MONROVIA, Montserrado – On Monday, December 14, 2020, the Organization for Women and Children, Paramount Young Women Initiative, WONGOSOL, and Liberian Women Can Lead, responded to reports of election violence in Gbarpolu meted against Botoe Kanneh, the county’s leading candidate and lone female in the senatorial race.
The team of women’s rights advocacy organizations intervened after receiving reports that Kanneh was beaten, detained, and threatened with the “country devil” in the town of Nomodatonau, the third district, near the Sierra Leonean border. The group rescued Kanneh and took her to a safe location.
Kanneh, one of nine contestants in Gbarpolu’s senatorial race, is leading by 449 votes (25.68 percent), followed by Rep. Alfred Gayflor Koiwood of the ruling Coalition of Democratic Change (23.24 percent). The National Elections Commission ordered a rerun in Nomodatonau because the town’s 2,021 voters did not participate in the Dec. 8 election because Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah seized the ballot boxes and election materials.
The rerun was scheduled to take place on Dec. 15, 2020. The day before the election, Chief Wuluah brought in the traditional male devil, a tactic intended to prevent Kanneh and her supporters from entering the town to participate in the electoral process. In traditional societies, women are not supposed to see the male devil. In our investigation, we reviewed several videos where Gbarpolu County’s Superintendent J. Keyah Saah was seen threatening local officials that they would lose their jobs if they do not vote for Koiwood, the ruling party’s candidate.
During the visit, the team learned that Kanneh was beaten and harassed along with several members of her campaign team. Two of the women on the campaign team were raped while in police custody. The women experienced “horrific forms of human rights abuses.” They were ordered to stand in the sun with their arms raised for hours without food. Kanneh’s brother, Cllr. Boakai Kanneh, head of the Law Reform Commission, was also beaten while in police custody.
We wish to inform the public that the “traditional male devil” and other cultural practices have no role in politics because they limit women’s participation. Hence, we strongly condemn violence against women in the ongoing elections, specifically Gbarpolu.
We are particularly concerned that government officials are creating barriers to prevent a leading female candidate vying for a seat in the male-dominated Senate. The 30-member Senate has one female – Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, who won re-election in the Special Senatorial Election. Edith Gongloe-Weh of the Collaborating Political Parties and Kanneh, an independent candidate, are the only two women left in the senatorial race.
We wish to remind the government that Liberia is a signatory to many human rights treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, United Nations Security Resolutions 1325 and 1820, and other human rights protocols that not only recognize women’s right to fully participate in political and public life, but also bans using rape as a weapon of conflict. Electoral violence is a crime against humanity.
In addition, Section 10.21 of the New Election Law encourages candidates and political parties to travel throughout the country to canvass for elections; subsequent provisions prohibit administrative, military/and or paramilitary entities from interfering with a person’s rights to participate in politics. The law gives NEC the authority to recommend to the government the dismissal of any official involved in interfering in the electoral process.
Based on our findings, we strongly urge President George Manneh Weah to investigate these reports and take the following actions:
- Investigate reported human rights abuses by the Liberia Immigration Services and other military and paramilitary officials in Nomodatonau, commonly known as Nomor.
- Investigate the voice recordings circulating on social media where Superintendent Keyah Saah is seen mandating local officials to vote for the ruling party’s candidate on the instruction of President Weah.
- Immediately dismiss Paramount Chief Magill Wuluah of Nomodatonau (Jawajah Chiefdom, Kongba District, Gbarpolu), Superintendent Keyah Saah, and other officials involved in disrupting the process by seizing the election materials, bringing out the male devil, and instigating voter suppression, all violations of the law and the Code of Conduct.
- Investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrated the rape of Botoe Kanneh’s female supporters while exercising their rights to political participation.
- Arrest all suspects involved in the threats, detention, assault on Botoe Kanneh and her supporters.
- Issue a public statement to reassure women in District 3 that they would be protected when 2,021 voters head to the polls in the rerun.
- Instruct the Ministry of Justice, Joint Security operations, and other para-military officers to ensure the safety of citizens in Nomodatonau before, during, and after the rerun.
- Urge the National Elections Commission to exercise the powers granted under the new election law to deregister and penalize political parties and their members from disrupting the electoral process including facilitating violence.
We would like to thank the women of Gbarpolu who worked tirelessly to bring the assault on Botoe Kanneh and her supporters to the public.
We wish to remind the government that what happened to Botoe and her supporters is not an isolated incident. Rape and violence against women are on the increase, and in the last two years, there has been a rise in assaults against women during the electoral process.
Rape should not be used as a weapon in elections. It is a violation of women’s rights, and Liberia as a signatory to the various human rights laws must comply.
We will continue our efforts to hold the government accountable for the treaties and commitments it has signed to protect the rights of women and all individuals participating in electoral processes.