The Independent National Commission on Human Rights calls on the Ministry of Justice to act on allegations of rape reported by a female junior officer of the Liberia National Police against a senior police officer.
According to a February 10, 2022 complaint filed with the Commission, the alleged rape occurred on November 25, 2021, when the senior officer summoned the female officer to his office at about 4:45 pm. The report alleges that the formal complaint filed with the Liberia National Police has not been entertained since November 2021 and that it is still awaiting recommendations from the Professional Standards Department on whether or not the allegation of rape, as levied by the female junior officer, has sufficient magnitude to warrant a formal charge of rape against the male officer.
The INCHR, in a press statement, notes that while there have been several demands to the Police to turn over the officer to the appropriate authorities to ensure accountability, the LNP authorities have maintained that a preliminary investigation must first be conducted by its Professional Standards Board before any other legal process could follow.
According to the Police, Section 22.91(d) of the 2015 Act Establishing the Liberia National Police provides that “the PSD shall conduct all disciplinary proceedings against all LNP officers below the rank of Deputy Inspector General of Police.”
The statement says it is in the context of the Police’s internal procedures that the INCHR takes the position that the authority granted to the Professional Standards Board to preliminarily investigate grievous allegations such as rape, as well as the submission of the Board’s recommendations to the Inspector General of Police for review, decision, and action, undermines and impugns legal standards set, as well as national gains made in the fight against rape in Liberia.
The Commission recalls that in September 2021, President George Manneh Weah declared rape a national emergency in Liberia and that before the declaration, accountability for rape had to be legislated within the confines of very high standards under the laws of Liberia.
It says specifically, Section 25.3(a) of the Act Establishing Criminal Court E (Sexual Offense Cour) provides limited jurisdiction for the Magisterial Courts in rape cases to charging an offense and issuing an arrest warrant for persons charge, not preliminary examination.
The Commission opines that the parity of reasoning that stops a Magistrate from conducting a preliminary examination in cases of rape at the level of the magisterial court, is an overwhelming basis for which the Police Professional Standards Board cannot, and should not, conduct a preliminary examination in the allegation of rape brought against the senior police officer”, the INCHR argues.
It says similarly, it is also a basis for which the Director of Police cannot sit as judge and jury to accept, modify or reject recommendations emanating from the Professional Standards Board, observing that this wide flexibility and leverage of police authority raise serious rights concerns as it has the propensity to undermine access to justice for rape and other forms of sexual offenses. “This latitude to first conduct preliminary hearings in rape cases also puts police officers accused of rape in a different category, than other individuals accused of rape.”
The INCHR further informs that the peculiar nature of this case makes it more compelling and expedient to apply the highest of standards under Liberian law, noting that both the complainant and the accused are officers and that the act is alleged to have taken place on the premise of the Liberia National Police is of grave concern.
It recalls that on June 20, 2020, an officer of the LNP was accused of raping a fifteen-year-old girl at a police sub-station in Monrovia, after the victim was placed in police custody in response to an attempted rape incident against the said individual.
The victim, it says reported that while in police custody later the same night, an on-duty night officer forcibly had sex with her, noting that this past incident underscores the need for the LNP to allow the law to take its course, as a police station should be one of the safest places in Monrovia.
Meanwhile, the Commission is calling on the Ministry of Justice to act on the allegations of rape brought against the senior police officer and recognizes that the essence of prosecution is not limited to establishing guilt, but also to ensure that justice is served.