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ECOWAS Court:   Ebola matter against GoSL to hear today  

January 24, 2019

 ecowas

The ECOWAS Court, sitting in Abuja, Nigeria, will today hold a hearing on a case filed by Ebola survivors against the government of Sierra Leone. This hearing stems out of a case filed against the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) in December 2015 by two Ebola survivors and a public interest plaintiff – the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law in Sierra Leone (CARL-SL).

The plaintiffs in this matter claim that the government of Sierra Leone mismanaged the Ebola crisis and that the government’s mismanagement of $14M in Ebola response funds caused violations of the rights to life and health of Sierra Leoneans.

 The plaintiffs rely on the findings of two special audit reports released by the Audit Service of Sierra Leone in 2015 and 2016, which found that the government’s fiscal mismanagement caused “a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector” during the Ebola crisis. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the government’s poor stewardship of the Ebola funds diminished the human and physical infrastructure needed to handle the Ebola crisis including, for example, insufficient numbers of healthcare workers, ambulances, and treatment facilities. The result was a greater number of Ebola infections than would have occurred otherwise. Further, the plaintiffs argue that the government failed to investigate effectively mismanagement of the Ebola funds. Investigation is critical to preventing future violations. The ECOWAS application seeks several remedies, including declaratory relief, a review of compliance with government accounting and procurement controls, initiation of relevant criminal inquiries, and monetary damages. The application also includes relief requiring the government to invest more resources in addressing the health needs of survivors of the Ebola virus disease.

In July 2018, the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES), a national group which represents 4,000 Ebola survivors and affected family members, requested to join the litigation as a plaintiff. In early 2019, the ECOWAS Court likely will determine whether to grant that request. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Augustine Marrah Esq, Yasmin Jusu Sheriff Esq, and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) based in The Gambia, will be present in Abuja for the January 24 hearing.

Meanwhile, in November 2018, the government of Sierra Leone indicated to the plaintiffs that it would prefer out-of-court settlement, but negotiations have yet to commence.

The plaintiffs seek from the government, among other things:

  • Review and reform of procurement and budgeting policies, so that funds will not be mismanaged in the future
  • Ongoing medical and mental health support for Ebola survivors
  • Stigma reduction initiatives, employment opportunities, job training, and educational support for Ebola survivors so that they can reintegrate into Sierra Leonean society
  • As recommended in the 2018 Government Transition Team report, a commitment by the government to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of stealing Ebola funds, and recover said funds to compensate Ebola victims and survivors.

Since the end of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Ebola survivors have continued to deal with real and chronic Ebola-related health problems such as erectile dysfunction, partial blindness, joint pains, male infertility problems, loss of appetite, severe headache, abnormal menstruation, hearing problems and fatigue, and mental health challenges due to serious depression. Some have died during the process.