Dear Ms. Marie Goreth Nizigama:
Rape is becoming entrenched in the Liberian culture, if it is not already. The rising wave of impunity and injustice is breeding a fertile ground for this abominable act to flourish throughout Liberia. The shielding of rape and sheltering of its culprits remain visibly pervasive in Africa’s first independent nation.
The latest incident of a gang rape involving a 13-year-old minor in Barrobo Statutory District has provoked me as a youth and student activist to raise a national and global alarm against this distasteful crime, especially in a country where incidences of violence against women and children are common.
With the exception of Roland Kwabo, who is currently in police custody, two of the suspects (Geekor Matu and Alphonso Gaysu) are on the run. The urgency to follow-up on this gang-rape case could guarantee justice, discourage impunity, and strengthen our collective resolve to unceasingly fight against this felonious crime (rape).
I plead with you (UN Women) to entreat your partners (the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, pro-women advocacy groups, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, religious bodies, and civil society actors) to promptly take full charge of this gang rape case and demand justice without any further delay. The culprits of this non-bailable offense must not go with impunity because they did not only commit rape, but murder as well.
But more needs to be done to aggressively tackle this menace. We must lift our batons up high against this antisocial misdeed. Our spirit of oneness, resilience and audacity could bring an end to impunity and finally capture rape on the frontline.
It is now time for everyone to join this campaign because rape seems to be winning the war of late. The promises made to women, children, and all human beings in international and local protocols to guarantee human dignity, welfare, and best interest are being undermined by rape. I admonish UN Women and its partners to upsurge their campaign against rape especially in terms of prevention mechanism.
Today and henceforth, I am committing my services voluntarily to join you on the frontline so that together we can put an end to these harsh cruelties against our sisters, nieces, daughters, mothers, children, and other vulnerable groups. Enough of this cruel barbarity. As I grieve over the pathetic demise of this 13-year-old girl, I am overwhelmed by uneasiness and discontent.
This uneasiness leads me to recommend 13 measures that could help to remedy this national tragedy (rape):
- The comprehensive revision of the 2005 Rape Law of Liberia with more focus on enforcement and severe penalties for culprits of rape. A National Conference on Rape and SGBV is key.
- The setting up of an aggressive National Anti-Rape Taskforce with effective SGBV hubs in all 15 counties. Every district in Liberia must have an Anti-Rape Taskforce with effective SGBV hubs in various communities.
- The establishment of a Special Court that has the statutory mandate to hear and fast-track cases of rape and all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.
- The rolling up of a national strategic plan or roadmap which primarily focuses on prevention, response and control mechanism, justice and psychosocial support for survivors, etc.
- The establishment of friendly spaces for children, women, and vulnerable groups. Liberia needs more safe homes for survivors of rape and victims of SGBV.
- The need to increase support to the Liberia National Police, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Association of Female Lawyer of Liberia, pro-women and pro-children advocacy groups, and other organizations with a focus on combating rape and SGBV, etc.
- The Ministry of Education must embed SGBV as a course within the national curriculum to be taught in all high schools including universities. Establish SGBV and Anti-Rape clubs in these high schools and universities.
- The prohibition of pornographic videos, audios, publications, magazines, and leaflets.
- Increase tariff on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, enticing wearing, etc. The shutting down of all ghettos is as well pivotal.
- Increase investment in girls’ education. Empower women and girls through life-skills, vocational education, entrepreneurship, employment, etc.
- Increase access to education and basic information on prevention of rape and raise mass awareness in high schools, vocational institutions, universities, marketplaces, urban communities, churches, mosques, intellectual centers, and rural settlements.
- Ban all children from visiting video clubs, entertainment centers, ghettos, bars, gambling booths, motels, and all unsafe environments. Launching a workable campaign to get thousands of street children especially girls back in school is a national imperative.
- Make primary and junior high education absolutely free of charge for children with a specific focus on girls (long-term plan). Promote adult literacy program for women especially rural women.
Ms. Nizigama, with much courtesy and esteem, I remain optimistic of your rapid response and intervention in this very serious matter. I am hopeful that UN Women, along with its partners, will take full charge of this gang-rape case.
Impunity is not an option. Justice is inevitable – it is the foundation for sustained peace, genuine reconciliation, national security, and the consolidation of our emerging democracy. Let us stand up against this tragedy (rape) to save Liberia and protect Liberians.
Martin K. N. Kollie
This article is an abridged version of the original letter.