Liberia: UN mission builds safe house for victims of sexual violence
The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has built a new safe house for survivors of sexual violence in the capital, Monrovia, and helped refurbish a former jail to ease overcrowding in the West African country's prison system.
The safe house, which has been handed over to a local non-governmental organization (NGO) to operate, was built as part of a $24,000 project that was also supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The head of UNMIL and the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Liberia, Ellen Margrethe Løj, handed over the keys to the safe house in a ceremony yesterday in Monrovia. She stressed that sexual and other forms of gender-based violence must be stopped if the country is to fully advance after years of civil war and misrule.
“Any woman or girl who falls victim to this sort of violence, especially rape, is really having her possibilities for contributing to society greatly diminished,” Ms. Løj said.
At the safe house, the survivors and victims receive psychosocial support, basic literacy and numeric skills development, vocational training and other life skills, such as information about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness.
In Zwedru, the capital of Grand Gedeh county in eastern Liberia, UNMIL has helped re-open the rehabilitated National Palace of Corrections, which will become the country's largest prison facility.
Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, the Deputy UN Envoy in Liberia, said she hoped the changes made to the centre will greatly improve both the living conditions for prisoners and the working conditions for correctional staff.
“We must look to this facility to provide not only immediate security to society by housing those committed by the courts, but also to provide those persons with a fresh start in life and an opportunity for a brighter and more purposeful future when they eventually rejoin society upon release,” she said.
First opened in 1979, the National Palace of Corrections – which has room for 294 prisoners – operated for a decade until the civil war prompted its closure.
UNMIL staff have given Liberian corrections officers training in human rights, fair treatment and helping inmates learn skills to be useful members of society.