Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP
Senior United Nations officials have called upon Liberia to further prevent harmful cultural practices that can result in death. The UN News Centre reported that these “deadly human rights violations” masquerade as cultural practices.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, “Liberia’s human rights obligations must take precedence over any local practices considered to be ‘cultural’ or ‘traditional’ where such practices are incompatible with human rights principles.”
The UN report released on December 18 documented the adverse effects that these practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings, have on the human rights of Liberia. The report was created by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It was found that 58 percent of women and girls in Liberia undergo FGM and that if women and girls are from poorer families they are twice as likely “to experience FGM than those from wealthy ones”.
“In addition to the extreme pain…the lack of medically sterilized equipment and facilities increases the likelihood of infection and lasting physical damage, and may even lead to death,” the report read.
Reuters reported that FGM is mostly carried out by an extremely powerful secret society in Liberia called the Sande.
FGM programme officer at rights group Equality Now, Grace Uwizeye, told Reuters last year that “the secret society makes it very difficult to penetrate or even to start talking about FGM because people are just scared. You have to make sure people understand it’s OK to talk about FGM.”
In November Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, declared that she would end the rise in ritual killings, reported Reuters. According to the UN, since 2012 nine cases of ritualistic killings are suspected to have taken place, however, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that local media say there have been at least 10 killings since this summer.
Johnson Sirleaf won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on women’s rights and is the first woman to be elected the president of a country in Africa. Many have congratulated her for making leaps and bounds in the field of women’s rights in Liberia saying she has accomplished what she set out to do – empower women in her country. However, there has been criticism about the speed of her response to the eradication of FGM in the country.
Whilst Nigeria outlawed FGM in June this year and the Gambia banned the practice in November, Liberia has yet to follow suit.