Amid concerns from representatives of line ministries and agencies about the common practice of trial by ordeal also known as sassaywood, an official from the Ministry of Internal Affairs says the Ministry is not giving permit to those involved in the practice of trial by ordeal.
During a one day working session under the theme Accountability: Strengthening Rule of Law and accountability for human rights violations’ One Day Technical Working Sessions with line Ministries (Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social protection, , Ministry of Internal Affairs, Civil Society Organizations, Traditional Council, the Ministry of Internal Affairs representative disclosed that the Ministry is not in favor of such practice where people are forced against their will to confess to an alleged crime.
At the working session organized by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)-Liberia in collaboration with the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) of Liberia and the Civil Society Platform of Liberia, the Internal Affairs official said although some of the ways of administering sassaywood are not harmful but the Ministry is not permitting people to practice such.
“We give permit to herbalists to heal people from sicknesses that can be treated through traditional herbs but we are not giving permit for people to go and give people sassaywood”, the traditional chief said.
One of the presenters at the Working Session, Atty. Sarnyenneh M. Dickson presenting on the topic “National and International Legal Framework and harmful traditional practices, early marriage and trial by ordeal (Sassaywood) said the practice of trial by ordeal has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Liberia dating far back as 1916.
“Trial by Ordeal, a primitive method of determining persons guilty or innocence, invoking supernatural power has been here for many years, it is aged old and up to now it is still here with us, eventhough our law says it should not be practiced “, said Atty. Dickson.
According to him it has become a belief system, which is part of customs, practices and the common form includes burning fire with hot cutlass, drinking of concoction, boiling oil with hands placed in it, amongst others.
Narrating his personal experience he said, a lady stole a friend gold necklace and before the lady who stole the necklace and others could be taken to a Sassaywood Doctor to be subjected to the practice, the lady went to another powerful herbalist to shield her from been caught by the Sassaywood.
Atty. Sarnyenneh indicated that when it was time to administer the sassaywood, the lady who actually stole the necklace was not caught by the Sassaywood but instead another innocent lady, a friend to the actual perpetrator was caught.
He said the actual doer, seen that her best friend was being subjected to humiliation confessed that she is the actual person who stole the necklace, thereby sending shock amongst those who participated in the process, exposing the weakness of the sassaywood process.
Early marriage was another focus of discussion with many expressing that the Ministry of Justice should take concrete actions to ensure that those involved in the practice face the law.
At the end of the one day working session, participants from line ministries and agencies agreed to collaborate in order to expose these practices that violate people human rights that are harmful to society.
In opening remarks before the start of the Working Session, Roosevelt Jayjay, of the Office of the UN Commission for Human Rights told the participants that the Working Session is meant to look at human rights issues in Liberia
He said through discussions such as the Working Session, actors will find a way of dealing with human rights issues.
Mr. Jayjay said the Office of the UN Commission on Human Rights is meant to replace the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Human Rights Office, established to ensure the sustaining some of the gains made by UNMIL on issues of human rights.
The Office of the UN Human Rights Commission, Jayjay said have been holding meetings with key actors including Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, public defenders and other judicial and human rights actors looking at the challenges facing human rights in the country.
Says Jayjay “this is just the beginning of the engagement process, we have lots more to do on issues of human rights and we will be looking forward to cordial collaboration”.
He said other Working Sessions will be held with senior officials of security agencies, members of the National Legislature and other state actors, all bordering on issues of human rights.