accountability in other spheres of life, they wouldn’t have missed a horrific tale of mindless depravity waiting for curious eyes and empathetic ears right before their noses.

    But this embarrassing professional blunder shouldn’t amaze in an organization where a high profile member, during an interview in New York with an official of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the Press in Liberia is the Fourth Estate; and it comes in when the other three – Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary – “fail or cannot handle something”. Yes, Mr. Rodney Sieh, boss of FPA, implied in that interview, which he has on tape, that the press is a branch of government, an astonishing leap even Frenchman Montesquieu, who mistakenly thought that a rigid separation of powers existed within the English government in their unwritten constitutional arrangements, didn’t make. No wonder, then, independence and impartiality of journalists at home are perceived as a joke.

    If that view of the latest hero of global Freedom of the Press is representative in Liberia, we must give up hoping that the enduring adversarial relationship between the press and goverment would soon end. Unlike many countries within the ECOWAS bloc, our media superhighway isn’t “regulated”, hence the recklessness and fatalities. For instance, a journalist can write any hearsay and there will be people-in-waiting ready, on cue, to jump in the streets. Highly educated and well-traveled journalists such as the author of this editorial know very well that the tyranny of the press in Liberia poses a threat to stability and it can’t continue unchecked. They are just testing this new government. After all, falsely shouting fire in a filled cinema hall which caused stampede and death is a crime even in Washington DC and London’s West End!

  2. One more thing: what makes the reported rapes revolting is that the deceased rapist had aids, and, most likely, knew yet engaged in unsafe sexual violence, a form of bio terrorism, if you ask me. Our journalists can salvage what’s left of their reputations by tracking down victims, and encouraging gender and health ministries to have them tested. I’m not saying our journalists aren’t doing their jobs, but this was a grave slip.

  3. I read a rebuttal from a commenter who described you as a former death and torture chambers defense minister of the late tyrant, Samuel K. Doe. Therefore it does not surprise me when you suggest a government clamp-down on freedom of the press simply because you detest Mr. Stewart’s objectivity and stance against corruption, impunity and rape.

    You were one of those individuals who a few years ago were in the forefront of nearly all the Liberian media outlets criticizing every effort that the Johnson-Sirleaf administration ever made to forge a meaningful public agenda; and suddenly, just like a chameleon would change its colors to blend with the environment you have finally become a government devotee. I wonder what is shaping your thought process. Is it tribalism? Or is it just personal affinity for people you love and hatred for others because they are not of your ilk?

    A tyrannical regime such as the past National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) bred many sadistic and maniacal operatives. Your behavior exceptionally suits the profile of one of those aberrant legged boys of such a regime.

    Gone are the days of the denial of press and academic freedom in Liberia; and, if you think that Liberia is opting to recede to those dark days again, then get ready for sudden heart attacks as such evil thoughts will not work.

    Are you experiencing some rapid heart-beats? May be you an electrocardiograph (ECG)!

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