ECOWAS Court to rule on human rights violations allegations against Sierra Leone government
The ECOWAS Court will on May 31,2023 deliver judgment in a case brought by a Sierra Leonean community alleging the violation of their human rights by the government of Sierra Leone for its failure to protect them from the health hazards caused by the operations of a diamond mining company in the community.
The presiding judge, Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara, announced the date after notifying the parties of a change in the panel of judges due to the expiration of the tenure of one of judges in the previous panel for the case.
Justice Ouattara also reminded the parties that they had previously submitted all their pleadings, which were adopted.
In the initiating application filed before the Court on August 29, 2019, Sia Momoh and seven others asked the Court to hold the Sierra Leonean government liable for its failure to protect them from the human rights abuses suffered from the operations of the company.
Mr Chernor Benedict Jalloh, lead counsel for the Applicants, said the government violated the Applicants’ rights to life, right to human dignity; right to suitable environment with access to clean water; safe housing free from environmental pollution and destruction of farmlands; right to property, health and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention.
He said that the Applicant and the other complainants were also victims of the fallout of two violent protests, the first by the host community in December 2007 over the impact of the activities of the company and the second in 2012 which was initially by the company’s workers who were later joined by the community.
He added that the explosives used by the company was determined to be dangerous following an environmental impact assessment undertaken by the company based on which the company was obliged to relocate families willing to move.
According to the applicants, the company acted contrary to the agreement as families that refused to move were forcibly ejected and their properties destroyed by agents of the government in support of the mining company, resulting in a violent protest that left some dead and others wounded for which the company denied liability although it disbursed a “goodwill donation” through the Ministry of Mines which was insufficient to cover the medical bills of the victims.
Following the incident, the government set up a judicial commission – Jenkins Johnson Commission to determine the level of involvement of State security agents and make recommendations.
The applicants alleged that the report of the commission, which was submitted in 2008 indicted the state security agents and recommended among others, the prosecution and disciplining of officers indicted, the amendment of the police rules of engagement, the reform of the mining laws and practices, and the suspension of the blasting undertaken by the company until after the resettlement of the indigenes.
The lawyer also told the Court that the government did not implement any of the recommendations thereby exposing the indigenes of the community to continuous rights violations, reiterating that the victims of the 2012 protest received no compensation of any kind and the security agents had not been prosecuted till date.
He said the affected victims comprising those awaiting relocation by the mining company and those already relocated but who were not adequately accommodated by the company formed an association – Marginalised Affected Property Owners Limited (MAPO) to advocate for their right to remedies.
He added that the victims’ standard of living had regressed due to lack of compensation, environmental degradation, inadequate accommodation, poor health conditions, poor access to clean water and loss of property as a result of the activities of the company while some of their lands were turned to dump sites or flooded from diverted water channels.
The applicants also said that they wrote a letter of complaint to Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but to no avail.
The Applicants are asking the Court to, among others, declare the government is in violation of their rights; order the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators; comply with the mining lease agreement, and pay compensation to the victims for the physical, psychological and economic stress suffered.
Also on the panel for the case are Justices Dupe Atoki and Sengu Mohamed Koroma.