Nigeria: wife of the Bayelsa State governor, Dr Gloria Diri, leads campaign against ritual killings

Let me first of all state here that Bayelsa State isn’t an exception in Nigeria when it comes to ritualistic murders. My impression is that these heinous crimes occur in every state of Nigeria. But it is, however, exceptional, that high placed people raise their voices against such practices. 

In the past I have posted several articles on ritualistic activities including murder in the southern state of Bayelsa, see eg. my May 11, 2021 posting ‘The scourge of ritual killings in Nigeria‘ which included ‘money rituals’ in Bayelsa; furthermore, ‘Ritualist’ lynched in Bayelsa state‘ (May 24, 2019) and ‘Confession of Yahoo Plus Boys: “Ritual does not give us money‘ (November 11, 2019).

The year 2022 started promising in Bayelsa State when the wife of the Bayelsa State governor, Dr Gloria Diri, led a coalition of civil society organization to campaign against ritual killings and the harvesting (as it is called locally) and trafficking of human organs in some parts of the state. Moreover, she called on state security agencies to step up the protection of innocent children. The campaign started with the slogan “No To Ritual Killings.”

My congratulations to Dr Diri for this initiative and I wish her and her fellow Nigerians success in their endeavors to end ritualistic killings, at least in Bayelsa State! 
(FVDK)

Diri’s Wife Leads Campaign Against Ritual Killings, Others

Published: January 21, 2022
By: Osa Okhomina – Leadership, Nigeria

Wife of the Bayelsa State governor, Dr Gloria Diri, has led a coalition of civil society and girl-child welfare advocacy groups to campaign against ritual killings and harvest of human organs in some parts of the state.

She called on security agencies to step up the protection of the girl-child in the state. The campaign started as early as 7am with an estimated 12-kilometre road walk to publicly declare “No To Ritual Killings.”

The various groups and stakeholders under the umbrella of the State Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT) noted that though two cases of attempted ritual killings have so far been detected in the state, the state would no longer condone the mysterious killing of young girls.

Among the groups which participated in the 12 kilometer walk against ritual killings are the coordinator, Committee for Democracy and Environmental Dividends ( CODED ), Mr Keme Opia ,the chairman Collins Cocodia Foundation  and special adviser , political to the state governor, High Chief  Collins Cocodia, wife of the chairman of the State Traditional Rulers Council, HRM,  Mrs Josephine Diette-Spiff, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA),  Women Wing of Christian Association of Nigeria, the chairman of the state chapter of the NUJ, Comrade Samuel Numonengi, Gloria Diri Foundation, Do foundation, Child Protection Network, Ethanrose Foundation, National Council of Women Society, Medical Women Association of Nigeria ( MWAN), Do Foundation international, Starrz Safety initiative and others.

The women groups were armed with placards with inscription such as “save the girl child from ritual killings”,  “Together we CAN”, “Join GRIT to stop senseless killings”, “Bayelsa is peaceful not for harvesting human parts”, and “ Our girls ,our pride.”

Mrs Diri, who expressed concern over the strange cases recorded and the alleged participation of young boys in aborted cases in the state, said the land of Bayelsa rejects such dastardly act and that by the peace walk, the stakeholders in the state reject such acts.

She also called on the mothers and the men to protect the girl child against such evil acts, “For everyone that enters the state, the gods of the lands and the security agents are watching. Let us watch and protect one another against ritual killing. For those caught in the act, we will ensure that the law takes its course. We are also now against out-of-court settlements and we want the law to punish the perpetrators.  Ritual killing is a distraction because if a child goes missing, government will abandon what they are doing and go in search of the missing child.”

Source: Diri’s Wife Leads Campaign Against Ritual Killings, OthersDiri’s Wife Leads Campaign Against Ritual Killings, Others

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Bayelsa First lady leads public campaign against ritual killers, ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ boys

Published: January 20, 2022
By: Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa – The Sun, Nigeria

Disturbed by the recent cases of attempted ritual killings in Bayelsa State, the wife of Bayelsa governor, Dr Gloria Diri on Thursday led other groups on a public campaign against ritual killing and activities of Yahoo-yahoo boys in the state.

A Niger Delta University (NDU)student, Deborah Emafidion and a 13-year-old girl (name withheld) were recently rescued from suspected ritualists in the state.

The public campaign put together by the Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT) and Committee for Democracy and Environmental Dividends (CODED) and other groups armed with placards with inscription such as ‘Save Our Children from Ritualists’ ‘No to Ritual Killings,’ Join GRIT to stop senseless killings’, ‘Bayelsa is peaceful not for harvesting human parts”, commenced with a 12 kilometre walk and distribution of flyers from Ekeki Park, Azikoro road to the Peace Park, opposite the Bayelsa State Government House.

Dr Diri, who incidentally is the initiator of GRIT, expressed concern over the strange cases recorded and the involvement of teenagers in attempted ritual killings in the state.

“The land of Bayelsa rejects such a dastardly act and by this peace walk, the stakeholders in the state reject such acts. The youths and women of Bayelsa reject it. I urge everyone to be their brothers’ keeper. If they try it in other states, Bayelsa will not condone it any longer. For everyone that enters the state, the gods of the lands and the security agents are watching. Let us watch and protect one another against ritual killing. For those caught in the act, we will ensure that the law takes its course. We are also now against out-of-court settlements and we want the law to punish the perpetrators,” she said.

The Chairperson of GRIT, Dise Ogbise, pointed out that with the peace walk against ritual killings; Governor Douye Diri led prosperity Government has once again made history by bringing together key actors in its fight against ritual killings and cultism in the state.

“The state Government has once again reiterated its resolve to end all forms of violence in the state as perpetrators of ritual killing and cultic groups will be prosecuted,” she said.

hairman of the Collins Cocodia Foundation and Special Adviser, Political to Bayelsa Governor, Chief Collins Cocodia, also expressed concern over the cases of ritual killings and called for a concerted effort to nip it in the bud.

Queen of Twon Brass Kingdom and Chairperson, Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Wives Association, Bayelsa, Queen Josephine Diette-Spiff said the case of Deborah underscored the danger facing girls and women in the state.

While commending GRIT and CODED for putting the campaign together, she called on security agencies to step up operations to be able to track perpetrators of all forms of violence.

Other groups that participated in the solidarity walk include International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA), Gloria Diri Foundation, Collins Cocodia Foundation, Do foundation among others.

Source: Bayelsa First lady leads public campaign against ritual killers, ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ boys

Nigeria, Adamawa State – Rev. Dr Kehinde Babarinde: ‘The church must speak out against the ritual killing of women’

Women and girls who end up ‘Missing and Murdered’ were the focus of two international webinars organized in the context of 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF),in partnership with the World Council of Churches (WCC), ACT Alliance and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) tried to find an answer to the question what the churches can do to prevent the rising crime of femicide.

Among those speaking about the problem in Nigeria were Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel, Nigeria’s national coordinator of the LWF’s Symbols of Hope project, and Rev. Dr Kehinde Babarinde, of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) and adjunct lecturer at West Africa Theological Seminary.

Rev Babarinde asked attention for the issue of ritual killings of women whose body parts are believed to possess mystical powers and hence they are sacrificed by unscrupulous murderers for the well-being of unknown businessmen, politicians, and others. He appealed to the church to speak out against this and other abuses. 

Ritualistic murders are rife in Nigeria and Adamawa State is no exception. See my posts ‘Nigeria: Ritual killings – over 20 children missing in Adamawa State‘, a 2018 article, and ‘Ritual killers on rampage in Adamawa State‘, a 2014 article, as well as my post dated May 11, of this year, ‘The scourge of ritual killings in Nigeria‘.
(webmaster FVDK)

Published: December 7, 2021
By: The Lutheran World federation, Geneva, Switzerland, 

Webinars hear how faith-based organizations must step up action to change cultures and stop gender-based violence

(LWI) – The dramatic plight of women and girls who end up ‘Missing and Murdered’ was under the spotlight during two webinars organized in the context of the 16 Days of activism to end gender-based violence. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) partnered with the World Council of Churches (WCC), ACT Alliance and the Young Women’s Christian Association(YWCA) to ask what the churches can do to prevent the rising crime of femicide.

The two-part event focused on different areas of the world, presenting first-hand testimony from panelists working with women and girls who have been trafficked, abused or forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives. Among those speaking about the problem in Indonesia on 25 November was Faye Simanjuntek, a young Lutheran activist who set up her own safe house called Rumah Faye for sexually abused children. Noting that the center cares for trafficked victims as young as six, she spoke of the work to empower survivors through reproductive health education, as well as creative skills training including art and cooking workshops.  

Simanjuntek also addressed the underlying cultural problems that allow violence against women and girls to thrive in her country, citing recent comments from a police chief who said wives should be confined to the “well (fetching water), the kitchen and the sheets.” Though Indonesia is a vast and diverse country, she said, women are largely viewed as “second-class participants” in family and public affairs.

Combating patriarchal cultures

Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel, Nigeria’s national coordinator of the LWF’s Symbols of Hope project, spoke about the work to support and reintegrate survivors of trafficking through psycho-social counselling and livelihoods activities. Women are the most vulnerable to exploitation in his country, he noted, often because of gender-based violence in their communities which motivates them to migrate and fall victim to the traffickers. Churches must be part of the solution, he said, raising awareness of the dangers and advocating for a bible-based approach to gender equality.

Another Nigerian panelist, Rev. Dr Kehinde Babarinde, adjunct lecturer at West Africa Theological Seminary, addressed the issue of ritual killings of women whose body parts are believed to possess mystical powers to bring prosperity to others. He said the church must speak out against this and other abuses such as widow inheritance, where women can be forced to marry another family member following the death of their husbands. Many women prefer to commit suicide, he noted, stressing that this must be recognized as a form of femicide too.

Speaking about the widespread violence and killings of women in the Pacific region, Stephanie Dunn of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center said churches have at times reinforced the problems of a patriarchal culture which create barriers to prevent women from coming forward to denounce the perpetrators of violence. While global statistics show one in every three women has suffered from intimate partner sexual violence, in Fiji and the Pacific, she said, that figure rises to two out of every three women experience gender-based violence.

Building a ‘Gender-competent Church’ 

South African Catholic theologian Nontando Hadebe, international coordinator of the faith-based gender justice network Side by Side, spoke of the interconnected legacies of patriarchy, colonialism and apartheid in her country. Women, she said, are still “socialized to be submissive” and the church must do more to highlight positive role models of women in the bible.

Frantseska Altezini, a lawyer working with the YWCA in Greece, spoke of the way that the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent economic crisis have brought the underlying problems that women face into the spotlight. She and other participants stressed the need to teach children gender justice in schools, as well as developing curricula for theological institutions in order to “build a gender-competent church.”

A second webinar on 2 December highlighted the scale of this ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence in Latin America, North America and the Caribbean. Valéria Vilhena, a researcher with Mulheres EIG (Women Evangelicals for Gender Equality) highlighted the work that organization has been doing since 2015 to support survivors and their families. Her country, Brazil, ranks fifth in the world for the highest levels of femicide after El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala and Russia, she said.

Protecting the most vulnerable

Dr Imani Ama, a research fellow at the University of the West Indies, spoke of the challenges of “indifference and impunity” for perpetrators in Jamaica where the “subordination of women is normative.” Easy access to guns and a “de-sensitization to the value of life” have helped to rank Jamaica “among the murder capitals of the world,” she said. Demilitarization and de-colonialization are necessary, alongside “theologies to dismantle patriarchy,’” she added.

Ebony Rempel, chief executive officer of the YWCA in Banff, Canada, spoke of the increased threats facing indigenous women and girls who are seven times more likely to be victims of femicide. Her organization runs an emergency shelter, as well as longer terms support and affordable housing for survivors of domestic violence. Their crisis helpline has seen a 71% increase in calls during the pandemic, she said, with trans women also running higher risks of femicide.

In conclusion, First Nations Cree artist Amanda Wallin shared her experience of supporting two daughters who were on the Missing Persons’ list in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the province with the highest femicide rate in Canada. She spoke of the pain of witnessing her daughters in abusive relationships, saying there is a need for greater legislative efforts to protect women from violence and femicide, especially among the indigenous communities.

LWF/P. Hitchen

Source: 16 Days: ‘Missing and Murdered’ victims of femicide

South Africa: ‘Enough with muti killings’

Last week, the author of the article ‘Enough with muti killings‘ referred to above, Eric Naki, who is the Political Editor of The Citizen, a South African online newspaper, wrote a feature article reflecting his personal concern over the ritual killing of women and children for muti purposes in the Limpopo area of the country. His article, published with the shocking heading ‘Muti murders: ‘Genitals only work if cut from live victims’, was presented as ‘Shocking details of ‘muti’ murders‘ on May 21.

Naki’s feature article did not lead to any action of the authorities. For this reason he wrote a follow-up to his article, ‘Enough with muti killings‘.

Because of its message and Naki’s cry to stop the carnage based on superstition I consider it extremely important to promote a distribution as wide as possible of his article. All forces should be joined to help ending muti killings.

I cannot present the entire article here because only subscribers have access to it, but I am including a reference to it, hoping that it may encourage readers to take the necessary steps to gain acces to the article.  

Let the muti murders stop! (webmaster FVDK)

Enough with muti killings

Simdlangentsha Magistrate’s Offices which was torched by community members after Lungisani Ntuli’s body was found on 10 July 2014 in Pongola. Community members set the church alight after the four-year-old’s mutilated body was found there. Ntuli went missing and his mutilated body was discovered in a room in the church. Picture: Gallo Images

Published: May 27, 2021
By: The Citizen, South Africa – Eric Naki

The ritual killing of women and children in Limpopo needs a joint effort by police, citizens, government, traditional leaders and neighbouring SADC nations.

Source: Enough with muti killings

Limpopo Municipalities

Legal expert, Zimbabwe: ‘Time to look beyond ritual murderers’

The following reflection is important. It shows that there are good-hearted and highly educated Zimbabweans who convincingly argue that the recent ritual murders necessitate an adjustment of the country’s laws. This reaction is partly motivated by the ritualistic killing of Tapiwa Makore (7) of Murehwa and the two Benza cousins Delan (7) and Melissa (7) of central Mutasa (see my previous postings).

The author of the article presented below also focuses on a person who is often behind these ritual killings: the songoma or faith healer. Too often, the songoma is left out of the investigations following the ritual murder and not implicated in the trial of the actual killer(s) whereas in fact the songoma can be considered an important driving force behind the heinous crime which is committed during the murderous traditional ritual.

Let’s monitor how swiftly Zimbabwe’s rulers including lawmakers and the judiciary act!
I will keep you informed (webmaster FVDK).

Time to look beyond ritual murderers

Published: April 30, 2021
By: Zimbabwe Independent –  Sharon Hofisi  

I ONCE represented people charged with murder in court. That was where I had my first real encounter with the subject of intentional or negligent killing. It was not a positive experience. Nevertheless, I got some acquittals. I remember the cases well. They took my inexperienced product of law school and taught me to understand the criminal laws and procedures of this country with deep preparation. So I took the cases on a pro deo basis. Put simply, this means acting for God. But with the increasing ritual killings, a lack of deliberate offences on ritual killings and honour crimes is a serious lacuna in our criminal justice system.

The purpose of criminal laws should mirror the nature of the society itself. Societies that are governed through laws are called to heal the divisions caused by violators of the law. When a society seems to be in danger of endless commissions of heinous crimes, focusing too much on investigation machinery and work and neglecting criminal law reform may pose further deep seated challenges. What often happens, however, is that even if the laws are reformed, we need to guard against reactionary responses to endemic problems. If the purpose of criminal law reform is to curb impunity in all forms of killings and deal decisively with utter disregard of the sanctity of human life, then a law can be a healthy first step in protecting the rights of vulnerable sections of society such as women, children, persons with albinism and other disabilities.

Even a criminal law reform committee will be horrified to learn that ritual motivators are not part of the suspects to be arrested. We are encouraged by the fact that our criminal laws allow for the arrest and prosecution of accomplices. But psyched people are usually afraid of the unknown. The psyched ritual killers strike fast, simultaneously attacking unsuspecting children or persons with disabilities.

The details that usually emerge after the gruesome killings are too numerous and disturbing. We definitely cannot bring our conscience to understand the difference between the actual killer and the one who motivates the killer to do so. The killer believes it is going to be an “all-for-purple-life” killing. Later, he is taught that the act was natural after all when he gets caught. It was his darkest ritual psyched moments that brought the longest, bloodiest, most heinous crimes to carry out. It costs innocent lives and no financial rewards as promised. And most families of the killers are left destitute. The breadwinner is locked up and the family is drawn into incessant wars of appeasing vengeful spirits as contemplated in our traditional faiths.

The hideous scars born by the families of the victims will last a very long time. But these ritual killing motivators are cunning and they will continue to hoodwink many people into psyched killings. They may never get their comeuppance. Certainly the time has come to act decisively on criminal law reform on ritual murder and honour crimes in Zimbabwe. Legislation, the passing of Acts in Parliament, is the most important of Parliament’s many tasks. I believe many stakeholders can agree on the explanatory memorandum for a Ritual Murders and Honour Crimes Bill. The long title of that Bill can deal with issues relating to the ritual murders and honour crimes and other purposes connected with these issues. The enacting formula can be decided by the nature of offences being committed usually against vulnerable sections of societies such as children, elderly women, persons with disabilities and so forth.

Perhaps the major point to grasp about ritual killings is that a psychic person, or even a bogus part of a psychic person, promises someone a lavish lifestyle once a heinous crime is committed. It could be the killing of a sibling, distant relative or some stranger. Exactly what is meant by “ritual” is not necessarily obvious since the killing of the person is controlled by the killer who uses the elaborate descriptions from the psychic leader. A small change in the psychic instructions can make a huge difference – so we hear from failed ritual killing missions. Each small step is catalysed and crystallised by the need for hot porridge riches. Many of these random killings may do the killer no harm if he observes the instructions (muko). Sometimes the killer will destroy the fighting powers of the deceased through some further rituals, kutsipika ngozi. This means that in any event, the killer is fully aware that they intentionally committed murder.

Reading stories about gruesome murders of young children by people who were promised material or financial gains tests our resolve as a polity of relationships between crime and fighting crime. We are given a set of criminal instances and must choose another set of responses that is related in the same way.

Many reforms of criminal laws are possible. Reading the modus operandi of criminals test our ability to understand and interpret the criminal laws we can promulgate in response. This is probably the most important ability we need as a society at the moment.

In analysis of the killings of children in our media reportages, we are presented with situations detailing criminal events and then a result of something that is steered by someone who is believed to possess some supernatural or magical powers to make people rich, overnight.

Our task is to decide in the legal and non-legal fraternity whether certain statements or motivations to commit crimes provide adequate explanations of how we can curb violent crimes. Each new crime provides us with a new format for criminal law reform.

For Zimbabwe and the disturbing killings, it’s now much more than just a usual ritual murder, headlines and efficient state response. We need to move beyond crime scene visits and the arrest of suspects. Ritual murders are now shaping an entire generation of criminal inquiry. It’s now the time to transform the changing and disturbing criminal scenes of the last ten or so years into a clear and widely-reformed criminal justice system in Zimbabwe. The motivating variable in this urgent need for criminal justice reform is steeped in legal realism. Law may be stable, but it cannot stand still if I may employ Roscoe Pound’s philosophy.

Are these ritual crimes something reflective of honour crimes, where relatives and close acquaintances are the pawns in the much bigger chess game? Barely when the Makore killing had left our minds we hear of the gruesome murder of two children. Zimbabwe has witnessed the targeted ritual killings which encourage criminal responsibility to be broadened in scope. Each killing achieves a disturbing measure of brutality and mental intention to kill. The recurring pattern of failed rituals that are broken by arrest of the suspects and eventual incarceration of such suspects all have at most one thing in common: each killing in its own way forces the killer and the ritual motivator to forge an unholy alliance; share the same mental and actual intention to kill, only from the opposite perspective.

The actual killer is psyched to kill. The ritual motivator psyches the ultimate killer. Each fails to see that confronted with effective investigation machinery the prospective ritual will inevitably not succeed. Equally gruesomely, each fails to see that the criminal path between hatching a heinous act of killing and frenzied killing act is not only false but leads towards a catastrophic breakdown of the family fabric.

The falsity of the ritual shows that one or two or more or many suspects are arrested. The ritual motivator, the instigator of the death of the innocent young souls remains. He or she continues hoodwinking many people into killing many young children.

All in the name of enhancing business or getting filthy money! Here too, there is more criminality in the sangoma or faith healer than criminal intention in the actual killer. The sangoma or ritual motivator does not simply aim to alleviate poverty through the loss of innocent blood of a family member, gruesome murder, psyched actions, and so forth. Efforts to control and encourage killing, no matter how important or necessary, are only one aspect of “intentional killing”. The sanctity of human life, and human life itself, as we know from our Constitution and even various types of our faiths, depend on more than the alleviation of poverty and the satisfaction of material needs. The reason for which we were created is to enjoy life and the maker of it forever.

Hofisi is a transformative transitional justice practitioner, normative influencer and disruptive thinker.

Source: Time to look beyond ritual murderers

“Johnny’s Town Murder Trial: Finally, Justice Is Done!” – Liberia

Last week, one of Liberia’s leading newspapers, the Daily Observer, published an enthusiastic article, lauding the judiciary system in Liberia, following the jury’s conclusion that 7 defendants in the Sinoe murder case (‘the Johnny Town Murder Trial’) were found guilty of murder, gang rape, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation. The article focuses on harmful traditional practices in Liberia, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), forcible initiation into secret societies, trial by ordeal (particularly the use of sassywood), accusations of witchcraft, and ritualistic killings. The authors conclude that the verdict rendered in the Johnny’s Town Case is a landmark example. 

The article provides a useful summary of the case, its background and significance, and is therefore highly recommended. I fully agree with the main conclusion: 
“This landmark verdict has brought great relief to survivors and their families and set the right precedence that would possibly deter would-be perpetrators of harmful traditional practices in Liberia.”
(webmaster FVDK).

Published: September 3, 2019
By: National Institute for Public Opinion (NIPO) and Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) – published by the Daily Observer 

The Case 

Late last year, three young Liberian women in Johnny Town, Kpayan District, Sinoe County, were accused by a group of community dwellers of kidnapping a three-month-old child for witchcraft rituals. Angeline Saydee, Florence Tarkleh and Willete Nyewallah were subjected to trial by ordeal and abused, tortured and gang raped. One of the women, Willete, was killed. Another was hospitalized and later discharged. Stories surrounding the third woman, who happens to be the mother of the missing child, are quite conflicting.

It is said that Willete, who was killed in this incident, was few months pregnant prior to her unfortunate death. All the accused women fervently denied involvement in witchcraft and in the disappearance of the child. These women experienced unimaginable abuse. They were stripped naked before public glare and paraded from one corner of the town to another; thereafter, they were taken into the bush and subjected to trial by ordeal and to other violent crimes. Before these young women were abducted, tortured and one killed, they were living peaceful lives with their families and loved ones.

The young men accused of these crimes allegedly committed these inhumane acts under the orders of some traditional leaders, including a female traditionalist who allegedly subjected the women to trial by ordeal.

Harmful Traditional Practices in Liberia 

Trial by ordeal is a harmful traditional practice in which suspects are subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. The practice is usually done in extremely brutal manner and is intended to have suspects forcefully (and likely falsely) confessing guilt. The pain that comes with trial by ordeal is often raw and severe and can force people to confess guilt even if they were not the actual doers of the act for which ,they were accused. This practice has been outlawed by the Government of Liberia but it still persists.

An UNMIL and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights assessment of Harmful Traditional Practices in Liberia found that some traditional and cultural practices common to many Liberian ethnic communities have a significantly negative impact on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights. These include FGM, forcible initiation into secret societies, trial by ordeal (particularly the use of sassywood), accusations of witchcraft, and ritualistic killings. The assessment found that “these practices have particularly affected certain groups such as women, children, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, as well as the poorest Liberians” ( UNMIL and OHCHR 2015-An Assessment of Human Rights Issues Emanating from Traditional Practices in Liberia p.2).

This high prevalence is fundamentally why we believe that all must be done to step up the fight against harmful traditional practices. A critical starting point was ensuring the rule of law with particular focus on increasing access to justice for women and girls. We submit here that the verdict rendered in the Johnny’s Town Case is a landmark example!

Civil Society Supports the Survivors 

Immediately after these vicious crimes committed against Angeline Saydee, Florence Tarkleh and Willete Nyewallah came to light, the National Institute for Public Opinion (NIPO) coordinated county-level advocacy actions with the active involvement of the Sinoe County Women Platform and the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI). Soon after, the case captured national and international attention. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection got involved, as did some concerned Liberian women and women’s organizations.

At national level, advocacy actions were coordinated by the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) in close collaboration with NIPO and FCI. As part of these actions, the coalition presented its position statement to the National Legislature, calling on the Government of Liberia to provide reparation for survivors, relocate and resettle survivors and transfer the case to neutral location to avoid “local interference” or “manipulation”. Copies of this statement were presented to key embassies near Monrovia including the American and British Embassies. Subsequently, ten arrests were made and the case was transferred from the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court in Sinoe County to the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County. The case was scheduled to be heard during the August Term of Court.

Trial Proceedings 

The August Term of Court opened on August 12th, 2019 and the Johnny’s Town Murder Case was the first on the docket. Seven persons indicted for murder, gang rape, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation faced a jury trial with fifteen jurors handing down the verdict. Initially, ten persons were arrested, indicted and taken to court in relation to this case. Three were nolle prosequoi, (the legal term for dropping charges against an accused for lack of evidence). Final arguments in the case were heard on Friday, August 30. Immediately thereafter, the jury unanimously handed down a guilty verdict against all seven indictees.

Sinoe County Women Platform

Prior to the opening of the August Term of Court, NIPO and FCI jointly sponsored ten members of the Sinoe County Women Platform to Grand Bassa County to continue advocacy actions and witness legal proceedings. The sponsorship covered the travel, accommodation and feeding of the ten-member team. They arrived in Grand Bassa County on the 10th of August and were met on arrival by NIPO and FCI. Advocacy in Grand Bassa was coordinated and executed alongside the Grand Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA).

The women gathered before the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court holding placards with inscriptions such as “No Excuse for Abuse” and “They Deserve Justice”, and called for a speedy and fair trial. They were assured that there was no need for protest actions because the case was the first on the docket.  This position was reinforced by the president of the Grand Bassa County Bar Association who spoke with the women and assured them that the Bar would do everything necessary to ensure that justice is served in a timely manner.

This case significantly helped the Platform to expand its network and amplify their voices at the regional level. Thanks to collaboration with the Grand Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA). The women continuously recommitted themselves to continuing their advocacy until the case was brought to a logical end.

Lorraine G. Mennon is the chairperson for the Platform. She committed to providing leadership in planning, organizing and implementing continuous advocacy actions and coordinating activities of the Platform until perpetrators were brought to book. She described the unanimous guilty verdict as a magnificent precedence and prayed that the state takes similar action against other people indicted for harmful traditional practices and violence against women and girls across Liberia. Madam Mennon informed NIPO and FCI that they will keep the Platform proactive, indicating that smaller community awareness actions will be organized and implemented to inform local women and girls about the effects of harmful traditional practices, expand knowledge and information about the Platform and create linkages with towns and villages with the view of monitoring, documenting, reporting and advocating against these bad cultural practices.

NIPO’s Lawyer joined the Prosecution Team

On Monday, August 12th, NIPO’s lawyer, Atty. Freeman, joined the prosecution team and promised to put his legal and research expertise to the disposal of the government towards winning the case. He promised to play active role in the cross examination of defense witnesses but later restricted his role to liaising with and motivating state lawyers. He told NIPO that after examining all the pieces of evidence against the accused, proof was evident and presumption great for their conviction. Atty. Freeman was hired and is paid by NIPO’s access to justice project, funded by UNDP-Liberia through Oxfam.

Conclusion

The Johnny’s Town Trial was a landmark case involving harmful traditional practices which inflicted serious injuries on two of three young Liberian women. This inhumane and criminal act led to the gruesome death of one of the victims and the hospitalization of another. Due to sustained advocacy actions at both the county and national levels, ten arrests were made, the case transferred to a neutral location and the survivors relocated. Legal proceedings in the case began in this August Term of Court. NIPO, FCI, Sinoe Women’s Platform and other women’s groups including the Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA), were very unwavering in supporting the survivors’ protection and access to justice in this case.

NIPO and FCI’s advocacy around this case was supported by Oxfam with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.  The project, called “Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women” or FLOW, has the goals of promoting women’s rights to be heard and to live free from violence. The FLOW Project has successfully run in Liberia since 2016.

The lawyer hired by NIPO to support the State’s case is paid by the UNDP through Oxfam. This project is called “Strengthening Access to Justice for Women and Girls in Sinoe and Grand Gedeh.”

Due process was necessary to rendering justice against harmful traditional practices, protecting women and girls from the dangers of the practice, punishing perpetrators for wrongful actions and finding redress for victims and survivors. This landmark verdict has brought great relief to survivors and their families and set the right precedence that would possibly deter would-be perpetrators of harmful traditional practices in Liberia.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Oxfam, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, or the UNDP.

Source: Johnny’s Town Murder Trial: Finally, Justice Is Done!