Women and other civil society groupings under the banner Affiliation of Women and Child Rights Advocates that converged at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia Wednesday with a petition for President George Manneh Weah in day two of a three-day anti rape protest have decided to instead, storm the residence of the President today, Thursday, 27 August in Rehab community along the Robertsfield highway outside the capital.
This followed two previous unsuccessful attempts by the protesters to meet President Weah at his temporary office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill to present their petition against rampant rape and sexual and gender based violence across the country.
Carrying placards that read, “Say No to Rape” and “GOL Must Take Action”, among others, the protesters took the main route leading to the city center, demanding to see the President to present to him their petition, but Mr. Weah failed to show up as in the previous day. Instead, Liberia’s Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, who went on the scene to perhaps receive the petition on behalf of President Weah, was booed and turned away, as protesters, in their thousands, insisted on seeing Mr. Weah himself.
Making the announcement Wednesday, August 26, 2020 on the ground of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Hill, organizers of the protest urged their colleagues to converge at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, where they will begin a march to President Weah’s private residence.
“We understand that President Weah hasn’t been coming to work, and for this reason our final protest will reach his house to claim his attention, and show our seriousness on this matter”, said Mercy Sewon, one of the protesters.
The group of protesters comprised of predominately youths and children with ages ranging from five to 35 years. They sang songs and chanted slogans such as, “Enough is enough!” We want justice for our women and girls”, among others.
Ms. Sewon recommends death penalty for convicted rapists, lamenting, “Our government can’t continue to remain silent, because [rape] has the ability of destroying our children’s future.”
According to the protesters, the decision to stage three days protest is as the result of increase wave of rape cases in the country, putting the number of cases at about 902 as of January 2020, with the latest incident occurring in Gbarpolu County, northwestern Liberia where a three-year-old was sexually abused by a man believed to be 18. The alleged perpetrator reportedly used a razor and tore the minor to enable penetration.
Ms. Sewon explains that her decision to form part of the anti-rape campaign is mainly as a result of the gruesome act in Gbarpolu County.
“Every time you listen to the radio, you hear a child is being raped and this saddens me though I’m not a victim, but I feel the same way because I am a lady and I will one day have a girl child.”
The protesters are calling on the authorities to take tough actions against convicted rapists to deter others from such humiliating act, but President Weah has shown no interest since the inception of the protest, despite being aware of their protest.
“You can’t call yourself feminist-in-chief and refuse to show up and receive our petition, for this reason, we are going to besiege his house until he meets our demands”, says Alphonso Togbah, another protester.
The protesters stormed the grounds of the Capitol Building and presented a petition to some members of the House of Representatives.
Reading the petition on behalf of the group, Iren Smith, a teenager and one of the lead campaigners said, there are hundreds of rape cases across the country and the numbers keep climbing exponentially.
According to her, mothers and daughters of this country are under serious attack on a daily basis by predators that have no fear of bearing the full weight of the law.
She said these outrageous acts are only persisting because the justice system has been so weak that perpetrators commit atrocities and go with impunity.
In their petition to the House, they recommended that the Legislature increase budgetary allocation in the FY 2020/2021 national budget and subsequent budgets for Criminal Court ‘E’, responsible exclusively to try rape cases and to strengthen the judicial system of Liberia, including hiring of more judges, among others.
Receiving the petition on behalf of the Legislature, Lofa County district #2 Representative Julie F. Wiah, who is also chairperson on Gender and Protection, assured the petitioners that they are going to take the petition very serious because the issue of rape is everybody’s business.
By Lewis S. Teh & Bridgett Milton–Editing by Jonathan Browne