The issue of rape in Liberia has long remained a taboo due to patriarchal influences unpinned by traditional, religious and cultural beliefs devaluing womanhood and celebrating male dominance, to the extent that victims are shunned or silenced by family members and society while the perpetrators are sheltered by complicitous community bargains or weak justice systems. Rapists, using the force of arms, also used the prolonged civil war to carry out their dastardly acts against innocent victims. However, with the end of the war in 2003 and the passage of a New Rape Law in 2006, one would have thought that rape would decrease, but that hasn’t been the case. For the months of January to June 2020, statistics from the Bureau of Corrections at the Ministry of Justice showed that more than 600 cases of aggravated assault, sodomy, sodomy with criminal intent and rape were reported and are currently being investigated. Against such dire background, a lead anti-rape advocacy group, the March for Justice, met with President George M. Weah on July 4, 2019 demanding that the Liberian Government, among other things, declares rape a national emergency. Months following that meeting, with no commitment forthcoming from the government, the March for Justice anti-rape campaigners have organized Liberia’s biggest anti-rape protest which, running in its third day, turned sour in Monrovia as the police teargassed, flogged and arrested peaceful protesters who had joined the campaign to demand that rape be declared a national emergency.
Why President Weah Won’t meet protestors
According to March for Justice lead campaigner and Executive Director, Titus B. Pakalah, the youth advocacy group met with President Weah on July 4, 2019 following several failed attempts, at which time the Liberian leader promised to declare rape a national emergency
Since that meeting, however, and following failed attempts to have a follow up meeting with President Weah, and based on his failure to have declared rape a national emergency especially in the wake of the recent upsurge in gruesome incidences of rape, where in fact a three-old child’s vagina was incised to allow the rapist forced entry, the youths organized a three-day nationwide protest to accordingly end the rape culture in Liberia.
Following the first day of the protest, Mr. Pakalah somehow reasoned why President Weah had failed to receive their petition, and why he would shy away from receiving it.
“He understands that we are the same passionate young people whom he promised on July 4, 2019 to declare rape a National Emergency and provide for US a special president’s investigative report regarding the More Than Me sex scandal,” Mr. Pakalah disclosed.
Youth advocate Pakalah said President Weah also failed to support the establishment of a youth task force against SGBV; organize a youth dialogue, with rape and SGBV stakeholders, to identify ways we can all work together to find effective solutions to ending the repeated occurrences of rape and violence against women; failed to explore the possibilities of providing additional support to expand the jurisdiction of Criminal Court E and ensure that rape and SGBV cases are speedily handled, and that the government has failed to provide the necessary finance for the parents of the late Odell Sherman to invite a licensed pathologist from anywhere around the world to conduct the autopsy.
But in complete contradiction to the youths, government sympathizers, many of whom are also reportedly part of the campaign, maintain that the opposition bloc is using the anti-rape protest to make President Weah and his government look ugly.
In fact, President Weah own King’s FM radio station on Thursday accused the opposition of wanting to use the protest march to assassinate the Liberian leader once he appeared among the protestors to accept their petition.
In obvious support of the police heavy-handedness, Montserrado County District #9 lawmaker Acarous Gray has subsequently remarked: “The justifiable organized rape awareness by genuine young comrades is now overshadowed by CPP zealots and faked advocates. A pure misrepresentation of a genuine young people struggle. I do support rape awareness!”
Monrovia Peaceful Anti-rape Protestors arrested
Despite the fact that peaceful protests are being concomitantly staged in other parts of Liberia without any report of violence, the Monrovia protestors ran into serious skirmishes with the Liberia National Police on Thursday, with the police arbitrarily tear gassing, flogging, arresting and bundling anyone wearing black into police vans.
Facia Harris is one of the anti-rape campaigners. Her heart-rending statement during an earlier anti-rape protest was widely captured around the globe. But she is not happy at all how this particular protest has turned out.
“No level of assault from Liberia National Police will deter me. Thank you LNP officers for the early morning assault,” Ms. Harris remarked frustratingly after the police had rounded up and jailed a good number of protestors yesterday.
Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee has long advocated against rape, herself having experienced the Liberian civil war and its ugly side effects. Currently resident in Ghana, Ms. Gbowee expressed her disgust over news of the police brutalizing and arresting peaceful protestors.
“I woke up this morning to news of the government of Liberia clamping down on the peaceful protest organized by young people against the pervasive rape culture in Liberia. This is sick, appalling, and a big shame on the Weah-led administration. To teargas and use violence on a peaceful gathering led by women against a pandemic is beyond unimaginable,” Ms. Gbowee lamented.
“I call out Minister Piso Saydee Tarr. Shame on you! Your job demands that you protect the most vulnerable population of Liberia, but you have chosen to align with your political Godfather. Minister Tarr, who plays politics with the tearing of a three-Year-old vagina? To say I am mad would be putting it mildly. I am angry, infuriated, boiling inside… if you had done your job void of politics we won’t be where we find ourselves. Sad, sad, sad…,” Madam Gbowee remarked forlornly.
Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is said to have won the presidential elections in 2005 basically based on her advocacy, especially for women rights. It was during her tenure that the New Rape Law was passed. Today, Sirleaf seems particularly perturbed about the high rate of rape in the country, amidst the apparent lack of political will to bring perpetrators to justice.
Commenting on the issue when she saw the throng of protestors gathered in front of her Sinkor Fish Market residence, Madam Sirleaf told journalists, “I could not sit in my yard seeing a group of women protesting for something that is good for the country. So my idea was to go across, sit with them, talk to them, and make sure we keep the peace, the peace that we fought for during all those years when I was president, to tell them we don’t want any violence… Today I just wanted to pledge solidarity with them and to tell them I am proud of you for what you’re doing, but please be peaceful,” Madam Sirleaf said.