Does the crime of rape warrant the death penalty? If not, then given the alarming rate of reported rape cases in Liberia, what will it take to stop the crime? If so, is Liberia even ready to reintroduce the death penalty as a means of addressing the alarming rate of rape against women and girls across the country? Extreme, no doubt. But there may be a slow but sure consensus brewing, so far with two individuals of national repute -- one a soldier and the other a preacher -- having boldly declared their support for the death penalty for the crime of rape.
Rev. Dr. Simeon L. Dunbar, National Orator of this Year's Independence Day celebration, has joined Maj. Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), to reintroduce death penalty for rapists as a means of drastically reducing the harmful act against women and girls across Liberia.
Gen. Johnson at an event on sexual and gender-based violence held in Monrovia on the 11th of July, said even though the international community does not support this decision of death penalty, "I think, with the huge number of statistics we have on rape, there is a need that we revisit the issue of the death penalty for those who sexually abuse our women and girls in Liberia."
He said it is saddening that men will even go to the point of raping minors, adding: "It is said that a person who has been sexually abused, will make a complaint to the police station, and someone from the security sector also abuses her instead of protecting her."
GBV Summary Report March - June 2020 (Courtesy: Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Republic of Liberia)
Barely a fortnight after Gen. Johnson had voiced an identical opinion, Rev. Dunbar used his platform as National Independence Day Orator, in the presence of President George M. Weah, the 54th legislature, government ministers and Liberia's international partners to call for the death penalty to be reintroduced for rapists.
Rev. Dunbar is a renowned preacher of one of the largest churches in Liberia.
Speaking under the Theme: "Standing Together in a Time of Pandemic," Rev Dunbar said "Rape perpetrated by inhumane men who claim to be citizens of this God-fearing nation. IT IS SAD AND IT NEEDS TO STOP. If that means introducing the death penalty on these evil perpetrators, so let it be."
Rev. Dunbar said, "it is beyond sickening that while we are battling COVID-19, we have to deal with reoccurring cases of rape of teenagers and babies who have not even learned to talk."
He said citizens are still at war with far greater pandemics than COVID-19, adding that the people cannot and will not stand together to win any battle in a society that condones injustice, rampant corruption, disobedience or non-adherence for the rule of law, nepotism and tribalism, sexual violence and gender-based violence, lack of genuine reconciliation, lack of patriotism, lack of accountability, lack of integrity and with no fear of God; for God hates these vices.
He called on the security sector to adhere to the rules that govern this land and not abuse them.
According to data from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, there were 182 cases of rape reported in January 2019, as compared to January 2020, when 172 rape cases were reported. In February 2020, there were 174 rape cases as compared to the same month in 2019, which recorded 169 cases of rape. In March 2020, there were 160 rape cases reported compared to the same month in 2019, which recorded 154 cases of rape.
The Gender Ministry data suggests that between 2019 and 2020 there was very little disparity between the the number of rape cases reported each moth during the first quarter of either year. And for a small population like Liberia, this means that within the first quarter of any given year, on average, more than five hundred women fall prey to rape, counting only the reported cases.
Reported rape cases from the first quarter of 2019 and 2020. (Courtesy: Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Republic of Liberia)
However, the analysis also says "all the 15 counties have not reported, but this trend analysis on reported rape has shown that February and March 2020 reported higher cases of rape as compared to the same period 2019."
Brenda B. Moore, Founder and Executive Director of the Kids Education Engagement Program, said she supports the death penalty for rape if the act resulted in death but if not, the perpetrators should serve time in prison.
"For me, I do not agree with the death penalty if the act did not result in death. If it resulted in the death of a person, I do believe that [there should be] life for life," she said in a telephone interview.
Moore, a survivor of sexual violence and an advocate against the crime, is calling for more courts across Liberia to be able to try those rape cases that have been reported and the implementation of those laws to ensure perpetrators face the full weight of the law.
"I want to see a country where all system are strengthened," she explained, "that when you are accused of rape, you will have your days in court and, when convicted, you go to jail for ten years, which means your liberty will be seized, not to have cases at police stations and still straggling to go to court."
The Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Platform, Adama K. Dempster, has said while it is true they are concerned about the high wave of reported rape cases and further molestations of women and girls, they are not in support of death penalty for those that sexually abuse women.
Dempster said given the nature of the role of the human rights community, they are working to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
He recounted that on 22 July 2008, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, assented to a bill that amended the 1976 Penal Code by providing that death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole shall be imposed on an offender who, during the commission of the crimes of terrorism or hijacking or armed robbery, causes the death of his victim.
Dempster said the law also provided that a person convicted of one of the above offenses and who raped or attempted to rape his victim or who caused partial or permanent disability to his victim shall be sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of release at the age of 90 years old.
"The death penalty was introduced for the above offenses despite of the fact that Liberia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, on 16 September 2005, which specifically obliges States Parties to 'take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within' their jurisdictions," he said.