Land conflict in Sierra Leone:

Serious attack on human rights defenders

Freetown, Thursday 01/24/19

On 24 January 2019, a field investigation team travelled to Pujehun Police Station to hear testimony of the ordeals of members of the affected communities

Civil society organizations (CSOs) working on land governance and human rights in Sierra Leone and internationally are concerned about the excessive use of force by state security since Monday 21 January 2019 in the malen chiefdom, Pujehun district, where two people, Mohamed Ansumana and Mustapha, were reportedly shot dead. The ensuing clashes saw dozens of Malen residents flee their homes. Reports from fleeing villagers indicate that some people were also killed in nearby woods as a result of the shooting. About eighty people, including women and children fleeing their villages, were seen in the village of Kassey, including: Hawa, Aminata, Isata, Kona and Katimu. Many people were reportedly injured as a result of the actions of the police. The besieged villages of the Malen chiefdom have now been under curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. since January 21, 2019, further restricting their basic freedoms.

These serious incidents come as communities affected by the land dispute in Malen finally saw a possible solution to the conflict, following election promises made by the new President Maada Bio and the government's dialogue efforts in recent months. Indeed, since THE arrival of SOCFIN in the chiefdom in 2011 and following the transfer of more than two thirds of the land (18,473 ha) that will be converted by the company into a monoculture of palm oil, affecting 52 villages, the communities have constantly denounced violations and abuses of human rights: lack of consultation with landowners before the transaction , lack of transparency, corruption, extremely poor working conditions in SOCFIN plantations, impact on their right to adequate food, destruction of their livelihoods and negative environmental impact.

The past few months have revived the hope of communities to find a solution, but also tensions, especially in relation to working conditions that are not improving and which do not allow affected families to support themselves with dignity. As a result, workers went on strike several times, in July and October 2018. Tensions rose to the stated level following the last strike last Friday, January 18, 2019.

Reports to CSOs indicate that two SOCFIN workers (names in the file) were seen accompanying law enforcement officers who allegedly raided the homes of ordinary community residents. In particular, a night raid took place in the village of Banaleh during which the police allegedly beat and abused indiscriminate residents. A woman (names in the file) reportedly lost ten "batas" of palm oil. Many of them fled to nearby villages for refuge.

On 21 January 2019, at 7 p.m., the police reportedly raided the village of Gbombu again, where houses were reportedly attacked and an unspecinate number of people were beaten and beaten, while others, Sorh Kudor, Abu D9 and a Momoh, were arrested and taken to Sahn Malen. The brutality used by the state law enforcement has been unprecedented since the beginning of the land dispute in the chiefdom, following the arrival of SOCFIN Agricultural Company (SAC), whose concessions extend from Lower Malen to Bendu and Nganyahun in Upper Malen. Eyewitnesses identified SOCFIN Security Vehicle 19, which was carrying state security personnel during the raids.

Resident Minister South, who visited Malen on Sunday, reportedly ordered SOCFIN workers to suspend their strike actions and return to work. The Minister then ordered that the leaders of the "secret society" put an end to the practices of the traditional society of men that was going on, giving them a 24-hour ultimatum. On Monday, January 21, 2019, state security personnel were deployed to the chiefdom. CSOs view with concern the action of the state law enforcement agencies as an act of authoritarianism and lack of professionalism that has led to the exacerbation of tensions and the resulting human rights violations, while all voices call for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Fifteen people have been arrested and are in the Criminal Investigation Department in Freetown, including Shiaka Musa Sama, an independent candidate who won the 2018 parliamentary elections in district 104. According to a Message from WhatsApp received from him, "Many false reports were made against me[…] The I[Inspecteur général]G told me this afternoon[22/1/2019] that a security meeting was held where the President lifted my parliamentary immunity… for a thorough investigation into my activities… I will remain strong despite the serious allegations against me. I have always defended mediation and dialogue, and I have never encouraged my people to use violent means to resolve conflicts. I'm innocent"

CSOs are calling on the government to conduct an independent investigation into this excessive use of force by the security forces and to release Mr. Sama, unless there is compelling evidence to support the charges against him. We also call on the government to provide adequate protection to human rights defenders working on conflict as a team continues to investigate the situation.

Since 2018, civil society has been addressing the Vice-President's Office with recommendations, such as facilitating an independent investigation into the Malen land dispute, the findings of which could serve as a basis for dialogue for the benefit of all. CSOs continue to urge the government to consider this approach for a peaceful resolution of the social and land conflict, which has already caused too many human rights violations and abuses over the past seven years for the 35,000 people affected.

As we finalize this release, testimony confirms that Hannah Deen, human rights defender and women's leader with the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) was arrested and taken to Pujehun police station.

Signatories:

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
Sustainable Development Actors Network
Trecaire

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