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.