Access to Justice sexual and gender-based violence workshop held

10 Feb 2010

In calling for the media to take a more pivotal role in combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Mr. Samuel Harbor, UNDP Deputy Country Director said, “inequalities between men and women (in Sierra Leone) are some of the worst in the world with Sierra Leone at the bottom of the UNDP Human Development index and ranking 180th out of 182 countries for overall human development in 2009.”

Speaking at the opening of a workshop, to improve media participation in the reporting of SGBV in Sierra Leone, he said, “by the end of her life span, nearly all Sierra Leonean women will suffer from some form of sexual or gender based violence.”

According to the latest SGBV figures for Sierra Leone, out of 927 sexual abuse cases reported in Sierra Leone in 2009, there were no convictions, said Ms Bernadette Cole, Chairperson, Independent Media Commission. Quoting figures available from the National Family Support Unit, 313 court cases were referred to court, 460 cases are under investigation, 40 cases are pending, while 122 cases were resolved or withdrawn, she said. Two cases were dismissed.

In relation to domestic violence, a type of SGBV, there were 1,543 reported cases, of which 759 are under investigation, 386 were pending and 106 resolved out of court, 1 case was dismissed, and there were no convictions, according to Ms Cole.

“SGBV is of the scourges of our time and has a profound impact on the dignity, psychological impact and a violation of a person’s human rights,” said Dr. Soccoh Kabia, Hon. Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. “The Government has taken steps to address SGBV through the enactment of Gender based laws, the creation of a National Commission on Gender Based Violence and by establishing 26 Family Support Units located in police stations throughout the country” he added.

SGBV is a punishable offence and an abuse of a citizen's basic human rights, under the Domestic Violence Act (2007) and other laws in Sierra Leone. However, current media practice is to report SGBV as a social or cultural issue, rather than a criminal offence and severe human rights violation, participants heard.

Over 40 media practitioners from across the country took part in the UNDP (Access to Justice Programme) workshop, which is designed to facilitate reporting of SGBV, as well as assist the media in Sierra Leone in becoming critical participants in national efforts to prevent and respond to SGBV.

Increased and improved reporting of SGBV crimes will stimulate society to recognize such crimes and take steps to end SGBV, serve as a deterrent to potential, or real, offenders while increasing confidence of victims to find redress in the justice system.

The two day training and consultative workshop for journalists entitled, The Role of Media in Publicizing Sexual and Gender Based Violence Cases in Sierra Leone, which started in Freetown today, was attended by Dr. Soccoh Kabia, Hon. Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. Ms. Bernadette Cole, Chairperson, Independent Media Commission gave a keynote speech, while opening statements were made by Ms. Eunice Njovana, Country Representative, UNIFEM, as well as representative from the International Rescue Committee, Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and other development partners.

“The media can play a pivotal role to help reduce impunity for SGBV offences by reporting SGBV cases with the consistency and professionalism that provides deterrence to would be perpetrators while re-enforcing confidence in the justice system to victims and the society at large,” said Mr. Harbor.

The lack of enjoyment of human rights by women and girls due to SGBV is increasingly regarded as an impediment to economic and social development of Sierra Leone.

In his presentation, the Senior Advisor and Head of the Access to Justice Programme Nana K. A. Busia Jnr. noted that the Access to Justice Programme gives special attention to SGBV and, also, seeks to support the work of government institutions (FSU, the Courts, the Local Courts, and the State Counsel) as well as civil society in the prevention and prosecution of SGBV cases.

The training/consultative workshop will also pre-validate content for an, impending, journalist’s handbook, designed to support the media in sensitively and accurately reporting the different stages of cases of SGBV, and are based on results of over 6 months of nationwide consultative meetings with reporters and other stakeholders.

Contact Information

Abdul Karim Bah, Communications Analyst, UNDP Sierra Leone. Tel: + 232 33 167 428. Email: abdul-karim.bah@undp.org