The Liberian women’s rights activist Lois Brutus has long pushed for the recognition of sexual violence in war as a crime against humanity. She still continues her fight, so that victims can finally see justice implemented. During Almedalen’s political week in Sweden, she shared with us her experiences.
Mrs. Lois Brutus, Liberian Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to South Africa, participated in several seminars at Almedalen where she discussed the measures needed to bring perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence in war and conflict to justice. - Sexual and gender-based violence is present in all wars, but has long been taboo issue – so was also the case in Liberia. It was considered a minor offense, and perpetrators could often go unpunished. It was not uncommon for victims to meet their offenders smiling to them on the street , says Lois Brutus.
But in Liberia, which was shaken under 14 years of civil war, the trend is slowly beginning to turn. Lois Brutus is one of those who struggled to push through the amended rape law, adopted on 17 January 2006 – the day Liberia’s first woman President stepped into post. But behind the adoption of the new law lies extensive lobbying activities.
- During the war we saw how our children were raped and decided that we need to start opinion building and drawing people’s attention to the fact that rape is a crime against humanity. This was not a crime that should be resolved in traditional elderly councils, but one which must be prosecuted in a court of law. We went out into villages and towns and started talking to the people about how they can protect their children. We also told the children that they should not remain silent, if they were subjected to such crimes, instead they should go and tell their mothers, says Lois Brutus.
Before passing the new law, the number of reports of sexual violence was initially very low. But according to Lois Brutus, the number of reports has now started to increase, which is not only due to the law itself but also to the growing awareness that the law exists.
- I would go further and say that there have been fewer perpetrators, because they know that the law exists and that people are being brought to justice, says Lois Brutus.
She says that some believe the law is too harsh; however, she is of the opposite opinion.
- Rape is indeed a crime against humanity. You will never be the same, if you have ever been subjected to rape, she adds emphatically.
Having a good law and a functioning judiciary is essential to put an end to sexual violence in war – especially because of its deterrent function – but that’s not enough. One of the insights Lois Brutus brings with her from the conflict in Liberia is that many different actions are also required.
- The second most important element is education, since people are not aware about sexual and gender-based violence . Violence has always existed, but it has been surrounded by silence.
She also reiterated several times the need for preventive measures – like for example, discussing the causes of violence and involving men in the efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence.
The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), where Lois Brutus served as former chair, is now working on pushing through a new law on domestic violence. Knowing when this law will be passed is of less interest for Lois, according to her, the important thing is to make people aware of the law’s content. One way AFELL is trying to achieve this is by translating the draft law into the various local languages, so that more people will be able to have access to its contents.
- AFELL is currently visiting all nine regions in Liberia to educate people about the benefits of the law and how it will protect them and their children. If we can raise awareness about these issues, the legislation will automatically move to implementation once the law is adopted, says Lois Brutus.