CARL, Ebola Survivors Seek Relief at ECOWAS Court
December 18, 2017 By Alusine Sesay & Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) and two Ebola survivors last Friday filed an action at the ECOWAS Court of Justice seeking reliefs against the government of Sierra Leone for violation of citizens’ rights to life and health as a result of the mismanagement of funds meant to respond to the epidemic which claimed the lives of thousands and left many more with indelible health challenges.
Speaking at a presser in Freetown, Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of CARL said: “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.”
Tommy, who is also a lawyer, told journalists that the 15 page application filed with the court claims 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.”
He added that the government violated citizens’ right to health by failing to dedicate maximum available resources to Ebola response, adding that the former’s stewardship of Ebola funds diminished the human and physical resources needed to handle the Ebola outbreak.
“The government has failed to conduct an effective investigation into the violations of the right to life and the right to health caused by mismanagement of the Ebola funds,” he said and added that such investigations are essential to ensure accountability and prevent future violations.
“The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human rights, and the constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone all guarantee the right to life and the right to health,” he further asserted.
He disclosed that the Registry of the ECOWAS Court of Justice is expected to serve the application on the Government of Sierra Leone shortly, “but oral hearings may not be held until next year.”
“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.”
CARL’s executive director spoke about the special audit report on the management of Ebola funds by the Auditor General, which noted that 30% of the Ebola response funds managed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation within five months of the outbreak could not be fully accounted for.
“The report noted that lapses in the management of the funds resulted in a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector. Nearly three years after the report was published, the government of Sierra Leone has declined to investigate or otherwise meaningfully act upon the findings of the Audit service,” he expressed.
The plaintiffs, he said, have requested remedies from the government for a declaration that Sierra Leone’s mismanagement of the Ebola Funds violated the right to life under Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), adding that mismanagement of Ebola Funds violated the right to health under Article 16 of African Charter and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
The plaintiffs further requested a declaration that Sierra Leone’s failure to investigate and provide redress for mismanagement of the Ebola Funds constitutes continuing violations of the rights to health and life, as guaranteed under Article 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.
They also requested 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.
Also speaking at the presser, President of Sierra Leone’s Ebola Survivors Association, Yusuf Kabba said the legal intervention by CARL was timely, expressing that they were still faced with challenges ranging from lack of adequate healthcare services and livelihood support, among a host of other challenges, with little being done by government to salvage the situation
Kabba disclosed that eleven of his colleagues lost their lives through health complications, stating that: “We don’t have access to health facilities and proper medical care for our survivors and government hasn’t done much to help us. Social service protection for survivors has not been guaranteed by the government.”
It could be recalled that 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.