Over 50 Human rights Organisations across the world are calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to uphold its obligations to promote, respect, protect and fulfil human rights in accordance with international standards and national laws. They say Sierra Leone is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and, as such, is bound to uphold the following human rights obligations, among others: the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the rights to peaceful assembly and of association and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention.
The organisations also emphasised that Sierra Leone is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and has thus undertaken the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate food., adding that both of the Covenants mentioned above also state that “in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.” The ICESCR also establishes the right to work, under just and favourable conditions, and the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.
In a special report, which has been shared globally, the organisations say that Sierra Leone is also party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which, among other things, establishes an obligation to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality, the right to the same employment opportunities and to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, adding that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Sierra Leone is signatory, recognizes the indivisibility of all human rights and the rights of the African peoples to development, underscores their right to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources and prohibits the deprivation of these under all circumstances.
Moreover and according to their report, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establishes the right of indigenous peoples to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used, and to free, prior and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands.
The say the Declaration also recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.
“We want to recall the UN Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, which establishes the obligations, among others, to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her actions to defend and promote human rights” the report stated.
Notwithstanding the legal obligations outlined above, the organisations say they understand that Socfin Group’s palm oil plantations in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom have resulted in serious violations of the right to food of impacted communities. Reportedly, after losing the land that they have traditionally used for their subsistence, many dispossessed people, including villagers, have been compelled to seek employment on the Socfin palm oil plantation in order to survive; allegedly under harsh conditions and with minimal compensation.
“We understand that women have been particularly impacted by the plantations, as they are now required to walk much farther to collect firewood and water. Women also allegedly face discrimination in hiring, with most local employment opportunities being offered to men. Female workers employed by Socfin Group in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom reportedly earn less than male workers for the same jobs, when they are employed, and often suffer sexual harassment and gender-based violence at work. We note, with concern, that community human rights defenders (male and female) who have raised concerns about the palm oil project have been targeted with violence, arbitrary detentions, defamation and efforts to criminalize their legitimate work to defend the internationally recognized human rights of the communities affected by the project” the report affirmed.
ICESCR-Net, as the consortium of Organisations is known, is concerned that Socfin Group has been exerting undue influence on the Government of Sierra Leone and its authorities, including through allegedly influencing the police and military, as well as through seemingly exerting pressure on the judiciary and parliament.
The consortium says that stripping a member of parliament, Hon. Shiaka Sama, of his parliamentary immunity, presumably for his opposition to Socfin Group is a manifestation of corporate capture, exemplified in judicial interference and the manipulation of security services for the benefit and advancement of corporations and the private sector.
The Consortium of organisations is therefore requesting that In light of the gravity of this situation, the Government of Sierra Leone takes all necessary steps to:
- Secure the unconditional release of all MALOA members arrested and detained by the Sierra Leone Police in connection with the events of 21 January, and immediately drop all outstanding arrest warrants against members of the Malen communities, which have been filed in an apparent reprisal for their activities to defend and promote human rights.
- Launch an independent and impartial investigation into the killings of the two community human rights defenders, identified in reports as Mohamed Ansuma and Mustapha.
- Provide adequate protection for the members of the Malen communities and their advocates against threats, reprisals and harassment by members of the state security forces or individuals with ties to Socfin Group and protect human rights defenders working to defend land rights in Sierra Leone. Completely demilitarize Sahn Malen.
- Take all possible steps to limit undue corporate influence over public processes and actors. including via effective legislative, policy and enforcement mechanisms which enable the state to safeguard the human rights of its population, regardless of any business interests at-stake. 5. Promote a model of development that upholds human rights and environmental sustainability, including the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent, and allows people to sustain their livelihoods and live in dignity. Finally, please inform us of any measures taken in this regard