Stop the criminalisation of land rights defenders!
Oakland, CA—One month after violent incidents in the SOCFIN plantations in Sierra Leone leading to brutal repression by security forces, the death of two people and 15 people arrested, Sierra Leonean and international civil society organisations urge the government of Sierra Leone and the company to immediately end the repression of land rights defenders and the human rights violations and abuses suffered by local communities.
Since 2011 the multinational company SOCFIN has acquired more than 18,000 hectares of land for an industrial palm oil plantation in the Malen Chiefdom (Pujehun district, Southern Sierra Leone). Since then, a land conflict has raged between SOCFIN, the local authorities and the communities.
The conflict recently escalated to new levels of violence. On January 21st, following a skirmish between community people and the police and military protecting the assets of SOCFIN, two people were shot dead. Shortly after, police and military raids were carried out in the surrounding villages. People were beaten, houses were vandalised and properties were looted. Hundreds of people fled their homes. The police also arrested 15 people, adding to a long list of arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment committed against land rights activists of the community based organisation MALOA (Malen Land Owners and Users Association).
One month after these tragic events, the human rights organisation FIAN Belgium is publishing a new report entitled “Land Grabbing for Palm Oil in Sierra Leone: Analysis of the SOCFIN Case from a Human Rights Perspective”. The report provides an in-depth analysis of SOCFIN`s activities in Sierra Leone and shows how the company, with the assistance of national and local elites, has seriously impaired the communities from enjoying their human rights. Several issues emerged including the rights to land, food, water and a healthy environment, as well as workers` rights, women`s rights, the rights of the elderly and the right to education. The report also points to serious allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency. It shows that huge amounts of money, which should be allocated to the land owners as rent payments, were instead provided by SOCFIN to local elites without any transparency on how those funds were used. Furthermore, the report reveals huge gaps between the promises made by SOCFIN, as part of their corporate social responsibility action plan, and the reality on the ground: between 2011 and 2017, of the 16,433,375 USD announced by SOCFIN (for buildings, roads, schools, hospitals, an out-grower scheme and other community spendings) only 2,583,784 USD were actually disbursed.
Since SOCFIN began its operations communities opposed to its land deal have been systematically criminalised, culminating with last month’s tragic events, and hundreds of land rights defenders have faced arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment. Fifteen persons are still in detention at the Freetown Central Prison at the moment.
Against this background, a coalition of thirty-four Sierra Leoneans and international CSOs urgently demands that the state of Sierra Leone:
immediately release the land rights activists from Malen who are still in jail (unless there is convincing evidence that they have committed crimes), terminate all forms of criminalisation and ensure the protection of human rights defenders;
address the issue of the internally displaced persons from the Chiefdom by identifying and registering them in their present locations and providing the needed relief;
redress the human rights violations and abuses suffered by the Malen communities, hold SOCFIN and other responsible actors accountable, and find a long-lasting solution to the conflict. As a first step, MALOA calls upon the government (with the support of the international community) to initiate an independent and thorough investigation of the case, which should be carried out by human rights experts and whose results should inform the measures to be taken to redress all abuses and violations.
In addition, CSOs call for the international community (including African Union and UN agencies, EU external action service, SOCFIN’s home states and other partner states of Sierra Leone) to:
take active steps to ensure the protection of the human rights defenders, including close monitoring of the situation of the imprisoned persons and the situation of Malen communities, as well as providing necessary support to human rights defenders;
use all tools at their disposal to ensure that SOCFIN respect human rights, carry out human rights due diligence, assumes liability and is held accountable for all abuses related to its operations in Sierra Leone;
cooperate and use all available means of diplomacy in order to redress the human rights violations and abuses and find a long-lasting solution to the conflict that is based on the rights and needs of Malen communities.
List of Signatories
CSOs in Sierra Leone
Amnesty international—Sierra Leone
Green Scenery—Sierra Leone
Human Rights Defenders Network-SL—Sierra Leone
Mankind`s Activities for Development Accreditation Movement (MADAM)—Sierra Leone
Network Movement for Justice and Development—Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food (SiLNoRF)—Sierra Leone
African and International CSOs
Action Solidarité Tiers Monde—Luxembourg
AEFJN antenne belge—Belgique
Association Française d`Amitié et de Solidarité avec les Peuples d`Afrique (AFASPA)—France
Convergence Globale des Luttes pour la Terre et l`Eau—Guinée—Guinea
Convergence Globale des Luttes pour la Terre et l`Eau Ouest Africaine—Coordination Regionale
Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD)—Ghana
Entraide et Fraternité—Belgium
FIDH dans le cadre de l`Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l`Homme—International
Ghana National Convergence Platform of CGLTE-OA—Ghana
OMCT dans le cadre de l`Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l`Homme—International
ONG Jeunes Volontaires pour l`Environnement (JVE) Côte d`Ivoire—Côte d`Ivoire
Réseau d`information et d`appui aux ONG nationales (RIAO-RDC)—Democratic Republic of Congo
The Oakland Institute—International
West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH/WAHRDN)—West Africa