Tim Hetherington‘s Liberian War Graffiti

During the armed conflict in Liberia (1989-2003), rape and other forms of sexual violence were used as a weapon of war. An estimated 40 percent of the Liberian population was affected by sexual violence during the 14 years of civil conflict. Although weapons were laid aside in 2003, the wartime practice of sexual assault continues. In present-day Liberia, rape and other forms of sexual violence are still one of the most reported serious crimes.

According to one of the most thorough surveys on sexual violence in Liberia, Sexual Gender-Based Violence and Health Facility Needs Assessment (WHO, 2005), 72 percent of women and girls have experienced rape (oral, vaginal and/or anal) during the conflict. Moreover, 70 percent of all raped women and girls had been gang raped, and 24 percent had been raped with an object or had been penetrated with an object after the rape.

“After being raped by five men, they stretched me apart and inserted a motor pestle in my vagina. Until now, I still have pain inside me.” (testimony in WHO’s 2005 survey)

In some cases, rape took place in front of the family members. In that way, the whole family was humiliated and suffered the trauma.

I was forcibly taken into the bush with my three children and husband by the LPC fighters under the accusation of [trying to kill] “General War Boss” and “General Kill the Bitch”. We have always been accused and tortured by these rebels because many of us are Bassa by tribe. My husband was tied to a thorny tree; black driver ants were put all over his body while I was raped as a pregnant women in front of my three children by four LPC fighters.”(testimony in Kenneth Cain, Rape of Dinah, 1999)

Pregnant women were particularly targeted as the carried the offspring of the ‘enemy’. As the civil war spilled over to Sierra Leone, operation ‘No Baby Living’ was performed under Charles Taylor’s command. Pregnant women and their unborn babies became targets of Taylor’s rebels:

“[t]here are numerous reports of fighters moving among the displaced of various areas looking for pregnant women. When they find one they gamble on the sex of the unborn baby. They cut the mother’s womb open and pull out the baby to see who won the bet. The mother and the baby are then thrown to the side of the road, as the fighters go looking for their next victim.” (testimony of UNOMIL’s Chief of Security in Kenneth Cain, Rape of Dinah, 1999)

Seven years after the peace accords, rape proves to be a troubling legacy of Liberian war. One of the few journalists constantly reminding of the post-conflict impunities is Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times. According to his article (NY Times, Nicholas Kristof) 12 percent of girls under the age of 17 have experienced sexual assault in Liberia. The Government, NGOs and the international community are coming up with campaigns to stop rape and improving the legislative protection and police procedures. However, the crucial opportunity to mitigate the spillovers of the war culture into post-war life in Liberia has not been seized. On that tomorrow …