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Women lament harassment, intimidation in Gbarpolu

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Various women rights advocacy groups: Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH), Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), WONGOSOL, and Liberian Women Can Lead (LWCL) have accused the Government of Liberia of creating barriers to prevent women’s participation in decision-making across the country.

Addressing a news conference at the Young Women Christian Association or YWCA Compound in Oldest Congo Town Wednesday, December 16, 2020, expressed concern over reports of electoral violence in Gbarpolu County, meted against CPP Candidate BotoeKanneh, the leading female candidate in the county’s election.

“We are particularly concerned that government officials are creating barriers to prevent a leading female candidate vying for a seat in the male-dominated Senate”, said the groups, adding that the 30-member Senate has one female, Senator NyonbleeKarnga-Lawrence, who was re-elected in the December 8th Special Senatorial Election.

Reading a statement on behalf of the Women Rights Advocacy group, Ms. Facia Harris said a team of women’s rights advocacy organizations intervened after receiving reports that Madam Kanneh was allegedly beaten, detained and threatened with traditional masked dancers, commonly referred to here as “Country Devil’’ in the town of Nomodatonau, District 3, near the Sierra Leone border, noting the group rescued Madam Kanneh and took her to a safe location.

Miss Harris continued that Madam Kanneh is one of the nine contestants in Gbarpolu’s senatorial race, leading the poll by 449 votes after she received a total of 4,722 votes, representing 25.68 percent, followed by Rep. Alfred GayflorKoiwood of the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change (4,273/23.24 percent).

The National Elections Commission (NEC) has ordered a rerun in Nomodatonau, as the town’s 2021 voters did not participate in the Dec. 8, 2020 election because Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah seized four ballot boxes and election materials.

Chief Wuluah has reportedly contended that people who turned out to vote came from neighboring Sierra Leone.

Miss Harris narrated that during their visit to the country, the team learned that Madam Kanneh was beaten and harassed along with several members of her campaign team. She said two of the women on the campaign team were allegedly raped, while in police custody.

“The women experienced horrific forms of human rights abuses”, she lamented and detailed, “They were ordered to stand in the sun with their arms raised for hours without food.”

Madam Kanneh’s brother, Cllr. BoakaiKanneh, who heads the Law Reform Commission, was also beaten while in police custody.

“We wish to inform the public that the “Traditional male devil’’ and other cultural practices have no role in politics because they limit women’s participation. Hence, we strongly condemn violence against women in the ongoing elections, specifically Gbarpolu County.”

Miss Harris reminded government that Liberia is a signatory to many human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325; UNSCR 1820 and other human rights protocols that do not only recognize women’s right to fully participate in political and public life, but also bans using rape as a weapon of conflict, noting the electoral violence is a crime against humanity.

Going further, she said Section 10.21 of the New Election Law encourages candidates and political parties to travel throughout the country to canvass for elections; subsequent provisions prohibit administrative, military, or paramilitary from interfering with a person’s rights to participate in politics.

The women rights advocate however noted that the law gives the NEC the authority to recommend dismissal of any official involved in interfering with the electoral process.

Miss Harris said based on findings, they strongly urge President George Manneh Weah to investigate these reports, including reported human rights abuses by the Liberia Immigration Services (LIS) and other paramilitary officers in Nomodatonau, commonly known as Nomor.
At the same time the women group has called for the immediate dismissal of Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah of Nomodatonau (Jawajah Chiefdom, Kongba District, Gbarpolu), Superintendent KeyahSaah and other officials involved in disrupting the electoral process by seizing election materials, bringing out the male devil and instigating voter suppression, in glare violation of the law and the Code of Conduct.

It also wants the State to investigate and bring to justice, those who perpetrated the rape of Madam Botoe’s female supporters, while exercising their rights to political participation, including the arrest of all suspects involved in threats, detention, assault on Madam Botoe and her supporters.

The women group said President Weah must also instruct the Ministry of Justice, Joint Security operations and other para-military officers to ensure the safety of citizens in Nomodatonau before, during and after the rerun. We also urge the National Elections Commission to exercise the powers granted under the New Election Law to deregister and penalize political parties and their members from disrupting the electoral process, including facilitating violence.”

The women reminded the government that what happened to Madam Boto and her supporters is not an isolated incident, noting that rape and violence against women are on the increase, as in the last two years, there has been a rise in assaults against women.

“Rape should not be used as a weapon in elections. It is a violation of women’s rights, and Liberia as a signatory to the various human rights laws, must comply”, Miss Harris concluded.

By Lewis S. Teh–Editing by Jonathan Browne

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