Opposition lawmakers reject Bio’s emergency declaration on rape

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-Demand amendment of Sexual offense Act

February 25, 2019

By Jariatu S Bangura

Opposition lawmakers from the All People’s Congress (APC) and the National Grand Coalition (NGC) last Friday rejected President Maada Bio’s recent public emergency declaration on rape, demanding that the House should amend the Sexual Offense Act of 2012.

The heated debate at Bank Complex, where parliament has moved recently, was punctuated with several cross references from the different parties represented in parliament, hence  the Speaker adjourned  sitting to tomorrow (Tuesday 26th February,2019) for possible election.

Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Hon. Daniel B. Koroma of the APC, said they were in favour of the fight against rape and sexual violence against women, girls and babies, but declined the approval of the declaration of emergency.

“There is no need to declare a state of public emergency as the 2012 Sexual Offense Act makes provision for perpetrators to be imprisoned for at least five years for minors and not more than 15 years for adults. The most serious matters are given lesser punishment, whilst the lesser cases are given priorities. I prefer the Act be amended to the proclamation of the State of Public Emergency,” he said.

The opposition lawmaker further argued that if they approve the declaration, it would have to be amended in every three months, but that if the Act is amended, there would be no need for it to be brought again to parliament.

He said the constitution clearly stated that unless there is a war or a state is in danger, there was no need to declare a state of emergency.

He noted that there was nothing of such in the country; hence there was no reason for his colleagues to approve the declaration.

“The APC party is not against the fight against rape and sexual violence, but the manner in which the present government wants to fight it, is of great concern,” he said.

But one of the ruling party lawmakers, Hon. Hindolo Gevao, argued that the declaration was made based on the high number of rape cases in the courtrooms, and that most of those cases have not been successfully prosecuted, hence the president declared a public emergency.

“It is a shame and disgrace for someone to state that the president should not declare state of public emergency on the rampant cases of rape in the country. It beholds on us all to protect our people, as there are a lot of lacunas in the laws. The so-called amendment by the opposition MPs will not solve the problem. I am a patriot and there is every need for me to support the proclamation made by the president,” he argued.

He submitted that all the evidence provided by the legal practitioners were not enough, hence the president thought it fit to declare public emergency.

On his part, Leader of NGC, Hon. Kandeh K. Yumkella said in 2018, a survey was conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation on the world’s most dangerous country for women of which India lead the chart, recording worst case for healthcare, economic resources, traditional practices, sexual and non-sexual abuse, and human trafficking.

“If such declaration is to be made, we need a comprehensive consultation and there is also need to extend sexual education, family life education in communities and homes. We must all come together to address the menace,” he said.

He noted that the NGC was fully in support of the amendment of the 2012 Sexual Offense Act, as most of the issues raised by the president in the declaration were included in the Act.

“We support the swift amendment of the Act as the issue of rape calls for a huge discussion,” he said.

Speaker of Parliament,Hon. Abass Chernor Bundu, re-echoed that public emergency is used during extra-ordinary  situations, stating that “we are told that we are addressing extra ordinary situation of rape in the country’.
He urged parliamentarians to recognise the great importance of the declaration that was before them for discussion and submitted that the issue was important hence the president declared it as public emergency.

“It has become a great national concern and you should not be partisan on this issue,” he cautioned.

Deputy Speaker, Hon. Segepoh Thomas, urged members to support the motion as the issue needed collective conscience.

“Let us put aside every other thing and fight for our women and girls. As representative of the people, we must think or talk for them,”he noted.

Hon. Osman Abdal Timbo of the APC, observed that the issue of rape is a national concern, as out of the 8,505 cases of rape, 2,579 were minors.

He said the statistics from Rainbow Centre showed that 76% of rape victims were minors hence there was need to stand up against it.

He argued that there was no clear definition of public emergency in the constitution of Sierra Leone, and that there was no nation in the world that has declared state of public emergency, as most of them give more power to the laws of the land on sexual offense.

 “Rape is a criminal offense and not a health challenge. It must be treated with all seriousness,” he said.

  1. C Bintu Haja Kajue Meama Koroma of Moyamba district cautioned both her colleagues to look at the declaration keenly without using political lenses and treat it with the utmost importance it deserves.

She said most of the perpetrators and victims were in their chiefdoms and that in most cases, paramount chiefs encounter serious problems in resolving those issues.

She stated that they all must think of  ways to put an end to the menace that has engulfed the society, adding that it was very difficult to get evidence to prove the cases in court, with victims languishing without real results to the problem.

Acting Leader of the main opposition APC, Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, said they were in full support of the fight against rape and sexual violence against women, girls and babies.

He cautioned that political lenses should not be put on in the fight against rape and sexual violence, but rather with a nationalistic view.

He stated that such should not be compromised to demean the values of society, but noted the method at which the process was undertaken, was what the APC was against.

“The methodology used is of concern to us as a party, and if you decide to approve the declaration, then the APC party will not be part of such. If we are to approve it, then we stand on Standing Order 44(4) on having a two-third votes rather than a mere collection of voices,” he said.

Leader of Government Business, Hon. Sidie Tunis, said the previous government failed to declare state of public emergency at the early stage of Ebola, which led to the loss of many lives.

“But the SLPP will not choose that path again. We will not wait to see the loss of many lives again before making a declaration. The President will not tolerate it to happen hence he thought it fit to make the proclamation, which is totally right,” he said.

 “I want to assure the public and my colleagues that this declaration will not affect anyone as it will only be used for rape and sexual violence cases. This will not be a situation to call for the arrest of people on baseless situations. Everybody will be comfortable with the law. I call on you all to support us.”

Speaker  of Parliament,Hon.Chernor Abass Bundu remarked that the debate was frank and  made allusion to the approval process of the three constitutional instruments 64,65&67 that set up the Commissions of Inquiry.

He noted that the procedures used to approve those instruments will be used again for the approval of the declaration.

However, the opposition needs two-thirds majority  vote to kick out the declaration.