The call was made against the backdrop that SGBV is considered one of the most common but serious human rights issue in Sierra Leone with scaring statistics across the country.
According to the 2016 National Crime Statistics, the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police recorded 11,302 SGBV cases across the six police command regions. Freetown East recorded 2,709 cases, Freetown West 2, 354 cases, Southern Region 1,574, Eastern Region 2,374, North-East, 1,576 and North West 775 cases.
Out of the 11,362 cases, 9,135 were domestic violence violence, 2,149 were sexual penetration and 78 were rape cases.
In a pre-test monitoring of the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act 2012 conducted by HRCSL in March-April 2017, a total number of 27 cases of sexual offences were recorded in Lungi Government Hospital, 37 in Kabala Government Hospital, and 60 in Pujehun Government Hospital. Out of these, only 3, 9 and 17 cases were charged to court respectively within this period. The Bo Government Hospital recorded 96 cases and only a fraction of this number was charged to court.
The Chairman of HRCSL, Rev. Dr. Usman Jesse Fornah said at the roundtable that the Commission observed that the incidence of SGBV has continued to rise while arrests and convictions of perpetrators are negligible.
He also stated that the various gender laws were enacted in order to address the continued occurrence of SGBV in the country.
“However, whilst international and regional human rights instruments, protocols, declarations and resolutions adopt a stern approach towards SGBV, the application of the National frameworks are intercepted by weak structures and systems accompanied by socialized cultures that close their eyes to SGBV and in particular, violence against women”. The HRCSL Chairman said.
The HRCSL Chairman further stated that where political will was voiced in the form of laws, the weak institutional capacities and minimal resources to adequately investigate, prosecute, sentence as well as heal survivors, undermines the effectiveness of such law.
He maintained that most of the cases go unpunished because they are not managed in a manner that allows for successful prosecution. “case preparation involves a number of stages, report by the victim to an FSU officer, taking of statements, investigation, evidence gathering, proffering accurate charges which do not always proceed as they should. Where cases are inadequately prepared for trial, the alleged perpetrator cannot be convicted. SGBV cases are criminal cases which require a high standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt” he said.
The HRCSL had embarked on a nationwide community engagement on the elimination of SGBV. In Tikonko, Bo District for example, community people pointed out that there was frequent adjournments by the court thus affecting poor victims who have to travel from very far distances to attend courts. As a result, and in most cases prefer to settle with the perpetrators who are ready to give huge sums of money than pursue the matters to court where they know they will have to continue to be burdened financially or otherwise.