Liberia: No impunity for rapists, vows president-elect

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first female president promised no rapist would go unpunished during her tenure.
New legislation making rape illegal for the first time in Liberia was passed by parliament amid a flurry of rape cases and accusations that have flooded the local media.
"Nobody will abuse our girls and women and get away with it; any law on rape especially the rape bill just passed into law will be totally implemented under our government," Sirleaf said in a live radio interview.

Liberian women's rights groups, led by the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, drew up the legislation in response to what they said was a growing number of cases of rape and sexual assault.

Though statistics are unavailable, more and more cases have been reported in the local media since civil war ended two years ago.

Rape was common during Liberia's 14 years of civil conflict where warlord rebel leaders pressed drugs and weapons on disenchanted youths and encouraged fighters to 'pay themselves' by looting, raping and pillaging.

Under the new law, rapists can be sentenced to between seven years or life imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the case. Accused rapists will not be granted bail.

Previously there was no legislation against rape per se, though gang rape was considered an offence.

Liberia's chief prosecutor, Theophillus Gould, told reporters on Monday that the absence of laws against rape had contributed to an increase in rape cases.

"Some men have taken advantage of the absence of a rape law to carry out their inhumane acts against our sisters and children, but this law will be fully applied and it is a blessing that we have a rape law now," Gould said.

While parliamentarians from the transitional government that will remain in office until mid-January voted on the bill, women's groups staged a peaceful march in the capital Monrovia.

"For so long our girls and children have been sexually abused by older men without redress and this law will certainly serve as a deterrent to would-be rapists," Sarah Barclay, a women's trade leader told IRIN on Monday.

Gender Minister Varbah Gayflor said the rape signals justice for all Liberian women.

"Women have been humiliated for so long and we are glad that women have now gotten justice…rape is a gruesome act and must be stopped," she said.

Just this weekend, a traditional leader was arrested in Lower Margibi County just 35 km southeast of Monrovia for allegedly raping a nine-year-old girl and last week a 35-year-old Monrovian man was accused of raping his step-daughter, according to radio reports.

Also last week, a Nigerian UN peacekeeper was arrested on suspicion of raping a girl aged nine.

Liberian police officials said they wanted to see the Nigerian prosecuted under Liberia law. But General L. N. Yusuf, a senior Nigerian military commander with the UN Mission in Liberia, said the soldier will be subject to other regulations.

"The Nigerian soldier is subject to three laws, the Nigerian Army act, the Nigerian civil law or Penal Code and the UN laws. If the soldier is found guilty after a thorough investigation, these laws would be applied," General Yusuf said.