5 October 2017

Liberian Senate Amends Rape Law - Makes It Bailable Offense

Monrovia — The Liberian Senate has voted in favour of a report to amend the rape law, making rape a bailable crime.

The rape law of Liberia has been a controversial law that has landed several men behind bars, some for years in pre-trial detention.

The Senators present in Wednesday's session were Senator Dallas Gueh (MPC-River-Cess County), Albert Chie (IND-Grand Kru County), Milton Teahjay (UP-Sinoe County), Thomas Grupee (NUDP-Nimba County), Morris Saytumah (UP-Bomi County) Varney Sherman (UP- Grand Cape Mount County), Peter Coleman (CDC-Grand Kru County) and Johnathan Kaipay (LP-Grand Bassa County).

Of the eight Senators, Kaipay of Grand Bassa County voted against the report to amend the law while Peter Coleman filed a motion for reconsideration.

A motion for reconsideration is a privileged motion filed by members of the legislature in a decision requiring voting. He or she has three sittings to submit his or her motion for reconsideration.

Cllr. Sherman as the only ranking member of the senate presided over the session in the absence of the Pro-Tempore and by the rules could not vote.

In keeping with rule 7 section 1, of the senate standing rules, "A simple majority of the Senators who have been duly seated shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business and a decision of a two-third (2/3) of said quorum shall be binding."

"A lower number may adjourn from day-to-day and compel the attendance of absent members."

"Should there not be a quorum at the hour to which the Senate adjourns, those present shall direct the Sergeant At-Arms to request, and where necessary to compel, at the expense of such absent Senator(s), the attendance of the absent Senator(s).

"On the appearance of the absent Senator(s) at the Senate's Chamber, such Senator(s) shall not be allowed to address the Senate or take part in its deliberations, except to explain his/her absence, until excused in open session by the body."

The Senators took the decision following a report from its' statutory Committee on Judiciary recommending that Rape should be a bailable offense as is provided for in the draft Act submitted by Sen. Teahjay.

The Committee also recommends that an accused person on bail for the commission of the crime of rape should report to the Court which granted the bail on a monthly basis and that reporting should occur on the monthly anniversary of the granting of the bail.

The Judiciary Committee also noted from the comparison of the original Rape Law and the proposed amendment that the punishment provided in the original Rape Law appears to be excessive and therefore unconstitutional.

Article 21 (d) (ii) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted".

In the opinion of the judiciary Committee, the punishment for rape as provided in the Rape Law is excessive and therefore unconstitutional.

Rape is a non-bailable offense under the current Rape Law of Liberia with perpetrators having no access to parole while serving his/her term in prison. The passed amended version of the Rape Law has been sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

Liberia has ratified or acceded to the core international human rights treaties 15 and is a party to the major regional human rights instruments 16 which oblige States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights of all persons within the territory and subject to the jurisdiction of the State, without discrimination.

The 1986 Constitution enshrines a number of fundamental human rights that may be violated by sexual violence, including the right to life and security of person, the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law, and the prohibition of torture or inhumane treatment.

The Constitution also prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of these and other rights on the basis of sex.

The 2005 Rape Law defines rape as "the intentional penetration however slight with the perpetrator's penis of the victim's vagina, anus, mouth, or other opening without the victim's consent, or the intentional penetration with a foreign object or other body part of the victim's vagina or anus without the victim's consent."

The law is therefore gender-neutral, providing for both male and female victims and perpetrators. It is also possible to charge for spousal rape even though the law does not explicitly refer to it.

The Rape Law raised the age of consent to 1827 and defines consent broadly, providing that a person consents if he or she does so by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

The law also contains specific provisions concerning gang rape, which is defined as purposely promoting or facilitating rape, or agreeing "with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of conduct which shall constitute rape."

The law provides for severe sentences for rape, including life imprisonment in the case of conviction of rape in the first degree.

There is also provision for on camera testimony by victim-witnesses, for the purpose of witness protection. 25.

The Penal Law also addresses rape, including Aggravated Involuntary Sodomy (Section 14.72), Involuntary Sodomy (Section 14.73), Corruption of Minors (Section 14.75), and Sexual Abuse of [a] Ward (Section 14.76).

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