Nimba County - The Gender Coordinator of Nimba County, Yaah Belleh Suah, has said that the establishment of a special court to adjudicate sexual, gender-based violence cases will speed up the prosecution and deter perpetrators of the crime.
Madam Suah indicated that the slow pace of prosecution is due to a lot of other cases on the court's docket. Due to these concerns, she said the court will not focus only on gender-related cases.
“Out of the number of cases in the term of court, at most two SGBV case are heard,” Madam Suah stated.
She further said that although there have been some gains in prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes, more gains will be made when a court is established to handle such cases.
Giving a statistics of sexual, gender-based violence cases in the county, Nimbaian Gender Coordinator further stated that from 2014 to 2016, there were twelve sexual, gender-based violence cases on the docket of the court.
“Out of this number, three are currently being prosecuted while one perpetrator was recently convicted and sentenced to eighteen years in prison,” she disclosed.
She also reported, that from August to October of 2017, 18 cases of sexual gender-based violence cases especially rape have gone to court for prosecution.
Madam Suah also underscored the need for the deployment of more officers from the Women and Children Protection Section of the Liberia National Police in order to ensure those accused of sexual, gender-based violence are investigated and sent to court for prosecution.
She observed that SGBV cases are most often compromised in areas where there are no police, a situation she believe is undermining the fight against the crime.
Ms. Suah also observed that it is very difficult for people in some places, especially remote parts of the county to report SGBV related cases because of traditional and other beliefs.
“Our statistics show that most of the under-aged children who are raped especially in remote towns and villages in the county, are either raped by their family member or someone closed to the family. It is traditionally believed that such case should not be reported because it could create division in the family or the local settlements,” She said.
“Another obstacle, which makes it difficult for us to succeed in ensuring perpetrators of SGBV cases are prosecuted and convicted is the lack of evidence in most cases to prove that the crime was committed,” she stated.
The Nimba County Gender Coordinator said most organizations that were involved in providing counselling services for survivors have closed, leaving such responsibility with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection alone.
She said, however, there are still social workers, who are still providing counselling services for SGBV survivors at some of the save homes in the county.
“This is one strategy that is working very well in the provision of continued counselling to survivors even when they are re-united with their families.”
Ms. Suah further noted that more awareness needs to be done to educate people especially in the rural areas about the dangers associated with SGBV.
Also speaking on SGBV issues, the head of the Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) in Ganta, Musa Fofana, indicated that persistent non-support tops the list of gender issues brought to the section, followed by domestic violence and rape.
Fofana disclosed that in a month’s time there are about 30 cases of persistent non-support and three to more cases of rape.
He said most of the victims of rape had been teenagers who have been left with older family relatives to take care of them or provide some level of guidance.
“We have always exercised caution and professionalism in handling cases of such. In situation where our investigation becomes complicated, we seek advice from the county attorney,” Fofana said.
He added that when the victim is finding it difficult to go through court proceedings due to the lack of evidence or legal representation, the WCPS links them with other partners, who are also speaking against and helping the government to fight the crime.
According to a report from the Human Rights and Protection Service of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, rape is the second most commonly reported serious crime in Liberia.
A 2014 statistics provided by the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection also established that 708 cases of rape, including gang rape were reported to law enforcement officials, health care providers, and non-governmental organizations; in 2015, this number rose to 803.
Out of these 1,511 cases, only 836 reported by MOGCSP were registered by the police, and the police later sent only 259 cases to court.
According to data collected from circuit courts, 24 individuals were convicted in 2014 and 34 in 2015 by the court of first instance. The report also stated that countless cases were unreported due to numerous barriers faced by victims and or perpetrators as described in the report.
A significant portion of the victims of reported cases of rape in 2014 and 2015 were under the age of 18, the report concluded.
This article is in collaboration with the UN Women capacity building training on harmful tradition practices