Liberia: 'Death Penalty No Solution for Rape'

Rape, murder, violence against women.

Elizabeth Hårleman, outgoing Deputy Head of Mission of the Swedish Embassy in Liberia

"... it will only take a prepared and efficient justice system to bring a massive reduction or elimination of rape cases across Liberia," says Outgoing Swedish Deputy Head of Mission

Outgoing Deputy Head of Mission of the Swedish Embassy in Liberia, Elizabeth Harlem, has cautioned Liberians against the consideration of capital punishment for perpetrators of rape and other heinous crimes but suggests that a strong justice system implementing the rule of law will effectively reduce the high rate of rape cases and gender-based issues in the country.

"I think the death penalty will not be the solution. There are too many pre-trial detainees languishing behind bars. There is a need to fast-track those cases and ensure there is much invested in awareness at all levels of the communities. People need to know the laws and the consequences that follow when those laws are broken," she said.

She said the government of Sweden is strongly against the death penalty proposal for all rape perpetrators, but noted that it will only take a prepared and efficient justice system to bring a massive reduction or elimination of rape cases across Liberia.

Ms. Hårleman said her government has worked with the UNDP and the Liberian government in establishing Criminal Court "E" in order to fast-track sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases and the judges of the court who were, at some point in time, paid by the Swedish government with support from other partners, are now on Government of Liberia's payroll and receiving their salaries.

The Swedish diplomat further added that all cases, small or big, should be given equal attention when it comes to prioritizing cases on the court's docket.

"It takes time but we are confident that things will become better. It only needs people with good hearts who demonstrate love for their country and their fellow human beings," Hårleman said.

On corruption, she said her mission is not directly involved with checking out on who is corrupt or not but they have been working with the government in a lot more ways to help improve systems.

"We have had some capacity building programs with the Ministry of Finance and since then, they are now displaying to the public through their website, a comprehensive budget report. People should just visit it, download the materials, and read for themselves," she admonished.

Ms. Hårleman added that integrity institutions such as the General Auditing Commission (GAC), the Liberia Anti-corruption Commission (LACC) should receive the needed support and independence to do what is required of them.

"GAC produces very good reports. Use those reports and act in the best interest of your country. We are partners but it is you who will build the Liberia you want, not us. We contribute to programs, implement our own in your country but we have limitations. It is you who sustain those programs. If you don't have good financial discipline, we can't do the job for you," she said.

The Swedish diplomat told the Daily Observer that her country's development arm has signed an agreement with the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) to help to provide more education and engage the government in the fight against corruption in the country.

"We have signed an agreement with CENTAL on an anti-corruption campaign. It is a three and a half years program. It is a Liberian organization run by Liberians and it is working with fellow Liberians to get the job done for Liberia," Hårleman added.

She said the Swedish Development Cooperation (SDC) with Liberia is providing support to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) in capacity building on revenue collection.

"No country survives or develops without taxes. This is not just a government thing. Every Liberian needs to understand this and contribute to nation-building. And government, too, must show the public how it uses the money from taxpayers. That's how a country moves forward," Hårleman emphasized.

Madam Hårleman, who oversaw series of programs of the Swedish Development Cooperation (SDC) in Liberia, has exhausted her stay in the country but, ahead of her departure, she told the Daily Observer that she was pleased that Liberia is on its recovery path.

"It's been an interesting four years. It's been a great time. I have learned a lot. There have been challenges but also a lot of positive things. We have a project in Liberia that we have implemented very successfully, I can say," she said confidently.

Elizabeth Hårleman said her country has over the years supported and continues to support the Ministry of Public Works in its feeder roads rehabilitation program, and has worked with Mercy Corps to help build capacity for young Liberians.

"We are not here to brag about how much we have accomplished. Numbers are important but sometimes they are not the matter. One case is that you can train one million young people to go out and serve their communities, but you may see only a hundred of them making an impact. That's how it goes at times. What matters most is the impact of our programs," she said.

She recalled that when she came to Liberia four years ago and took on her role as Deputy Head of Mission, not many alleys and streets in Sinkor were paved or well-conditioned, but today they have been repaired thereby making movement around the town very easy.

Impact of COVID-19 on Sweden's programs in Liberia

Ms. Hårleman said COVID-19 affects the country but their programs are tailored around a plan that has all it takes to be accomplished.

"We are a responsible donor country and ours is to follow systems that help keep our programs alive.

"These things happen. Things change and, as such, we should always be ready to embrace the challenges that follow. We have flexibility. Other things that were not a priority before can become a priority now. Times and conditions change things and all we can do is to make the needed positive impact at the levels we are to," she said.

She noted, however, that because of COVID-19, almost all of their programs are experiencing delays but they are not short of ideas to contribute in order to help mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic.

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