Liberia: 6 July Press Brief - Ms. Joana Foster (UNMIL Senior Gender Adviser), Hon. Vaba Gayflor (Minister of Gender and Development), Hon. Dan Morias (Minister of Internal Affairs)

News and Press Release
Originally published
Near Verbatim

Ms. Joana Foster (UNMIL Senior Gender Adviser)

This press conference was really to respond to the continuity of impunity from the war which is still manifesting itself in the highlights of reporting of violence against women and children particularly of rape.

The fact that during this interim period when people should be building their lives, the daily reports of rape from all over the country has overshadowed all the reconstruction activities we are all involved in; and it is excluding women and children from being part of this reconstruction of Liberia.

This is an attempt to coordinate the process so that all the organizations that are involved in doing any work with gender violence will be able to be coordinated and will be doing their work within their counties to ensure that sensitization goes every where.

One person cannot advocate on an issue. Advocacy is about bringing different perspectives but with the same goal. In this case, the goal is violence against women. It needs to be coordinated from one source and that is the reason for this campaign that is being set up.

We are holding this press conference in the Ministry of Gender and Development because it has to have national ownership. We in the UN body and UNMIL are supporting the process. We are not the mothers or fathers of this but we are the uncles and aunts who are providing the equipment and the facilities so that the sensitization of everybody in Liberia goes to everywhere so that we can stop the violence against women. Thank you.

I will now call on the Honorable Minister, Ms. Vabah Gayflor to make a statement.

Honorable Vabah Gayflor (Minister of Gender and Development)

Good morning to all.

My dear friend, Dan Morias, Minster of Internal Affairs, our mother, the Supreme Zoe, members of the UN family, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

I feel delighted that following a series of consultations between and among the relevant partner agencies, we are here today to reinforce the sensitization campaign on violence against women.

This Ministry is particularly grateful to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and other UN agencies, national and international NGOs, as well as other participating government ministries and agencies that have made tremendous contributions to the launching of this activity today.

This activity is indeed a further evidence of the enormous power that partnership can generate from time to time. Through general partnerships a whole lot can be achieved and the gathering here is a clear manifestation of this strong conviction.

On a sadder note however, let me stress here that the increase in violence against women and children continues to be one of our greatest challenges as we collaboratively work to chart a new course for this extensively battered nation.

Yes, we all look forward to being part of the remaking of the nation; each of us here today - whatever agency you represent and whatever personal or biased opinion you hold on the issue of violence against women - there is one thing on which we almost unanimously agree: specific action are readily required in order to curb the growing waves of violence against women. Yet progress has been painstakingly slow.

Distinguished representatives of the participating agencies, let me once more remind you that looking ahead demands looking around. We cannot appear to be preoccupied with "peace making" and yet at the same time forget to erect the fortress necessary to uphold the peace when it is achieved.

This means that the very vices that encumber the road to peace, justice and socio-economic progress must either be contained now or they will frustrate the genuine efforts that we are exerting in order to rewrite the history of our nation.

That violence against women was not limited to the conflict years can be further substantiated by the number of cases reported between March 2004 and June 6, 2005: 19 incidences of rape in several localities in Monrovia alone; that is an under statement and more that half a dozen incidences reported in only 5 localities outside Monrovia.

Considering the difficulties in documenting cases of rape and other forms of violence against women and considering the likelihood that many more cases are being "settled out of court," these findings by the Ministry's Sexual and Gender-Base Violence Section are simply a tip of the iceberg.

It is therefore important that we become more proactive by reinforcing the call for a Fast Track Legal Framework that will strengthen the campaign that we are launching here today.

We should intensify efforts to ensure that the Rape Bill drafted by the Ministry of Justice is swiftly enacted into law within the earliest time interval, most preferably before the polling on October 11, 2005 .

Finally, let me again restate here that in order to de-emphasize the continuous use of violence against women as a weapon of control, we need to forge and/or strengthen existing alliances and partnership at all levels. We need to broker understanding with the other stakeholders, particularly with the agencies directly responsible to help us reach our goal of building a woman and child-friendly environment.

Through training and also by undertaking to strengthen the capacities of the coordinating agencies, we will be reinforcing and actualizing the objective of the campaign we are embarking on today.

At the same time, let us also remember that violence against women is intolerable in the New Liberia and not a minute more will society tolerate this.

Without much ado, I am please to launch this sensitization campaign on violence against women and we are looking forward to all of your support.

I thank you.

Honorable Dan Morias (Minister of Internal Affairs)

For us, it is an honor to join women in the campaign of violence against women. As Minister of Internal Affairs, our responsibility is to the welfare of women in the rural areas. You will agree with us that we share this jurisdictional authority of women in the length and breadth of the Republic of Liberia , with the Ministry of Gender and Development. Therefore we see it as part of our responsibility to ensure that this campaign starts from Monrovia and expands to the entire country and that we do not sit in the back and expect our people to learn by osmosis or by spontaneous generation. It beholds all Liberians to ensure that the level of education be given to our women.

The perception of rural women as kitchen environmentalists or associates of the black pot and cook spoon must be erased. Such a perception tends to hold women hostage to those things that men will normally refuse, thereby reducing the level of respect that should be given to women in general and rural women in particular.

Therefore, we will advance a mental and psychological association in the rural areas of Liberia which will be with the acronym "AWAKE" which means the Association of Women Against Kitchen Environment .

It will not be actually physical as an association but it will be a mental and psychological drive in the interior of Liberia that the work of the woman is not in the kitchen. They can help us. In many instances and cases, they have been the bread-winner. No matter what negative conception is brought to bear on this campaign, we expect you to go forward, that the all men must not be categorized into the group of people against women. There are some of us who believe in what you can do in your capacity especially when there is an argument.

We want to take this very serious for the fact that those persons, who want to see you fail, see you subjugated to their wishes, will stand against this worthy endeavor. You have a right under the constitution of the Republic of Liberia for freedom of association; you have the right to come together as women of this country and demand of your country and government of the right to work, to play and to peace. I want to thank you on this note.

The Supreme Zoe

I support my chief, one hundred percent. So this is the message I will carry back to my chiefs, zoes and traditional women that violence is not good. Let the men handle the women like babies and pet us; by that, we will be good women. Any incident of rapes in their areas and the men not taking care of their women, they should let us know and we will bring it to light and go around to advice. So I support this program. Thank you.

Questions and Answer

Q: Ruldophson Fiyah (Radio Veritas) - You made mentioned of 19 incidences of rape cases in Monrovia , especially Montserrado County . I want to know, those involved in these 19 rapes cases, what is the government doing about it? Have they been brought to justice?

A: Dede Quaqua (focal person for SGBV, Ministry of Gender) - The 19 is not just the report for Montserrado, but that is the one we have for Ministry of Gender. Most of these people were sent to court and the cases are still there. When they are sent to court, some of them were bailed out. You see them walking around here. Most of these cases are not being prosecuted.

Q: Isaac Menyongar (Bilingual Newspaper) - The Government in collaboration with the United Nations, what are they doing now to prevent the rape of little girls?

A: Hon. Vabah Gayflor - Thank you very much. As you heard, this is a regular press conference held by UNMIL but the venue was changed to incorporate this program that is being launched today. That is why you are here.

What is the government doing? We are working together with stakeholders. We have sexual based gender violence working groups that meet regularly. They do training; sensitize communities, and people on what to do in cases of rape. We are also working with partner agencies like the Ministry of Justice that have been working along with the Association of Female Lawyers. They have prepared a rape bill that was sent to us to review to see what it is.

The system for the prosecution of rape has been very weak. It has not been treated as a capital offence. We feel that when you rape somebody or a child, worst of all, it is like you killed that person. Some do die. What we are saying is the sentence they have for rape is too slight and we need to revisit this. The launch today is part of the activity to let you know that we are not sitting back. We do care and we are doing something about it.

Q: Ahmed Sheriff (Heritage Newspaper) - You mentioned that the prosecution has been very weak and sometimes when they are prosecuted, taken to court you see them on the streets again. Now that you have launched this wonderful campaign, how do you intend to face this challenge?

A: Hon. Vabah Gayflor - Like Ms. Foster said, one person cannot be an advocate. So we are looking at you in the media. How are you portraying the issue of rape to outsiders and people who are doing this? What message can you give them to make them feel guilty so that they can stop what they are doing.

We are going to have visible symbols, billboards to work on the mind. It is a physiological issue. How do you work on somebody to make them feel that it would have been them or their daughter? We are looking out to the public to own the process. This is being done in partnership with everybody. This is not only the Ministry of Gender's problem, it is Liberia 's problem.

Hon. Dan Morias - This campaign is a process and not an event. It is the responsibility of all of us to educate, as the first result, our people as to the danger of rape. As a matter of fact we are trying through the various traditional institutions under us to educate the women out there not to remain silent on this issue. You have to come out and say it when it happens to you so that we can find a way to resolve that problem. There is a law that will back you when you come to court and that you will not be disgraced as in the case of old.

Q: Salue Swaray (DC 101.1 Radio) - You continue to say that the issue of rape cases against women is weak; that is the government has no time to put more effort in taking up issue with rape cases. We have seen at several IDPs camps in Brewerville the issue of rape cases which have become continuous and you have not been able to prosecute the rapists. What are you now going to do in this direction to reinforce the issue with regards to rape cases against women?

A: Hon. Vaba Gayflor - I would like correct you. It was not said that the government is not doing anything about it. We inherited a system that views the issue of rape as one that was not strong. They did not see it as a serious crime before and following the war. Maybe at the time, it was not being carried out as it is this time. Now this is a human right concern to live in society. We are not saying that the government is not doing anything about it. It was a bailable crime. Now we have the right people in place who say no, and have sentences ranging from 10 years upward.

We are saying the system is weak because we are reconstructing. In the rural areas there are no courts there. If there was a case, do you come to Monrovia before you get justice? This is what we are talking about. We need to resuscitate these institutions. It is something we are confronted with and we want to be able to highlight it so that we can pay more attention to it.

Ms. Joana Foster - To add to what the Minister just said, one of the things that have been going on apart from the rape law that has been amended which was led by the Ministry of Justice supported by AFEL is that AFEL is also talking about a Fast Track Court to try people who have been accused of rape.

There are also other activities going on, like the Liberia National Police, is trying to start up a women and children's unit where more women and children can come and report instances of rape. The activities of all the NGOs, UN agencies on sexual and gender baseed violence sensitization that we are doing is to go all over the country and tell people what to do and how to report because part of the problem is that they do not know where to go. They need to be empowered, to be given the confidence to be able to report. This campaign is a campaign of advocacy, to bring everything together, to share the information. Information is power.

Q: Kelvin Tydehson (Informer Newspaper) - Nowadays, we see all kinds of dressing on the streets. When I was a little boy, it was difficult to see such dressing. What is the government doing about the dress code of our children?

A: Hon. Vaba Gayflor - Let me answer that a little bit. Your daughters need to be taught to listen to you and respect you and do those things that are right. Secondly, the girls dressing in the streets, you know people watch video, films and it is happening all around the world and not only peculiar to Liberia .

I do not think it is the dressing of those girls that rape has increased. The girls who dress as like that, do not get raped. If you tell me the four-month old baby with her diapers on is dressing indecently that is why she was raped, then I see what you are talking about.

We need to depend on you the parents to assist us. We need to depend on you in the community to talk to our kids to let them know this was not how it was in the days of old.

Musu (International Rescue Committee) - The issue of rape should have nothing to do with the code of dressing. Men who rape are trying to exercise their power over women. They are actually trying to show their weakness. Most men say that the way she dressed tempted me, I could not control myself. Then you are not a real man because real men do not rape.

Awa (United Nations Development Program) - First, I want to congratulate you UNMIL, Joana, Mr. Minister, Madam Minister, Chief Zoe for this initiative. Speaking on behalf of UNDP we will continue to support you.

I most especially want to congratulate the Minister of Internal Affairs for recognizing that violence against women is not only a women issue, but everybody's problem. I want to use this opportunity to make a couple of comments.

First, I hope the issue of support services for victims and survival of sexual violence is going to be central to this campaign.

The second point is now that we are going towards the elections; and I am happy to see that we have our journalist friends here. I hope the issue of violence against women is something that is going to be central to the electoral process, to the agenda of the politicians, who are going to lead this country.

The third point is HIV/AIDS which we cannot neglect and forget. The issue of HIV/AIDS is not only in Liberia as a post-conflict issue. The issue of HIV/AIDS is a sub-regional issue.

Finally, the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse is a sub-regional issue and not only for Liberia . One last and important point is that I am not sure I see ECOWAS here. I wish ECOWAS can be part of this campaign because they have a very strong part to play in addressing violence against women not only for Liberia but for the whole of West Africa . Thank you.

UNMIL Advisor on Human Rights

Thank you Honorable Ministers, colleagues from UNMIL, teams, ladies and gentlemen.

I have some impressions that I would like to comment on. There is an apparent incrimination to say, what is the government doing about this? What is the government going to do about this now? What have you been doing about this crime?

Since the Minister of Gender and Development said rape is a human rights issue, and because I am coming from UNMIL human rights, I thought that was the best statement for me to hear. Rape is a human issue. But I was hearing as if members from the civil society, media and others are asking what is government going to do about it? What is UNMIL now going to do? My experience with human rights work is unless you own the sentiment, unless you the population, the people of Liberia - you should be the people that determine what government should do. You determine what government and UNMIL should do. If you commit rape and then you say why do you not punish me? You turn to government now; then basically we are saying as men, we are not men. You become animals in fact.

I also want to go to the issue of tradition. The two Ministers have referred to people going and thinking about the tradition that use to be in days past. I think there is a tendency today of giving traditional practices little value. As I was brought up, you never imagine a man in a village raping a baby. And if you did, the government will lock you up like you have never seen. But even before government reaches you, the villagers will tie you up.

But people here, if there is no policeman, the rapist enjoys. I think if there is any point that makes society united it should be over a village member who you know has committed rape and you begin to blame the family who did not report it.

Sometimes these mothers do not report because if they did the men will come and do harm to them. So it is normally society who harbors, who protects such characters that should be blamed. I am saying this: let our responsibility be fifty-fifty. Before the government comes up, the villages should be bringing that person to government. It falls on you, the society, by protecting the victims then protecting the guys who rape. When society turns against rapist, government will do its work.

Thank you very much.

CIVPOL Representative

Right now, we have in conjunction with UNICEF, other UNMIL organs and LNP put in place machineries to ensure that the issue of gender, women and children, juveniles and all these sexually related cases are well addressed. Yesterday, we tried to identify structures that would be convenient for reporting these cases. Like the last speaker said, people are being intimidated; that is one of our considerations.

We want to put in place such locations or offices that will be separate from the existing structures so that people are free to come up with complaints.

We have run some training programs and we have been assisted in so many ways by UNICEF. We have been to Sierra Leone , Ghana to try and study how these systems are being run there with a view of implementing similar projects here. Right now we have come up with a policy plan of action and we believe by the end of this year throughout Monrovia will be covered and the five major regions. By next year, we hope to cover the entire country. All these programs are in place and we can assure you that we have been training the LNP officers on how to handle these sensitive cases. Thank you.

Q: Liberia Broadcasting Corporation - I have two questions. One, what are you going to do when a child who is raped dies? What are you going to do to the rapist?

My second question goes to Minister Morias. Emphases have been made on a child in case of rape instead of a woman. Recently, a case was reported to me at my home that a lady was returning from work in the Barnesville area and the lady was raped and she was found on the side walk. What are you going to do about that?

A: Hon. Dan Morias - I would like to say here emphatically that rape is a crime. There is now a new definition of rape. So I think we should be aware. What we are generally speaking about is violence against women. It is about time that we stop that. We call on all of our people, men out there, to join women of this country and the sub-region as they start a process of educating all of us as to the crime we commit when we do these things to women.