Liberia: Court dedicated to prosecuting sexual violence crimes inaccessible to rural women
Liberia’s 14-year civil war was marked by widespread brutal violence against women and girls. But the end of the war has not ended sexual violence or impunity. In 2005 the country enacted a law making rape a crime punishable by life imprisonment, but the crime is still common, according to rights advocates.
“This [court] is indeed a victory for the protection of women and children who have been abused over the years but could not seek legal redress,” Deweh Gray, head of the Association of Female Lawyers of Libera (AFELL), told IRIN. AFELL has pushed for the special court for years, arguing that the slow progress of rape cases in existing courts – which cover other crimes – deprives women of justice and feeds impunity.
But the rural women’s group said the same problem still hampers justice in rural zones.
“What we want is for such special courts to be established in all of Liberia’s 15 counties,” Nimely told IRIN. “Women, girls and minors are being regularly abused. They have no place to seek redress. Courts in other parts of Liberia are too busy especially handling murder and theft cases, but [are not paying enough attention] to sexual violence cases.”
But Justice Minister Philip Banks told IRIN the special court will deal with cases all over Liberia, not just in Monrovia. He did not provide details on how but said: “We have county attorneys stationed in all 15 counties. They are the first line to prosecute criminal cases.” The minister said the lawyers would forward sexual violence cases to the special rape court.
But the women’s rural network said a permanent presence of prosecutors devoted to rape cases is needed close to where they live to ensure cases are handled without delay. “If we cannot have this court in all of [Liberia’s] 15 counties, at least it [should] be established in the four regions of the country [southeastern, western, northern and central].” Nimely said coalition plans to meet in the coming weeks with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Justice Minister Banks.
The Liberian National Police said 780 rape and other sexual violence cases were reported to its special protection unit for women and children in 2008, of which fewer than a quarter were pursued in court.
4 March 2009
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