Liberia: 'Access to Justice for SGBV Victims, Survivors Remains a Challenge' - Afell Boss Laments

Monrovia — The President of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Atty. Vivian D. Neal says access to justice for SGBV victims and survivors still remains a challenge in Liberia.

Making a presentation on the "Current Trends of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Liberia" at this year's National Colloquium on Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Prevention and Response in Liberia at the Monrovia City Hall, Atty. Neal lamented that Liberia has a high rate of reported violence against women and girls.

"The 2018 Annual report of Gender Ministry GBV statistics states 2,105 cases reported, 81% is sexual violence; 71% were female survivors less than 18 years. These numbers do not capture the true state of the violence women and girls face as many more cases are not reported or are settled out of court," Atty Neal said in her presentation.

According to the AFELL's President, access to justice for survivors of violence remains a challenge. She bemoans low level of cases prosecuted and adjudicated.

Atty. Neal recounted that in 2018, 218 cases were presented to the grand jury by the SGBV Crime Unit (Montserrado Co.), 50 cases indicted, tried cases 6, won 5.

She told the participants that the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia is assisting the Liberian Government to prosecute criminal cases under the UNDP Rule of Law Project.

She further outlined some of the challenges as low level of cases prosecuted and adjudicated.

"The state inability to use the DNA machine to confirm a single case of sexual violence despite the arrest of alleged perpetrators. The state inability and lack of political will to criminalize FGM. The financial burden is on survivor/victim's parents to ensure that alleged perpetrators get arrested or incarcerated to prisons after cases have been reported to the police and the court," she added.

Atty. Neal also said the sustainability of AFELL representation for indigent clients in court and the lack of government safe homes for survivors of sexual and others forms of violence still remains another challenge.

The one stop centers for SGBV cases had since been established, but lack adequate drugs; while only one of the three regional hubs functional; criminal court "E" in Nimba non-functional and the lack of adequate resources and understanding of trafficking to effectively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes still serve as impediment.

She added that the Women and Children Protection Section in almost every police station in Liberia participated in the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act (2019)

She outlined some achievements as the establishment of Criminal Court "E" in Nimba County, three Regional Hubs One-Stop-Centers for SGBV Cases established in seven of the fifteen counties. National Human Trafficking Task Force Government has DNA machine and personnel have been trained.

However, the AFELL boss is recommending that there is a need to strengthen and replicate criminal court E" in the other counties and that judges in criminal court "E" sit simultaneously to reduce the overcrowding of dockets and pre-trial detention for sex offenses

"There is a need for necessary electronic gadgets and expertise to conduct scientific and forensic investigation of sexual violence. The police continue to lack basic investigatory tools. Safe homes are in seven of the fifteen counties, there is need to extend to other counties.

"The government's efforts to establish transit home is applauding, but there is also a need for the government to have its own Safe home to accommodate victims and survivors who have the need to stay a little longer," she recommended.

She said as part of some of the key ways of prevention, there is a need to give SGBV awareness in schools, religious institutions as well as engaging traditional leaders on harmful traditional practices.

"There is need for trained nurses, doctors, police and other personnel to efficiently and effectively respond to SGBV cases. Effective coordination amongst the personnel is also key. There is a need for a National Legal Aid Legislation of Liberia so to ease burden on victims/survivors and to ensure better coordination and response to SGBV. There is a need for more coordinated efforts toward data collection on SGBV cases between Civil Society and the Ministry of Gender.

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