Liberia’s 'Rape Court': Progress for women and girls delayed?
Court E – Liberia's innovative new courtroom just for rape cases – must now weather a national media drama and all the scrutiny that comes of trying a high-level government employee.
Last year, I reported with the intrepid Glenna Gordon a story about Liberia's Court E, a court chamber in the capital city of Monrovia dedicated only to rape cases. The court, which will turn two in Februrary, was a direct response to what many people we met called a rape "epidemic" in Liberia. The country's post-war rape stats are sky-high, and most of the victims are young girls.Skip to next paragraph
Latest leader to redefine term limits: Senegal's President Wade
US troops against the LRA? A war worth winning
Congo election aftermath: some possible scenarios to avert crisis
Africa Rising: Carbon credits save Sierra Leone's Gola Rainforest
Eastern Congo braces for election results
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Court E had all the marks of innovation -- an in-camera room so that the victim could testify without having to physically sit before her rapist, a jury and the members of the public admitted to the courtroom (which isn't open; access is controlled by the judge) and a Sexual and Gender Based Crimes Unit of the justice department, assigned to prosecute the cases but also to give support services to victims and their families.
All those innovations aren't doing much good at the moment. Right now, Court E is hosting its most famous accused, Caesar Freeman. According to the local Star Radio, the senior-level civil servant, who works at the Government Services Agency, has been indicted for rape, gang rape and kidnapping. Star radio reports that the indictment tells the story this way: The victim allegedly asked Freeman for a ride, and he had an unidentified friend allegedly took her to three different places and asked her for sex; she refused each time. Freeman denies the charges; his family alleges they are politically-motivated fabrications.
Star Radio says Freeman tried to get bail, even though gang rape is not a bailable offense in Liberia; other media reported that bail was refused. He demanded a speedy trial after being held for about three weeks -- in a country where people spend months and months in jail before seeing the inside of a courtroom.
That set off a debate in the press, and among Liberia's lawyers, about whether the "rape law" is unconstitutional. Defendants' rights advocates want speedier trials; the New Democrat reports 213 people have been held in a Monrovia prison "beyond statutory limits" since being accused. Some lawyers have since spoken out against the rape law.