Liberia: Enact a law banning FGM as a matter of urgency

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Ruth Berry Peal with her lawyer

9 MAY 2017 UPDATE: Female genital mutilation (FGM) has claimed another life in Liberia. On 31 March 2017, 16-year-old Zaye Doe died after being taken into the “bush” in Liberia’s Tappita area to be subjected to FGM by members of the Sande Society – a women’s secret society found in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast that trains girls to become women at Sande schools. The leaders of the Society, called “Zoes,” forced Zaye and a friend to undergo this human rights violation as punishment for allegedly using abusive language during an argument. According to community rules, abusive language is prohibited. Though Zaye died, the Zoes further subjected 25 more girls to FGM in April 2017. Zaye’s parents filed a lawsuit against the lead Zoe and her three associates, but they are being pressured to withdraw the case and settle it in the traditional way.

This not the first case of forced FGM. Despite a 2012 Ministry of Internal Affairs ban on Sande operations and the suspension of their licenses, society members continue their activities undeterred. Though the perpetrators in our 2010 case on behalf of Ruth Berry Peale, who was similarly mutilated, were sentenced to two years imprisonment, they have yet to be jailed. This shows that the government’s is effectively supporting FGM and demonstrating that Liberian girls and women are not worth protecting from this extreme violation of their human rights.

Please help renew our call!
The Liberian Constitution guarantees the rights of life, liberty and security of person for all. Liberia is also bound by a number of international and regional human rights conventions and protocols that obligate it to protect women and girls from FGM, including Article 5 of the Maputo Protocol, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Significantly, in 2014 the CEDAW Committee urged Liberia criminalize FGM, impose harsher punishments, remove considerations for consent, and to accelerate awareness-raising and educational efforts toward eliminating FGM and its “underlying cultural justification.”

However, despite these obligations and President Johnson-Sirleaf’s 2015 public assertion that Liberia must end FGM, women and girls continue to suffer while their government does nothing. We need your help. Please join Equality Now and Women Solidarity Inc. in renewing the call on Liberian authorities to:

  • enact and enforce comprehensive legislation against FGM, including a total ban on the practice in the upcoming revised Domestic Violence Bill;
  • immediately protect and relocate Zaye’s parents to a safe location;
  • transfer Zaye’s case to another court jurisdiction in a different county;
  • enforce the ban on Zoes and arrest any Zoe who practices FGM.

Equality Now has just issued an Action calling on the Government of Liberia to enact a law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and to ensure the swift conclusion of Ruth Berry Peal’s case. In July 2011, the members of the politically influential Sande secret society who had kidnapped and forcibly subjected Ruth to FGM were sentenced to three years imprisonment; however, they appealed the judgment and were released on bail. The appeal has been pending at the Supreme Court with no hearing date set and the perpetrators remain free.

Despite Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s pledge to make women’s rights and health a national priority, recent steps by the government to suspend Sande activities and the government’s stated willingness to work on an anti-FGM law, reports of mutilations continue with a lack of government intervention. This lack of a unified stance by government officials undermines the efforts the government is making to end FGM.

Please call on Liberian authorities to ensure that Ruth Peal’s case is speedily concluded and that that the government’s suspension of Sande FGM activities is enforced. Furthermore, call on them to enact and enforce comprehensive legislation against FGM as well as supporting educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM.

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