The Truth and Reconciliation Commission observed that women and girls were raped, killed, beaten, maimed and forced to become sex slaves during the rebel war. There was a widespread impunity for these offences. Following the end of open hostilities, SGBV continues to occur at an alarming rate in post conflict Sierra Leone.
SGBV is a concern for the consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone as it is critical to protect the rights of men and women and guarantee them mechanisms for redress in events of violation. The UNSCRs 1325 and 1820 emphasizes that sexual offences present a serious challenge to international peace and security and therefore calls for an end to impunity for all sexual violence.
The Security Council further prescribes a robust legal and security response to SGBV issues. The UN Family in Sierra Leone works towards peace consolidation under the UN Joint Vision in support of the Governments Agenda for Change. The critical focus of UNDP’s Access to Justice Project is the prevention and prosecution of sexual offences in line with the Security Council’s Resolutions.
We are responding to this issue by working with key national institutions like the legal and justice support department of the SLP, the judiciary, law officers department, Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, Civil Society Organizations and the FSU.
The mandate of the FSU is specifically to respond to incidences of Sexual, Physical and Emotional abuse of women and children within the family unit through investigation of such cases of abuse, bringing perpetrators to justice and facilitating healing and reintegration of victims.
The UN is pleased to support the FSU through providing substantial technical and logistics support to capacitate the FSU to respond effectively to issues of SGBV.
As part of this support we have developed with the FSU and other partners a document called the ‘Guidelines for management of SGBV cases by the FSU’ which is styled as a day-to-day practical handbook that all FSU officers can use in their work to meet the expectations of the public of effective prevention and prosecution of SGBV in Sierra Leone.
We are here today as part of the FSU preventive aspect and to strengthen the FSU’s capacity as part of their mandate to sensitize communities on SGBV, the work of the FSU and how to access them for intervention whenever such incidents occur. This is the fourth such events after successful events in the North, South and East of the country supporting the FSU in the Community and Schools outreach programme.
Research by UNDP and other partners such as UNICEF, the IRC and CSOs have documented very high levels of SGBV targeted against young girls in Sierra Leone. Sexual abuse and harassment is rampant in schools and many school-going children - especially girls - face a lot of pressure to engage in transactional sex for grades, schools fees and sometimes for a livelihood. All these results in early pregnancy, abortions, school drop outs, the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and STDs as well as other reproductive health complications.
We encourage all school children to practice abstinence, report sexual harassment and be dedicated to your school work. At the community levels wherever you see sexual offences occurring report it to the FSU. Also learn and support colleagues to preserve evidence (e.g. torn clothing, blood stains on clothing, wounds or other physical marks of assault) in incidents of sexual assault or rape as this will help the FSUs to investigate effectively and successfully prosecute cases.
In situation where cases are continuously thrown out of court for want of evidence, this will not only create a perception of denial of justice and erode public confidence in the justice system, but it will allow perpetrators to believe they can get away with such crimes. This situation is indeed a critical risk to the advancement of women’s rights and the consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone.
We are therefore calling on all school going children to know your rights and on school authorities to work closely with the FSU to ensure these rights and protected and that persecution takes place when rights are violated.
The fight against SGBV is everybody’s responsibility.