ECOWAS Court sets Ebola case for July 5

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July 2, 2018

By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma

The Economic Community for West Africa States (ECOWAS) Court in Abuja is set to hear a groundbreaking case filed by the Centre for Accountability and Rule of law (CARL) and two Ebola survivors on Thursday, 5th July.

The litigants are seeking reliefs against the government of Sierra Leone for violations of citizens’ right to life and health as a result of mismanagement of funds meant to respond to the epidemic which claimed the lives of thousands and left many more with indelible challenges between May 2014 to November 2016.

An official from the Abuja-based Court wrote to inform the parties that, “I have been directed by the Chief Registrar of the Community Court of Justice ECOWAS to inform you that the case ECW /CCJ/APP /07/18 Center for Accountability and the Rule of law, Hawa Jalloh, and Fatimata Sessay v. Republic of Sierra Leone has been fixed for hearing on 5th of July 2018 at 10 o’clock in the forenoon and will be heard on that day if business of the court permits or otherwise on some adjourned day  of which you may not receive further notice.”

CARL and the two Ebola survivors on December 2017 filed a 15 page application with the West African regional court seeking justice for thousands of victims of the outbreak. They claim that, “The government violated its citizens’ right to life by failing to adhere to relevant accounting and procurement controls which led to the loss of one-third of the available resources, and was responsible for a greater number of deaths from Ebola than would otherwise have occurred”.

The plaintiffs further requested a declaration that Sierra Leone’s failure to investigate and provide redress for mismanagement of the Ebola Funds constitute continuing violations of the rights to health and life, as guaranteed under Articles 1, 4 and 16 of the African Charter, Article 6 of the ICCPR, and Article 12 of the ICESPR, plus an order compelling Sierra Leone to undertake a comprehensive review of compliance with relevant financial reporting, internal controls, and procurement regulations, with a view to ensuring effective use of financial resources in times of national emergency.

The litigants are also seeking an order that Sierra Leone establish a commission of inquiry to investigate any civil or criminal liability arising from mismanagement of Ebola Funds, thus calling for general and special damages for pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses to be paid to applicants and similarly situated persons as compensation for violations of their rights to life and health.

A new administration has since taken over following the filing of the case, and a transition report that is due to be released reportedly acknowledges grand scale corruption by the previous government, including mismanagement of Ebola funds.

“The ECOWAS Court has jurisdiction to hear human rights claims brought by individuals or public interest plaintiffs. If successful, this would be the first time the regional tribunal would establish a formal link between mismanagement of public funds and the violation of human rights,” the Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy said in statement in December 2017 during a press briefing to journalist.

Ibrahim Tommy, who is also a lawyer, added: “In the last three years, Sierra Leoneans have repeatedly demanded accountability and justice for the mismanagement of Ebola response funds, but their demands have fallen on deaf ears. This is an effort mainly by victims to hold the State to account as well as help them get a sense of closure.”

In May 2014 the country experienced an outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease which recorded a total of 14,124 confirmed cases and 3,956 deaths. Many of the deaths included healthcare workers – doctors and nurses – including Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, a leading Ebola specialist.

Meanwhile, the new administration has not given any indication yet as to whether they will attend and defend the case or not, but in a snap interview with Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Swaray, tersely remarked that, ‘We respect all international instruments, including the ECOWAS Treaty’ and promised to provide further update on the matter.