IRC Helps Lead the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Liberia
Since mid-2005, the campaign has trained over 3,200 justice officials and community leaders in how to provide legal assistance to victims of sexual violence, offered direct legal aid to the victims of sexual violence themselves and lobbied for more resources to be devoted to the issue at the national level.
In one of the campaign’s more dramatic successes, the IRC’s assistance and advocacy helped justice officials in Nimba County successfully prosecute six people accused of rape and to convict four of them. The four convicted men had all sexually attacked children, one only six years old.
In the Nimba cases, IRC Protection and GBV (gender-based violence prevention) staff members, working together, were instrumental in providing psychosocial support to the survivors and their families as well as explaining their legal options to them. The IRC also transported witnesses and survivors to court, arranged for UN police to transport the accused to court, monitored the trials to ensure their fairness and helped obtain medical evidence for one of the trials.
Perhaps the most significant factor in the convictions has been the work of IRC paralegals, who took up their duties at the end of 2006 and “who really push these cases in the system,” said Chris Demers, an IRC protection officer. “We are very encouraged by the success in Nimba County,” he said. “There are only a handful of rape convictions in Liberia every year and there were no convictions in Nimba County in the last months of 2006. It offers hope that the impunity long enjoyed by the perpetrators of rape in Liberia may be coming to an end.”
Although Liberia has strong anti-rape laws, and despite the fact that women occupy prominent positions within the Liberian government, women continue to be victims of sexual violence years after the end of the country’s devastating civil war. According to a recent report by the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, “pervasive corruption, a dire lack of judicial resources, the stigmatization of survivors, and an unwillingness on the part of justice officials to deal seriously with rape cause many cases reported to police to be compromised and dropped before they ever reach the proper court.”
“We still have a long way to go,” said Salome Gongloe, the IRC protection officer for Nimba County, who notes that even after the trials local officials have failed to prosecute several new rape cases. “But greater awareness, easier access to courts and to legal assistance, and an increasingly serious commitment on the part of the justice sector to punish perpetrators of sexual violence are slowly reversing decades of impunity.”