LIBERIA: Row Over Sexual Exploitation Claim At Rights Commission

INCHR Worker Union Vice President, Mr. S. Gontorwon Wehyee

Investigation has established that there is a serious row over allegation of sexual exploitation at the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) as senior staff remain split over the matter as two members of the investigative panel set up to probe the allegation have provided dissenting opinion distance themselves from the final report released on 19 December 2022.

Cllr. Dempster T. Brown, chairperson of the INCHR recently set-up an investigative committee to ascertain allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against Commissioner Mohammed Fahnbulleh.

Beatrice Wesseh, staff at the INCHR alleged that Commissioner Fahnbulleh has sexually harassed her severally.

Beatrice also alleged that during the inaugural ball of the INCHR, Fahnbulleh went behind her while she was dancing and held her from the back, and squeezed her breast, as he was smoking a cigar and breathing out the smoke in her face.

According to her, she was taken by surprise which caused her to begin coughing and running out gasping, and requesting water to drink because she is asthmatic.

According to the Investigative Committee headed by Cllr. Margaret M. Nigba, founder and executive director of ‘Her Voice Liberia’, complainant Beatrice and respondent, Atty. Fahnbulleh were invited for a separate hearing was ten other persons including commissioners and employers provided testimonies relevant to the allegations.

The committee said it also received pieces of evidence and subsequently conducted examination upon the submission.

“Haven critically analyzed the testimonies of the witnesses the committee finds that the accused, Commissioner Fahnbulleh admitted to interacting with the victim, Mrs. Beatrice Wesseh, during the worker union inaugural ball,” the Investigative Committee said in its report.

The committee also said that Atty. Fahnbullah also admitted in his oral testimonies that he danced with the complainant and wanted a relationship with Beatrice.

“The investigation substantiated that Commissioner Fahnbulleh without permission or encouragement danced and held Mrs. Beatrice Wesseh’s breasts and buttocks and puffed his cigar smoke in her face which made her uncomfortable,” the committee added.

In conclusion, the committee among many others said that Commissioner Fahnbulleh touched the victim in a way that made her uncomfortable.

“The committee concludes that Commissioner Fahnbulleh is liable for the sexual harassment allegation against him and that he violated the section of the code of conduct cited above which prohibits sexual harassment at job sites,” the report said.

But, two members of the Investigative Committee have expressed dissenting opinions and disapproval of the investigative committee’s findings.

Atty. Fanta D. Conde Barclay and Cllr. Dr. S. Mohammed Sheriff, representatives of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) in a letter of dissent to the final report addressed to INCHR Chairperson, Cllr. Brown said the final report asserts that the accused “admitted” to the commission of the offense.

“As members present in the meeting with the accused, and the official statement from the accused, we can attest and confirm that the accused never admitted to the allegation. The accused denied the allegation and provided a video recording of the incident that showed a contrary explanation to the complainant,” they noted.

According to them, the report was never shared with them for their input, review, comments, and opinion, except after hearing it being read on the OK FM and getting copied through social media.

“That we received a communication from the accused on October 24th, 2022 requesting the recusal of Cllr. Margaret M. Nigba due to a conflict of interest which we lawyer cognizant of the Code for the Moral and Ethical Conduct of lawyers agreed to ad asked Cllr. Nigba to recuse herself and give the committee’s worker credibility,” they said.

According to them, prior to this request from the accused, Cllr. Sheriff of the Liberian National Bar Association raised concern about Cllr. Nigba’s appointment as chair of the Committee instead of the members deciding their own head.

Cllr. Dr. Sheriff and Atty Barclay also disclosed that he further expressed concern about other members on the committee being handpicked by you Cllr. Brown and noted our concerns were ignored by you, while Cllr. Nigba declined to step down and continued wrongfully with the investigation.

Speaking further, they said the committee received several communications from the accused demanding his constitutional rights to face his accuser. In those communications, he raised several legal missteps which we as lawyers on the committee saw genuine, proper and right but the chair of the committee refused to listen to our advice and proceeded wrongly.

However, the Vice President of INCHR Worker Union, S. Gontorwon Wehyee described the allegation against Commissioner Fahnbulleh as diabolical lie and watch-hunt because of his stance against corruption at the entity.

Mr. Wehyee told reporters that he is aware of and has information on the issue and alleged that Beatrice is being coercive by the President of the Worker Union President, to lie on Commissioner Fahnbulleh.

He disclosed being part of a meeting where Beatrice apology to Commissioner Fahnbulleh for falsely accusing him, but said she refused to reduce the apology into writing.

But, INCHR Worker Union President Kolubah Kennedy has dismissed the claim that Commissioner Fahnbulleh told him before that he was in love with Beatrice and asked for his assistance to convince Beatrice for him.

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