25 MARCH 2015 UPDATE: In the two years since the Liberian High Court upheld the decision against the members of the Sande secret society who had forcibly-mutilated Ruth Berry Peal, the assailants have yet to be arrested and imprisoned. Instead, they are residing and working freely in Monrovia and Bomi (Bomi is the same county where Ruth and her family live). Ruth, meanwhile, still suffers from the trauma and continues to receive verbal and physical abuse from her community who are tormenting her for exposing the secrets of their culture. Our partner, Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET), has raised the failures in the case with Liberia’s Ministry of Justice but no action has been taken.
On a positive note, as a result of an indefinite government ban on Sande School operations to help curb the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease, FGM has reportedly been reduced in Liberia. Also, during a February meeting with WOLPNET, the Traditional Council adopted a resolution pledging to only initiate girls at the age of consent and stopping forceful FGM initiations. However, this still does not go far enough; FGM is a human rights violation that should not be performed on any women or girl regardless of their age or granting of consent. Equality Now continues to advocate for zero tolerance for FGM and system to ban it in Liberia.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf also continues to speak out on the issue of violence in Liberia, including FGM. At an international event on gender equality this month, she publicly stated, "too many of our countries have yet to muster the courage to ban the irreparable harm inflicted by genital mutilation on young girls in traditional societies." The Liberian Minister for Gender also spoke on the topic during a radio interview, stating "we are working with our traditional people to see how they can learn from what people have done in other countries that practice similar rituals so that they can now see how they can empower themselves to move away from FGM."
We are hopeful that these types of declarations from the highest levels of the Liberian government will finally result in a law banning FGM. Equality Now and our partners are engaging with policy makers to fulfill on their pledges to adopt a law and to ensure that survivors of FGM such as Ruth are able to access justice and health services. Please renew the call for justice and security for Ruth and her family, and for a law against FGM in Liberia.
MARCH 12, 2013 UPDATE: On 17 January 2013, Ruth Berry Peal's lawyer, Deddeh Wilson, informed Equality Now that she had filed a motion requesting the court to dismiss the defendant’s appeal of their jail sentence for failure to complete the appeal process. On 24 January 2013, the court dismissed the appeal case on grounds that 'the defendants did not file an approved bill of exceptions or did not secure the approval of the trial judge on the purported bill of exceptions.' On 26 February, the court issued a letter commanding the Sheriff of Montserrado to arrest the defendants.
Although Ruth has finally gotten justice for being forcibly mutilated, it has not been easy for her, as she continues to receive threats. Mrs Speare, director of Women NGO Secretariat Liberia (WONGOSOL), stated that social and cultural circumstances in Liberia do not allow girls and women to oppose FGM or to escape, though girls sometimes resort to running away and hiding due to the lack of laws to protect them from the practice. Ruth has been advised by the gender ministry to relocate to Monrovia but is reluctant to do so because her husband and children still live in Bomi, Liberia. Therefore, we are calling on the Liberian government to support and protect Ruth, as well as to build on indications made by the Minister for Internal Affairs in 2011 to enact and enforce a law banning FGM as a matter of urgency.
|Ruth Berry Peal with her lawyer|
In April 2010, Equality Now issued Women’s Action 37.1 highlighting the case of Ruth Berry Peal who was kidnapped and forcibly subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) by some members of the politically influential Sande female secret society. The Sande society promotes and carries out FGM as part of an initiation rite into womanhood. More than 58.2% of Liberian women have undergone FGM. Ruth filed a lawsuit against the women and, in July 2011, they were found guilty of kidnapping, felonious restraint and theft of property and were sentenced to three years imprisonment. However, the defendants appealed the judgment and were released on bail. The appeal has been pending at the Supreme Court since July 2011 with no hearing date set, reportedly due to a lack of resources allocated to prosecuting this case. Equality Now and our partners are concerned about the delay in hearing this appeal and finalizing the case, especially as the perpetrators remain free on bail.
>> TAKE ACTION NOW!
In June 2011, Equality Now met with the Liberian Minister of Internal Affairs regarding Ruth Berry Peal’s case and ending FGM in Liberia. During the meeting he indicated that he would stop the issuance of FGM permits and would work with the Ministry of Justice to draft a law banning FGM. In November 2011, the Government took steps towards ending FGM by persuading Sande leaders to stop the practice, which is at the core of the female initiation rituals, and a ceremony to mark the event took place in the presence of the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Subsequently the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a notice to all counties directing that all Sande activities be shut down and underlining that violators would be held liable. While the Ministry’s letter does not categorically state that permits will not be issued to FGM practitioners, our partners confirm that it implies that Sande activities will not be allowed to take place.
While Equality Now and partners welcome these efforts to stop FGM, we are alarmed by the following recent developments:
Despite President Sirleaf’s pledge to make women’s rights and health a national priority in Liberia, it is greatly concerning to note the lack of government intervention in the above-mentioned cases, the failure to conclude Ruth Berry Peal’s case, as well as remarks by the Minister of Information in media reports indicating that the government has no plans to end FGM. This lack of a unified stance by government officials undermines the efforts the government is making to end FGM.
>> TAKE ACTION NOW! Please join Equality Now and our Liberian partners, Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET) and Women NGOs Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), in calling on Liberian authorities to:
Letters should go to:
Hon. Christiana H. Tah
Minister of Justice
P.O. Box 0123
Republic of Liberia
Tel: +231 669 7205
Hon Julia Duncan Cassell
Minister for Gender and Development
P.O. Box 10-1375
110 UN Drive & Gurley Street
1000 Monrovia 10
Republic of Liberia
Tel: +231 651 6434
Dear [ ]
I welcome recent steps by the government to suspend Sande FGM activities including a notice issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to all counties directing that all Sande activities be shut down and indications that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Justice will work on a draft FGM law. However, I am alarmed by recent developments, where the government has so far failed to take action, including:
In March 2012, journalist Mae Azango was forced into hiding after publishing a story on FGM. Members of the Sande society have threatened to forcibly subject her to FGM.
In May 2012, more than 750 girls, believed to be encouraged by Sande members, underwent FGM in the Nimba County despite the Ministry of Internal Affairs notice to stop Sande activities.
Despite President Sirleaf’s pledge to make women’s rights and health a national priority in Liberia it is worrisome to note the lack of government intervention in the above-mentioned cases. In addition, I am concerned by media reports on the Minister of Information indicating that the government has no plans to end FGM. This lack of a unified stance by government officials undermines the efforts the government is making to end FGM.
I urge you to ensure that the government’s suspension of Sande FGM activities is enforced. Furthermore, please honor Liberia’s international and regional human rights commitments by enacting and enforcing comprehensive legislation against FGM as well as supporting educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM.
I thank you for your attention.
Su acción hace una diferencia. Levante su voz para detener los abusos de derechos humanos contra las mujeres y niñas.