February 1, 2019
By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
Land Rights Defenders- a group of Civil Society Organizations, has called on the government of Sierra Leone to set up an independent and credible body to investigate the cause of death of two people in Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun district and bring perpetrators to justice.
The rights group made the call on Wednesday, 30th January, at the Hotel Cabenda Conference Hall in Freetown, while updating journalists on their findings about the issues.
On Monday, 21st January, 2019, it was reported that members of the traditional ‘poro’ society and state security personnel deployed at Socfin Agriculture Company clashed, a development which resulted to the death of two young men and millions of properties destroyed, thus leading to residents fleeing their communities in fear.
The Executive Director of Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), Abu Brima, who doubles as chairman for the event, said the issue of conflict between corporate entities and land owners was not a novelty in the country, as other companies like African Minerals; London Mining among others, had experienced same.
He said after the unfortunate incident, they sent an expedition team on the ground to investigate the issue and that they have also crosschecked with other countries where Socfin Agriculture Company is operating, who had complained similar situation.
Head of Programmes for Sierra Leone Network on the Right to Food, Lansana Sowa, who read the press statement signed by nineteen CSOs, said they have noted with grave concern, the human rights violations against members of Malen chiefdom, who were dispossessed of their land by Socfin Agriculture Company.
He said since the inception of Socfin Agriculture Company in the Chiefdom in 2009, more than 80% of the chiefdom’s arable land was leased to the company to produce palm oil and during the negotiation, the consent of land owners was not respected and insufficient consultations were held with the chiefdom’s indigenous people.
He said the ‘faulty’ agreement has resulted into serious conflict between the company and the landowners, adding that local land owners and activists have come under sustained intimidation, harassment and attack for defending their land rights and challenging the excesses of the company.
He said during the cause of their investigation, they found out that it was not only the rights to life of the people in the chiefdom that was violated but also the protection of security and safety of persons.
He noted that unlawful arrest and detention, the right to property, the right to food and dignified life were amongst the human rights issues that were severely violated by the security forces.
He said their investigations also disclosed that the arbitrary arrest, detention and beating of particularly members of Malen Affected Landowners and users Association, who have become direct target of intimidation, harassment and violence by either the government or security personnel, or officials of the Socfin Agriculture Company, was unfortunate.
He said the excessive use of force by military and police against protesting civilians and other community members during raids mostly undertaken during hours when they were in bed and the extra-judicial killing from a gunshot wound during the protest between the members of the traditional poro society and the government security personnel call for concern.
He said they were calling on the government to respect its obligations to international human rights laws in relation to business and human rights, thus urging for the unconditional release of all Malen Affected Landowners and users Association that were arrested and detained.
They further called on the government to facilitate the return of all displaced people and offer reassurances for their security and wellbeing and make sure that the lease agreement between the company and Malen Chiefdom which expired since 2017 are reviewed.
He also called on the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the chiefdom administration with a specific focus on the use of the 20% shares from the company annual lease payment.