Former President Sirleaf: Lack of evidence, denial and compromises undermine fight against rape
Lack of evidence, denials and compromises have continued to undermine the fight against rape and sexual gender-based violence here, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Thursday.
Giving a brief remark at a program held at the EJS Presidential Center for Women and Development to climax the month-long celebration of women, Mrs. Sirleaf said when her administration passed the rape law in 2006, making the crime a nonbailable offense, there were several issues that the law did not address.
“In 2006, we passed a law making rape a non-bailable crime-That led to a lot of other problems that we did not address; first of all the evidence to be able to go to court… As I said lack of evidence, the next thing is denial and compromises by the victims’ relatives because of poverty.” Mrs. Sirleaf argued.
In 2006, the first year of Mrs. Sirleaf’s first term, her government enacted legislation to amend the new Penal Code of June 1976 Chapter 14, Section 14.70 and 14.71 (the Rape Law). This Act states that a person who has sexual intercourse with another person (male or female) without his/her consent has committed rape that is punishable by ten (10) years or lifetime imprisonment depending on the degree of the rape (rape of a minor, rape resulting in serious bodily harm, rape using a weapon, gang rape). The new rape law came into force in January 2006. The Act also requires in-camera hearings for all rape cases.
After the law was passed the Liberian Government under Mrs. Sirleaf went ahead to establish a special court for violence against women, particularly rape and placed women lawyers in that court specifically to handle rape and sexual gender-based violence cases. The move garnered both local and international supports.
That was some 15 years ago. Now the Nobel laureate wants all hands on deck to address the issue because according to her it portrays a negative image about Liberia to the outside world.
“We need to address this thing about rape in our society because it is causing our country a major, major problem. It is giving our country a bad name-whether you are a man or woman. It is taking away from the good efforts we have made to get support for this country.
Because if you look at it they will say the people in Liberia are hopeless, they don’t want change. They want to keep all those old habits again, it is destroying the young children, and they are not giving them the opportunity. We gat to send this message to all Liberian men and women to realize how serious it is what the end repercussions of what this has on all of us.” Mrs. Sirleaf emphasized.
For her part Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor thinks the problem should be addressed from the home. According to Mrs. Taylor, parents should be held accountable for the rise in rape.
VP Taylor: “But let’s look at the other side of the coin that deals with effects after sexual and gender-based violence have already occurred; we continue to cry on government, civil society groups, and lawyers to help fix the problem but the problem just isn’t there…I think we need to change our mindsets to start talking about what is happening in the homes.
There is a problem at home, fathers are missing, mothers are too busy and our children are left alone and that is what is bringing all of these problems.
Let’s go back to the homes, and let mothers be responsible for what is happening to their children. Sometimes is their boyfriends rape the children because most times they tend to introduce their boyfriends to their daughters as uncles and those uncles are the ones who are sexually abusing the children at home.
Meanwhile, the theme of the program, Break the Bias: Liberia in Focus-A discussion on Gender-Based Violence featured five female panelists from various professional backgrounds who shared their personal experiences on the issue.
The panelists were Deputy Gender Minister Alice Johnson Howard, Dr. Tanya Garnett, an adjunct professor at the University of Liberia Graduate School, Atty. Mmonbeydo Joah, Ne-suah Livingstone and Vickjune Wutoh.
The panelists shared their experiences based on their areas of work and their contribution to the fight against Sexual Gender-Based Violence.