The Liberian senate, on October 3, 2017 voted to amend the New Rape Law in an effort to weaken the law by neutralizing the intended purpose of the 2005 amendment that serves as a deterrent to statutory rape.
“This amendment includes making Rape bailable for all offenses (it is currently quasi bailable/non-bailable for first degree felony) and granting convicted RAPISTS parole (they currently do not get parole). These two major amendments defeat the purpose of having a strong rape law despite the challenges,” the women said in a release issued in Monrovia.
The Senate has forwarded the amendment to the House of Representative for concurrence.
Currently, there is only one Sexual Offenses court which is situated in Monrovia, no DNA testing facility or equipment in the entire country and an overcrowded docket of pre-trial detainees awaiting trial while the victims live in fear and trauma with no justice in sight.
“In the midst of these challenges, the Liberian Senate has chosen the option to avoid addressing the structural and logistical barrier to ending violence against women and girls,” the press statement said.
The women are calling on the Lower House to vote against the new amendment because it is not in the true spirit of justice and equality, which should be the hallmarks of our society.
They also urged the lawmakers to be progressive by ensuring budgetary allocations and policies that further invests in the implementation of law such as the establishment of county levels SGBV crimes unit and branches of criminal court “E”, invest in forensic technology for the preservation and gathering evidence.
“We called on our legislature to recognize the value of mutual accountability and innovation. By this, we request that they commence a process of external engagement and consultations with stakeholders in the women’s rights sector, the Association of Female Lawyers and other justice/protection groups to get concrete indications of the impact of the rape crisis on women and girls across Liberia. We make specific reference to the tragic documentary, ‘Small, Small Things’, a must watch educational tool for all lawmakers and leaders in the justice sector in Liberia,” the women group asserted.
The Liberian women further called on the lawmakers to rethink this regressive legal direction, when Liberia faces multiple transitions.
“It is important to highlight the non-negotiable action of aligning future actions, particularly from the House of Representatives to national women’s rights context on violence against women and girls. Additionally, we emphasize specific concerns to the current prevalence of sexual violence in the Liberian society and the state’s obligation to address this human rights and public health crisis,” the Liberian women said in a press statement.
The women groups that signed the press release include Liberia Feminist Forum (LFF), LIWAN, Liberia Girls Guide Association, Medica-Liberia, Action Aid Liberia, Community Health Care Initiative (CHI), Paramount Young Women Initiative, among others.
In January 2006, as Liberia ushered in its first democratically elected female president, the country also published into law a groundbreaking New Rape Law. Officially called an ACT TO AMEND THE NEW PENAL CODE CHAPTER 14 SECTIONS 14.70 AND 14.71 AND TO PROVIDE FOR GANG RAPE, Liberia’s New Rape Law made several significant changes to the existing Penal Code as follow:
- It extended the definition of rape to include both genders as possible perpetrators.
- It expanded the definition of “consent” and presumption of the lack thereof.
- It provided for a maximum of life sentences for first degree felony rape and a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for second degree felony rape.
- It provided for gang rape and most importantly, made it a first degree felony offense.
- It extended the list of capital offenses under Liberian laws to include first degree rape a capital offense hence non- bailable.
This was a victory for Liberians having endured years of rape and other sexual offenses during the duration of our civil crises and after, especially within the context of statutory rape becoming non-bailable, when the New Rape Law was passed.
As a first step in investing in the implementation of the law, a law establishing the special court, Criminal Court “E”, for sexual offenses to expedite rape cases was passed. This court was renovated and empowered with funds from the Danish government, to adjudicate rape cases expeditiously. The country also established the Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Crimes Unit under the Ministry of Justice to focus on rape and other gender based violence cases.
Despite these efforts at addressing this menace, Liberia continues to see high number of cases of rape and significant challenges in implementing the law. The high numbers of rape cases, with majority categorized as statutory rape have become an issue of much concern, with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights labeling it a human rights issue and indicated that the Liberia government as a signatory to several international human rights treaties and instruments “is not in compliance with its human rights obligations”.
UNCHR 2016 Report cites multiple challenges, including institutional weaknesses, corruption, lack of due diligence by government, as well as logistical and financial constraints; a widespread culture of impunity for SGBV, undue influence by traditional actors, cultural and patriarchal attitudes, as well as gender stereotyping and social pressure to informally settle cases out of court as barriers to survivors getting justice.In a recent United Nations report, the Liberian access to justice challenge was summarized as follows: “Based on its human rights monitoring in all 15 counties of Liberia, HRPS found that the number of reported cases of rape is extremely high and that perpetrators are rarely held accountable. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MOGCSP) Gender-Based Violence Annual Statistical Report of 2015, only two per cent of all SGBV cases reported to GBV Response Actors (Health facilities, NGOs and LNP/WACPS) resulted in a conviction. According to prison data received by UNMIL in June 2016, Courts convicted 34 individuals for rape in all of Liberia in 2015, out of over 803 reported cases that year. While many alleged perpetrators were arrested, they were rarely brought to trial due to various factors, including legal and institutional weaknesses, social mores and attitudes, corruption, lack of will or diligence on the part of Government officials, and logistical constraints.