January 25, 2019
Civil Society (CSOs) working on land governance and human rights in Sierra Leone have in a statement issued yesterday expressed grave concern over what they referred to as the ‘excessive’ use of force by state security personnel since Monday 21st , January, 2019 in Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun district during which two people were allegedly killed by gun shots.
The statement was issued by SiLNoRF, Green Scenery, Human Rights Defenders Network, MADAM, Amnesty International, Center for Democracy and Human Rights, FIAN Belgium, Welthungerhilfe, FIAN Switzerland, Oakland Institute, Christian Aid, GRAIN REACT, World Rainforest Movement, West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, Pan African Human Rights Defenders, Réseau des Acteurs du Développement Durable, and Trocaire.
Police on Monday arrested and detained opposition Member of Parliament, Shaka Sama,alongside fourteen others for incitement,murder,throwing missiles,among others.They have alleged that the said suspects used the traditional poro society to disrupt operations of SOCFIN ,an Italian Palm Oil Company operating in Pujehun District.
According to the CSOs, information they received from fleeing villagers indicated that some people were suspected dead in the bushes from gunshots, claiming that about eighty persons including women and children fled their villages.
“Many people were believed to have sustained injuries from the actions of the security forces. The besieged villages of the Malen chiefdom are now under a 6pm to 6am curfew since January 21, 2019 likely restricting the freedoms of the citizens,” they claimed.
They narrated that as soon as SOCFIN arrived in the chiefdom in 2011 and following the land agreement on more than two-thirds of the land (18,473 ha) that will be converted by the company into a palm oil monoculture, affecting 52 villages, the communities have constantly denounced the human rights violations and abuses suffered.
They cited lack of consultation with landowners prior to the land deal, lack of transparency, corruption, extremely poor working conditions on the SOCFIN plantation, impact on the right to adequate food, the destruction of the livelihood and environmental negative impact.
“This is why the workers went on strike several times, in July and October 2018. It was following the last strike initiated last Friday, January 18 that tensions escalated to the level mentioned. Reports reaching CSOs indicate that two SOCFIN workers were seen in company of security forces allegedly raiding homes of innocent citizens. For instance, they raided Banaleh village at an unspecified time at night allegedly beating and manhandling citizens indiscriminately,” they claimed.
They claimed that at 7pm of January 21, 2019, security forces reportedly raided one Gbombu village where homes were invaded and unspecified number of people beaten and manhandled, while others were arrested and taken to Sahn Malen.
“The scale of state security brutality can be aptly described as unprecedented in the chiefdom since beginning of the land conflict, following the arrival of SOCFIN Agricultural Company (SAC) spanning from lower Malen to Bendu and Nganyahun –Malen in Upper Malen. Eyewitnesses identified SOCFIN security vehicle number 19 conveying state security personnel during the raids,” the CSOs alleged.
The CSOs viewed with concern the action of state security as high handed and smacks of ‘unprofessionalism’ leading to the escalation of tensions and consequent human rights violations, while calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
They further called on the government to provide ample protection for human rights defenders working on the case as a team continues to investigate the matter.
They noted that they have since 2018 engaged the Vice President’s Office with suggestions including an independent investigation into the Malen land issues for which recommendations could serve as basis of dialogue for mutual benefits.
“CSOs still continue to urge the government to consider this approach for a peaceful resolution of the longstanding social and land conflict, which has caused numerous human rights violations and abuses over the past 7 years for the 35,000 people affected.”