Global Justice Center Blog

Sexual Violence and Tragedy in Liberia

In a recent article about her home country of Liberia, Kim Thuy Seelinger, Director of the Sexual Violence Program of the Human Rights Center at the Berkeley School of Law, condemned the rape and resulting death of a Liberian child, saying, “the rape that left a 12-year old girl bleeding to death in a pickup truck must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of Liberian law.” Her attacker was a former solider in the previous civil war and was inebriated when he assaulted her. It is thought  that the man perpetrated similar crimes in combat, employing rape as a genocidal weapon.

The attack of this young girl was equally as atrocious, though perhaps what is most alarming the systemic failures of the state in providing aid, as she was denied medical care by several facilities and her family was apprehended by the police when traveling to a more remote hospital.  Due to her profuse bleeding, it was thought that she had Ebola, and while her family explained the circumstances to officials, little was done to assist her. She died while her family was detained at a police check point.

The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has ordered a full investigation into the failures that allowed such an event to transpire, though Seelinger notes that the event is indicative of larger governmental issues, and cannot be considered as an individual case. For example, it has been alleged that several political figures, who still retain power in the government, were responsible for the mass rapes during the civil war. The ICC has little jurisdiction in prosecuting such criminals, as the violence occurred during domestic conflict.

However, there is hope for women and girls, as Sirleaf, the first female president to be elected in Africa, has shown commitment to the issue of sexual violence. She has instituted several programs to help survivors, though the institutions she seeks to improve—such as the health care system and the police force—are inherently flawed and her policies can fail, as they did for this young girl.

Seelinger advocates that attention be paid to the survivors of rape, an assertion which echoes the position of the Global Justice Center. Seelinger says, “Survivors have never received sufficient care or seen reparations. Perpetrators have never been punished or rehabilitated. Several nurses and community leaders we interviewed noted that sexual violence survivors hold onto their suffering, and perpetrators often struggle with substance abuse, continuing to hurt those more destitute or powerless.” GJC’s “Rape as Weapon of War” campaign is dedicated to ending impunity in states that allow and employ sexual violence for political ends. Soldiers must be held accountable and punished for using rape as a weapon during times of war. The injury and death of the young girl in Liberia is a sobering example of what happens when they are not.

Tags: Sexual Violence & Rape, Individual Criminal Accountability, War Crimes/Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, International Criminal Court, Africa