Sexual violence against women and children remains a major concern in Liberia

The report, the UN Mission in Liberia’s (UNMIL) fifth on human rights, says that six months after the country’s Rape Amendment Act came into effect, the cases listed clearly shows that far more effort is required by everyone working in the judicial system to address this reprehensible crime.“Sexual and gender-based violence, particularly against children, continued to be a major concern for UNMIL and all its partners working to uphold the fundamental rights of women and children,” the Mission said in a press release. The report, covering the period May to July 2006, was prepared with information from 25 UNMIL human rights monitors stationed in all Liberia’s 15 counties and, as well as providing an overview of the most important trends, it focuses in particular on challenges facing the judicial system as the country rebuilds after 14 years of conflict.“Circuit Courts in five counties were not operational during the May Term of Court, resulting in violations of the Constitutional and the human rights of both victims and suspects,” said Chief of the Human Rights and Protection Section, Dorota Gierycz, in launching the report.Further, Ms. Gierycz said that where courts were operational, only a fraction of the cases listed for trial were heard. Also, inefficient investigation, prosecution and hearings led to prolonged pre-trial detention in many cases and frequently, suspects were released from detention without facing trial.A positive development has been the submission of a joint report by UNMIL and the Government of Liberia Rule of Law Task Force to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf outlining a programme to strengthen the judicial sector. As part of this, UNMIL and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) supported a three-day workshop jointly organized by the Ministry of Justice, to consider best practices to strengthen the Rule of Law.Also related to law and order, the head of UNMIL has called for an end to the illegal rubber trade, stressing the importance of the crop in helping the country rebuild.“Illegal tapping and sale of rubber remains a problem and we need to have a proper certification or licensing for dealers and traders. Regulation of the rubber industry needs to be strengthened. We must stop the trade in illegal rubber because it is one of the most important sources of income and growth for Liberia,” said Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia.Mr. Doss made his remarks during a trip to the Guthrie Rubber Plantation, about 50 kilometres west of the capital, Monrovia, where he highlighted the progress made since UNMIL supported the Government in taking control of the plant in August.“The peace process is not just stopping war. It is also about rebuilding the economy and creating jobs… we must ensure that nobody seizes this plantation again and harvests rubber illegally.”In another development, Mr. Doss recently joined members of the Liberian police force, and UN military and police officers on a night patrol in some parts of the capital, as part of increased patrolling to curb the reported increase in violent crime in Monrovia.

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