Rape and sexual assault of young women have been a worrying trend in Liberia for years now, and large protests weeks ago against these sexual abuses have finally called authorities to action.
President George Weah on Friday declared the prevalence of rape and sexual violence a national emergency following a National Anti-Rape and Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) Conference that was organized by the government to discuss ways to curtail these cases of sexual violence in the poor West African state.
“The declaration of the National Rape Emergency on Friday, September 11, 2020, which has come barely two days out of the national anti-rape conference held on September 8-9, 2020, fulfilled that promise of the President and his zero tolerance stances on rape and SGBV,” a release from Weah’s office said.
“Under the National Rape Emergency, President Weah declared initial measures that include the appointment of a Special Prosecutor for rape; the setting up of a National Sex Offender Registry; the establishment of a National Security Taskforce on SGBV, and the allotment of an initial amount of US$2 million to beef up the fight against rape and SGBV in the country,” the release said, adding that additional measures to protect the vulnerable and to ban harmful traditional practices will be announced shortly.
Liberia’s high incidence of rape is in part “a legacy of impunity arising from 14 years of civil conflict,” from which the country is still rebuilding, a 2016 UN report said. Between 61.4 and 77.4 percent of women and girls in Liberia were raped during the war, and the perpetrators have been left unpunished, the report, which was based on information gathered by UN human rights officers between January 2015 and March 2016 said.
It added that a high number of rape cases were reported in all the 15 counties across the country, with 803 cases in 2015. With a majority of perpetrators being community members and relatives who are already known to the victim, most cases are often never reported.
“The shame of accusing a community or family member of rape prevented most victims from reporting the case,” the report said.
Four years after this report, rape cases in the country keep rising. Statistics by the Bureau of Corrections at the Ministry of Justice cited by the Daily Mail show that between January and June this year, there were more than 600 reports of aggravated assault, sodomy, sodomy with criminal intent and rape.
Last month, hundreds of protesters gathered in Monrovia demanding Weah to declare rape a national emergency. “We will mobilize social forces to return to the streets within three weeks. If the government does not take concrete steps to end this rape pandemic, we will be forced to return to the streets to demand solution. We need solutions now and there is no joke about this,” Natalyn Omell Beh, one of the protest planners, said.
Weah’s declaration, which comes almost two years after neighboring Sierra Leone’s, has therefore been hailed by many as a major step for Liberia, as activists continue to urge the government to focus on providing more support services for victims, particularly the poor.