Section 7 (Gender Equity, Equality and Empowerment) provides for: (a) gender equality through gender policy aimed at the elimination of structural gender biases and increased participation in education; (b) strengthening the activities of Ministry of Gender Development and women’s rights NGOs; (c) adequate protection from violence through penal and civil sanctions; (d) protection of female children, notably from female genital mutilation, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy; (e) increasing women’s participation in labour force and policy and economic institutions; (f) elimination of legal and customary practices which are barriers to ownership of land, capital and other property; and (g) establishing reproductive health services.
Women and Justice: Jurisdiction
The Act to Amend the New Penal Code Chapter 14 Section 14.17 and 14.71 (the “Law”) and to address Gang Rape provides the definition for rape, gang rape and the concept of consent. Under Section 1(a)(i) and (ii), a person (male or female) commits rape if they intentionally penetrate the vagina, anus, mouth or any other opening of another person’s body with their penis or a foreign object or any other part of their body without the victim’s consent. Under Section 1(b), rape is committed where the victim is less than 18 years old, provided the perpetrator is above the age of 18 years. Under Section 2, the Law provides that the crime of gang rape has been committed if (i) a person purposefully promotes or facilitates rape (ii) a person agrees with one or more other person(s) to engage in or cause rape as defined in Section 1 above. Additionally, consent is defined as agreeing to sexual intercourse by choice where that person has a) freedom of choice and b) the capacity to make that choice. The Law also provides a number of circumstances where there is a presumption of a lack of consent. These fall into three categories: 1) where violence is used or threatened against the victim; 2) where the victim was unable to communicate to the accused at the time of the act (e.g. because of disability or unconsciousness); 3) where the perpetrator impersonated a person known to the victim in order to induce the victim to consent.
HIV, Control of the Disease and Related Issues (Amending Title 33) (the “Law”), institutes various government initiatives and provides guidance in dealing with HIV-related issues specifically affecting women. For example, the Law provides that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and/or National AIDs Commission (the “Health Institutions”) must take into consideration differences in sex and gender when providing education about HIV. Additionally, the Law lists a number of key issues which the Health Institutions should address in their strategies and programs for protecting and fulfilling the human rights of women in the context of HIV. These include:The equality of women in public and domestic life (Section 18.9(i));Sexual and reproductive rights, including the concept of consent and a woman’s right to refuse sex and her right to request safe sex (Section 18.9(ii));A woman’s right to independently utilise sexual health services (Section 18.9(ii));Increasing educational, economic, employment and leadership opportunities for women (Section 18.9(iii));Strategies for reducing differences in formal and customary law which prejudice women’s rights (Section 18.9(v)); andThe impact of harmful traditional practices on women (Section 18.9(vi)).
Furthermore, the Law directs the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Justice, and the Liberian National Police to implement educational programs for their personnel in relation to sexual assault perpetrated on women. These are designed to provide personnel working for these government agencies with a better understanding of sexual assault and protect the rights of sexual assault victims.
The Law also provides a number of rights and remedies for victims of human trafficking. Section 3 provides that a victim has a right to restitution including damages to compensate for costs of medical treatment, rehabilitation, transportation costs, lost income, legal fees, and general compensation for distress and pain as well as any other loss he or she suffered. Compensation is paid by the defendant directly to the victim upon conviction. The right to restitution is not affected by the victim returning to his or her home country or by the victim not being present in Liberian jurisdiction. Section 9 provides immunity to any immigration offence that may have been committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Additionally, under Section 8, the Law confirms that consent to sex is not a valid defence to trafficking when violence is used to commit the crime. The Law also imposes corporate liability on international transport companies that fail to verify that passengers in company vehicles which enter other countries have the requisite travel documentation. A company may be fined for failing to comply. Additionally, a company that knowingly facilitates trafficking is liable for the cost of accommodating and providing meals to the victim and any dependent.
Under Section 16.1 of the Penal Law, bigamy and polygamy are illegal unless a legal defence is provided. Such defences include a defendant’s belief that his or her former spouse is dead. Under Section 16.3, abortion beyond the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy is illegal. An abortion is legal if it occurs only after a licenced physician determines there is a substantial risk that continuing the pregnancy would gravely impair the mother’s physical and/or mental health. An abortion may also be justified if the child would be born with grave physical or mental defects or if the pregnancy was the result of illegal intercourse such as rape. Additionally, the abortion must be sanctioned by two physicians who have certified in writing the reasons why the abortion is necessary. The Penal Law also prohibits a woman from carrying out an abortion herself by any means once beyond the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy.
The Equal Rights of the Customary Marriage Law of 1998 (the “Law”) repeals previous Liberian marriage laws and provides various rights and protections for women within the context of marriage. These include:Entitling a wife to one-third of her husband’s property (Section 2.3).Providing that a husband must respect his wife’s human rights (Section 2.5).Affirming that a wife’s property acquired before and during the marriage is exclusively hers; she can deal with this property in her own name as she sees fit without consent of her husband (Section 2.6(a)).Confirming that every woman has a right to marry a man of her choosing (Section 2.10).Entitling a wife to one-third of her husband’s property when her husband dies (Section 3.2).Entitling a widow to remain on the premises of her late husband (or to take another husband of her choice and vacate the late husband’s premises) (Section 3.3).Entitling a widow to administer her husband’s estate by making a petition to the probate court of their jurisdiction (Section 3.5).
The law also prohibits some of the common harmful practices towards wives, including: 1) husband taking a dowry from his wife or his wife’s parents (Section 2.2); 2) arranging for a girl under the age of 16 to be given in marriage to a man (Section 2.9); 3) compelling a widow to marry a member of her late husband’s family (Section 3.4(a)).
Domestic Case Law
The Sexual Crimes Court, New Chapter 25 Establishing Criminal Court “E” – Title 17 – Liberian Code of Laws Revised (the “Law”) establishes a Sexual Offences Court and Special Divisions of Circuit Courts. The Law gives exclusive jurisdiction to these courts for dealing with the prosecution of sex crimes. These courts have the authority to prohibit publication of a victim’s personal information. This includes the right to expunge their names from public records. Additionally, the Law grants these courts the ability to provide interim relief to protect victims. In this respect, the Law specifically refers to the ability of the court to ensure that child victims are placed in protective custody.
Upon divorce, the husband claimed he was entitled to a property acquired during the marriage because a married woman cannot acquire property in her maiden name solely for herself. The court held that: (a) there is no legal significance of a woman choosing to use her husband’s surname; it does not affect the right of a woman to own property while married; (b) a woman can purchase property in her maiden name during marriage; (c) unless freely consented to, property which is owned solely by a husband’s wife cannot be controlled by her spouse.
The Defendant appealed a homicide conviction for the shooting of his wife arguing that the killing resulted from the discovery of her adultery and could; therefore, only amount to manslaughter. In a charge of homicide, the law requires a showing of malice (i.e., a murder committed with premeditation). Implied malice (i.e., murder committed in the “heat of passion;” without premeditation) is nullified by sufficient provocation. The Court found that the murder was premeditated because express malice was proven to the Court. Thus provocation was not considered and the conviction was upheld.
The Appellants were accused and convicted of armed robbery and gang rape. The trial court found that the Appellants raped the victim at gun point. The Supreme Court of Liberia upheld that under circumstances of violence or threats of violence to have sexual intercourse with a person, there is a presumption that the person being violated or threatened did not consent. In such circumstances, the burden of proving affirmative consent from the victim is on the accused.
The Appellant was convicted of raping his step-daughter on three occasions and sentenced to life imprisonment. He appealed the decision on the basis of lack of evidence. The prosecution’s case relied on evidence provided by the victim (deceased at the time of the trial), her nine-year-old sister, and a medical professional who examined the victim at the hospital immediately after she was raped. The defence argued that evidence provided by the victim immediately before her death was hearsay. The court held that, while under Liberian law hearsay cannot form the basis of a criminal conviction, “a dying declaration” (i.e., when a victim provides evidence concerning her or his attacker whilst at impending death in extremis) can be admitted as evidence and is not hearsay. The court also pointed out that, despite her young age, the victim’s sister’s evidence, which was admitted, was not hearsay because she was a direct witness to the attack and was subject to comprehensive cross examination. Finally, the court rejected the defence’s claims that the medical professional who inspected the victim in the hospital was not an expert witness because of her credentials that included a medical degree and over ten years of experience treating children victims of sexual violence. The conviction was upheld.
The Act Creating Criminal Court E, Section 25.3(a), requires magistrates to forward a case alleging a sexual offense to the circuit court within 72 hours of arrest without first investigating the charge. However, the Constitution of Liberia, Article 21(f), requires courts in general criminal matters to conduct an investigation, known as a preliminary examination, within 48 hours to determine whether a prima facia case exists, thereby prohibiting preventively detaining the accused. The petitioner was arrested for rape, and the magistrate forwarded the case to the circuit court without first conducting a preliminary examination. The Supreme Court of Liberia held that forwarding such a case to the circuit court under the Act does not violate the Constitution, notwithstanding the additional time and its potential characterization as preventive detention, because magistrate courts are not equipped to protect witnesses from public exposure and the psychological harm resulting from directly facing the defendant. The objective of promoting witness protection having outweighed the additional time required by forwarding such cases to the circuit court, the Constitution is not violated, and Section 25.3(a) stands.
This case established a precedent for property rights of a widow when her husband dies intestate. On appeal, the Supreme Court excluded from probate ten acres of land to which Ms. Williams claimed title. Ms. Williams’ husband died intestate and the executor of his estate, appointed by the Probate Court, included all real and personal property from the marriage in determining the assets of the estate. Ms. Williams claimed that she held title to ten acres of property that her husband had purchased through a third party, with title vesting in the wife. The executor argued, and the trial court held, that all property acquired through the husband could be made liable for his debts. The trial court relied upon the Constitution of Liberia, which states “The property of which a woman may be possessed at the time of her marriage and also that of which she may afterwards become possessed, otherwise than by her husband shall not be held responsible for his debts.” The court reasoned that this clause implies that property acquired through her husband could be held liable for his debts. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that if a husband acquires property in the name of a third party, who becomes the medium through which title vests in the wife, the wife has an absolute right in that property and is not liable for the claims of the husband’s creditors. The court failed to apply this holding to personal property of the marriage, however, stating that instead personal property procured and owned by the deceased for the common use of the household is an asset of the estate.
This early case established the precedent that a married woman may own and convey property independent of her husband. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision denying ownership of a half-acre of land. Ms. Dlyon bought the property from a sheriff’s auction after it was repossessed for the payment of the owner’s debts. The Lamberts argued both that the previous possessor of the land never gained title of the property because he failed to obtain a fee simple deed so could not be used to pay his debts, and that even if he did have title, a married woman could not purchase land. On the first point, the court held that while the previous possessor did not have perfect title to the land, it could still be reached by creditors. On the second point, the court unambiguously declared that Ms. Dlyon had the right to purchase the property: “Under the Constitution, a femme couverte [married woman] may convey property she is possessed of otherwise than through her husband and this fact admits the inference that she may also bargain and buy property independent of her husband.”
On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Power Massaquoi, was guilty of rape and reduced his sentence from life imprisonment to 50 years imprisonment. The victim, an 11-year-old girl, stated that the appellant, 38, forced her into his room and had nonconsensual sexual intercourse with her. The court affirmed the lower court’s admission in evidence of the testimony of the victim’s mother, who testified that she saw blood on the victim’s skirt and questioned the victim about the incident. The court held that the testimony qualified as an exception to the hearsay rule because statements are generally admissible “to determine the trustworthiness and reliability of statements made by child victims of abuse.” In addition, the court affirmed the lower court’s admission in evidence of the expert testimony of a physician’s assistant. The court held that even though the physician’s assistant did not have a medical degree, he qualified as an expert because of his experience with and knowledge of victims of sexual violence. The court noted that social workers trained in these areas would qualify as expert witnesses.
On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Musa Solomon Fallah, was guilty of rape and upheld his sentence of life imprisonment. The appellant had been convicted previously, but the Supreme Court vacated that conviction in 2007 and ordered a de novo trial on the grounds that the appellant lacked adequate representation. The complainant, a nine-year-old girl, alleged that the appellant gagged and raped her. On appeal, the appellant contended that the testimony of the victim should be excluded from evidence because the testimony was conducted in camera. The victim testified in a closed room that allowed cross-examination by the defendant and visual access for jurors. The court held that the victim’s testimony was admissible, stating that if “a potential child victim witness would suffer ‘serious emotional distress’ and might just not be able to communicate within a reasonable fear free environment if put on the stand in the presence of the accused abuser to introduce courtroom testimony” then an in camera witness presentation is appropriate. The appellant's constitutional right to confront his accuser was preserved because he was afforded opportunity to listen to testimony and cross-examine the witness. In addition, the court referenced U.S. law on in camera testimony, citing U.S. Supreme Court cases to support its decision. The court stated: “It is the rule of general application in our jurisdiction that unless expressly contrary by the laws in vogue, common law and usages of the courts of England and of the United States, other authoritative treaties, principles and rules set forth in case law and in Blackstone and Kent Commentaries, when applicable, are deemed as Liberian Laws.” Finally, the Court held that medical testimony establishing rape, the testimony of the complainant, the appellant's admission that the complainant spent the nights in question with him, and unchallenged testimony claiming that the appellant had offered the complainant's family money in exchange for keeping the rape a secret were more than a sufficient "mountain of evidence" to sustain the conviction. It is not necessary, the Court stated, for the prosecution to produce an eye witness, "direct proof", or evidence eliminating every single possible alternative in order to meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s judgment that appellant was guilty of rape. The complainant alleged that the appellant had sex with her when she was 13 years old and he was 18 years old. She alleged that the appellant invited her to his room, gagged her, and had sexual intercourse with her. Her brother’s wife forced open the door after the complainant failed to answer her phone call. The complainant's brother then called the police. The appellant admitted to police that he and the complainant had sex. The court found the appellant guilty of rape because the elements of Liberian statutory rape law are (1) sexual intercourse, (2) the perpetrator is at least 18 years of age, and (3) the victim is less than 18 years of age. However, the court reversed his conviction because the trial court relied on inaccurate information in determining the appellant’s age. The appellant testified that he was 17 years old at the time of the rape. Documents such as a passport or birth certificate were unavailable. The court held that in the absence of any rebuttal evidence by the prosecution, the court must accept that the appellant was 17 years old and therefore a juvenile when he had sex with the complainant. Under Liberian law, a juvenile cannot commit a crime, but is instead considered a juvenile delinquent. If a case involves a juvenile delinquent who is over 16 years of age and is accused of conduct that would constitute a felony carrying a sentence of life imprisonment or death if committed by an adult of at least 18 years of age, then the circuit court must consider the best interests of the Republic and the juvenile to determine whether to exercise its jurisdiction over the matter and preside over the case or choose to refer it to the juvenile court. However, the circuit court did not make this determination. Rather, it proceeded with the trial as though the the appellant was an adult and sentenced him to life imprisonment as an adult. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction and remanded him to the custody of his parents until the age of 21.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Allen Rogers, was guilty of rape. The 11-year-old complainant alleged that the appellant kidnapped her and a boy for two months, raping her daily during this time period. She testified that the appellant threatened to kill her if she talked about the rape. In his defense, the appellant testified that the week before the alleged kidnapping occurred, he knelt down to pray and heard the voice of someone he called Evee. Evee told him “your two children have come.” He then met the complainant and the other child. He took them to the town advisor, who said that the appellant could keep them at his house. The appellant was found guilty of statutory rape and given the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The court reversed the conviction because the appellant did not receive adequate representation. His representation was inadequate because the public defender assigned to his case failed to call corroborating witnesses and counsel “knew, or ought to have known that the lone testimony of the appellant was not sufficient to establish his innocence. Thus, his failure to have ensured that other witness[es] appear to testify for the appellant was a serious dereliction of duty.” In Liberia, “the uncorroborated testimony of the accused person is not sufficient to rebut proof of guilt.” Therefore the court reversed the appellant's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that appellants, Living Counsellor, Wisdom Counsellor, and Righteous Counsellor, were guilty of rape. Their four female victims ranged from ages 7 to 12. The victims were introduced into the Kingdom Assembly Church of Africa, or the “Never Die Church,” so named because it promised followers eternal life on earth. It also promoted free sexual relations among its members. The victims testified that they were beaten and raped by members of the church. The court stated that “the evidence adduced during the trial show that rape is institutionalized in the Never Die Church. The testimonies given by the prosecution witnesses also points to a situation where the victims were living in a condition of servitude almost identical to slavery.” The appellants argued that “they did not rape the girls but that they only share love with their sisters because they have no earthly mother or father but only Wonderful Counsellor.” They argued that their conviction should be overturned because they were also charged with gang rape, but the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on that charge. Still, their conviction was upheld because they were convicted of rape nonetheless.
This case established that a wife’s dower is not an asset of her husband’s estate. After Mr. Dixon died intestate, his widow claimed that she held title to real property that had been conveyed to her as a deed of gift from her husband. The executor, appointed by the county, argued that the property was an asset of the estate because the right of dower accrues only after the death of the husband. The court disagreed, holding that “[the] inchoate right of dower is so vested in the wife as against the husband immediately on the marriage that no conveyance or act of the husband can deprive her of it,” including any creditors’ claims against the husband.