Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

War, Sex and Justice: Barriers to Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Liberia

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

War, Sex and Justice: Barriers to Gender Justice in Post-Conflict Liberia

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Liberian civil conflict took place at a time when at least 38 countries across the globe; 14 of which are on the African region, were either, entering into, actively waging, or concluding armed conflicts (Gettleman, 2010). Liberia went through civil wars from 1989 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2003. While the underlying causes varied, the key characteristics and impacts of these seemingly disparate conflicts were strikingly similar. Almost without exception, these conflicts were marked by the indiscriminate mass-scale commission of sexual and gender based violence, the extent and sheer brutality of which was unprecedented. It is widely estimated, for example, that up to 54% women and girls in Liberia were victims of sexual violence during that country's ten-year war (Human Rights Watch, 2002). Sexual violations committed by National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a rebel group alleged to be supported by neighbouring Guinea, entered Northern Liberia., and raping sprees carried out by Liberian armed groups in the north-eastern regions of Sierra Leone followed similar patterns of sexual violations across national borders.

To address the issues that arise in conflict and move toward effective reconstruction, policymakers and practitioners must understand the needs, experiences, and motivations of the different populations involved. At the heart of most conflicts are the armed combatants themselves-often among the most difficult groups to access, but some of the most essential to understanding the factors driving violence. Hit by two successive civil wars in 1989 and 1999, the country of Liberia hangs in limbo between a conflict and post-conflict state. In a theatre of impunity, over twenty armed groups operate in a shifting landscape of motivations and alliances, leaving the country, after years of unrest, with some of the worst health and development indicators in the world. Extremely brutal forms of sexual violence have been one of the most salient and destructive characteristics of the conflict. Despite international recognition of the problem, levels of rape in Liberia increased in 2003 and remain extremely high (Scott, 2005). Rehn, and Johnson Sirleaf, (2002) estimates that 75% of the population to which 62% to 72% women and girls have been assaulted over the past twelve years. In the first three months of 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 75% women were sexually assaulted throughout the country (Campbell, 2008).

More than a third of these rapes occurred in Bahn and Nimba County, in the conflictaffected villages and rural communities. These regional figures are comparable to the same period in 2014, revealing little progress in decreasing sexual violence.21 The extant research on SGBV has, predominantly and appropriately, focused on victims and survivors of rape. In a survey conducted in Liberia in 2014, over 54% of women interviewed reported that their attacker was wearing some kind of uniform (Piccard, 2011). Over twothirds said they were gang-raped, and almost half reported being abducted. These findings speak to the highly militarized forms of rape in Liberia, suggesting that understandings of why sexual gender-based violence occurs there are incomplete without fuller insight into the experiences and attitudes of combatants' themselves.3

The article takes into consideration and addresses the following questions: What is the concept of justice and how do Liberia's current conditions relate to it? What are the main issues concerning the Liberian women population with regard to dealing with its present and past gender-based violence? What measures have been employed in dealing with the present and past gender-based violence? Past injustices on gender-based violence in Liberia that remain unaddressed can easily become a source of new tensions and conflict, while impunity undermines trust in institutions and prevents the normalization of contacts between communities. …

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