ONE OF THE COMMENDABLE achievements to come out of Liberia in the past twelve years was the passing of a legislation making statutory rape a non-bailable offense in Liberia.
OVER THE PAST 24 hours, as Liberia prepares for crucial presidential and legislative elections, it appears eight members the Senate decided to sneak in an amended version of the bill, overturning the gains made and dealing a major blow to rape victims across the country.
THE AMENDED VERSION push comes on the heels of recent controversy surrounding allegations of rape against a member of the lower house of the national legislature.
REPRESENTATIVE MORAIS WAYLEE (Unity Party, District #2, Grand Gedeh County) is accused of raping and impregnating a 13-year-old girl who happens to be his niece.
IT IS A SHAME THAT members of the Senate would look to amend a law when one of their own is standing accused.
WHEN PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF took office in January 2006, she pledged to do something about the scourge of rape, by using new legislation that came into force the day after her inauguration. "I know of the struggle because I have been a part of it," the President said during her inaugural speech at the time.
THE SIRLEAF ADMINISTRATION had inherited a nation embroiled in massive rapes of young men and women, further dampened by an existing law that made it extremely difficult to prosecutes.
BUT IN THE BLINK OF an eye when probably they through no one was watching, the eight Senators led by Senator Milton Teahjay(UP-Sinoe) chose to erase all the gains made on the issue by holding a special session to vote in favor of a report to amend the rape law making rape bailable.
BESIDES SENATOR TEAHJAY, the bill was also supported by Senator Dallas Gueh (MPC-River-Cess County), Albert Chie (IND-Grand Kru County), Thomas Grupee (NUDP-Nimba County), Morris Saytumah (UP-Bomi County) Varney Sherman (UP- Grand Cape Mount County), Peter Coleman (CDC-Grand Kru County) and Johnathan Kaipay (LP-Grand Bassa County).
SENATOR JONATHAN KAIPAY (LP-Grand Bassa) voted against the report to amend the law while Peter Coleman filed a motion for reconsideration.
CLLR. SHERMAN, as the only ranking member of the senate presided over the session in the absent of the Pro-Tempore and by the rules could not vote.
THE SENATORS took the decision following a report from its’ statutory Committee on Judiciary recommending that Rape should be a bailable offense as is provided for in the draft Act submitted by Sen. Teahjay.
THE COMMITTEE also recommends that an accused person on bail for the commission of the crime of rape should report to the Court which granted the bail on a monthly basis and that reporting should occur on the monthly anniversary of the granting of the bail.
WE FROWN ON the effort by the Judiciary Committee of the Senate to draw comparison of the original Rape Law and the proposed amendment that the punishment provided in the original Rape Law appears to be excessive and therefore unconstitutional.
WHILE IT IS TRUE that Article 21 (d) (ii) of the 1986 constitution of Liberia provides that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted”, rape does not fall in that category.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, Liberia has already committed itself to core international human rights treaties and is a party to the major regional human rights instruments which oblige States to respect, protect and fulfill human rights of all persons within the territory and subject to the jurisdiction of the State, without discrimination.
THE 1986 CONSTITUTION enshrines a number of fundamental human rights that may be violated by sexual violence, including the right to life and security of person, the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, and the prohibition of torture or inhumane treatment. The Constitution also prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of these and other rights on the basis of sex.
ADDITIONALLY, the 2005 Rape Law defines rape as “the intentional penetration however slight with the perpetrator’s penis of the victim’s vagina, anus, mouth, or other opening without the victim’s consent, or the intentional penetration with a foreign object or other body part of the victim’s vagina or anus without the victim’s consent.” The law is therefore gender-neutral, providing for both male and female victims and perpetrators. It is also possible to charge for spousal rape even though the law does not explicitly refer to it. The Rape Law raised the age of consent to 1827 and defines consent broadly, providing that a person consents if he or she does so by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
WE FEAR THAT those elected to uphold the law are using their powers to return Liberia to the dark ages with an amendment that is bound to instil fear in victims of rape, already feeling that the existing laws are not protecting them adequately enough.
TEAHJAY and his partners in this fatal attempt at amending giving ammunition to rapists and paedophiles should not be allowed to get away with this.
THIS IS WHY voter must take notice and hold the feet of those elected to serve to the fire.
IT IS A TRAVESTY of justice for elected officials to try and sneak a law that has serious repercussions for the safety and protection rape victims, into the books.
WE HOPE THAT those running for the highest office in Liberia will take note and raise their voices. In silence, laws like these have the propensity to cause real harm and real damage. This is why it is important for all Liberians to raise their voices and speak out against such grave injustices by those entrusted to lead now providing a shield to rapists and sexual predators.