Liberian President George Weah was blunt in his assessment

Liberian President George Weah has declared rape a national emergency and ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike of cases in the West African state.

The move comes after thousands of Liberians protested against rising incidents of rape in the capital Monrovia last month in a bid to draw attention to the country’s alarming rate of sexual assault.

Late on Friday, Weah said he would install a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia, as well as set up a national sex offender registry, a statement from his office said.

The government will also establish a so-called “national security task force” on sexual and gender-based violence.

The high rates of rape in Liberia have been a long-standing concern.

A United Nations report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases the previous year in the country of 4.5 million, and found only 2 percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction.

It was the resulting sense of impunity and legacy of the 14-year civil war between 1989 and 2003, when rape was commonplace, that had created the current problem, it said.

Incidents of rape appear to have risen sharply this year.

Margaret Taylor, the director of Liberia’s Women Empowerment Network, said last month her NGO had recorded 600 cases of rape between June and August.

That was up from between 80 and 100 cases in May, she said.

Weah’s announcement of a national rape emergency follows a conference in Monrovia on tackling sexual violence on Wednesday.

Addressing the meeting, the footballer-turned-president said Liberia was “witnessing what is actually an epidemic of rape within the [coronavirus] pandemic, affecting mostly children and young girls across the country”.