Liberian Protest Against SGBV
Rape of babies, girls, boys, and women in Liberia has been rampant for decades. Since the beginning of COVID, instances of rape have ballooned in Liberia. A month ago, over 600 cases of rape had been reported since the pandemic hit. Of those 600 cases, 100 made it to court and almost 50 were acquitted.
The rate at which reports are made of Sexual Gender-Based Violence is still on the rise. This does not include the assaults that go unreported. Nor, does it include women and children that were deceased or displaced as a result of their assault. Liberia is the size of Louisiana State, roughly 43,000 square miles.
President George Weah, who previously coined himself “Feminist-in-Chief”, called a National State of Emergency in Liberia because of the COVID pandemic. Thousands of young Liberian women, children, and men have been calling for a National State of Emergency against rape and Sexual Gender-Based Violence for the last 3 days in Monrovia. They had a petition for the President. He didn’t look at it. The protesters stayed peaceful. Officials did not.
The peaceful protest was planned by the Affiliation of Women and Child’s Rights Advocates to occur over 3 days, from Tuesday, August 25th through Thursday, August 27th. By every account, the majority of rape and sexual violence that occurs in Liberia happens to babies and children. It was babies that set “The March for Justice” in motion in Monrovia and other counties in Liberia. The rapes of several toddlers came into the national spotlight. The most publicized and horrifyingly gruesome rape was perpetrated by a 17-year-old young man upon a 3-year-old girl. This was shortly after a man admitted to raping 2 yr old twins in June.
The Petition Statement He Won't Accept
The protestors marched against the government, clad all in black for solidarity. They carried signs calling for an end to rape and the allowance of it. Their destination was Capitol Hill in Monrovia, where a petition for more protections against rape was presented to the 54th Legislature. They were addressed by 14 yr old Irene Smith. Part of the petition statement opening she read to the Legislature:
“Our mothers and daughters are under attack daily by predators that have no fear of bearing the full weight of the law. These outrageous acts are only persisting because our justice system has been so weak that perpetrators commit these atrocities and go scot-free; because our laws have been made lax and created loopholes for these criminals to exploit... We are here to say Enough is Enough”.
The petition statement calls for:
-special courts designed for Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
-more after health-care for victims. Many cannot bear children when they grow up.
-increased funds for courts to have speedy trials of rape and SGBV cases
-safe-houses for survivors
-Town Hall meetings communities to work with officials on awareness and remedies
-increased funding for further training and education of the Women and Children Protection Division of the National Police
-Legislative supervision of related organizations such as the Ministry of Gender, the Liberian National Police, the Ministry of Health, and Social and Child Protection
When the young women and men involved in the march arrived outside of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the President’s office is, they were met with a handful of officials. This included the Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, Williametta Piso Saydee-Tarr. The people wouldn’t give the petition to her. Her title belies her actions. They wanted only the President to receive the petition. Receive it, he did not. He never came out to meet them. They waited through the first day, Tuesday, August 25th and they waited through the 26th.
The People He Won't Hear
Wednesday afternoon, the thousands of young women and men gathered to protest SBGV in Liberia were stoned by men known to be affiliated with Monrovian Mayor Jefferson Koijee. Koijee is the chairman of the Youth League. One of the men was a ranking official of the Youth League, Boimah A. D Sawyer. When Sawyer and the men accompanying him were denied passage through the blockade and into the protestors, they resorted to throwing stones and insults at the police and the peacefully protesting young women and men. They were chased away by police officers, just to rejoin and taunt police and protestors. Many people are blaming the Mayor for the disruption. Mr. Pekeleh Gbuapaye, the Head of the Press and Public Affairs claims Mayor Koijee in favor of the protest and that he would be in touch with the National Police to investigate the disturbance.
From Peaceful to Tear Gas Overnight
Thursday, August 27th the protestors began arriving. A joint task force of the National Police, Liberian DEA, Liberia Immigration Service, and the National Fire Service tried to deter them from gathering. They threw tear gas and assaulted the protestors. Organizers of the protest said they would remain until the President receives the petition.
The police were able to keep some of the rape protestors away. Those that didn’t make it to the Ministry congregated on the lawn in front of the previous Liberian president’s home. She went out to sit, talk, and join with them. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf commended and supported the protestors, saying, “Today, they gathered in front of my yard. I could not stay in my house and see all those women out there demonstrating for something that is good for the country and not go there to show solidarity with them."
As of this writing, it is Thursday night in the United States. The President of Liberia hasn’t received the petition statement. Developments are still occurring in Liberia. Who knows what is in store tomorrow for the brave young women and men standing up and demanding justice for Sexual Gender-Based Violence. I will update when I find out.
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