The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court is expected to issue a verdict on a case filed by a community from Sierra Leone, who claim that their human rights have been violated by the Sierra Leonean government.

The case pertains to the government’s alleged failure to safeguard the community from health risks arising from the activities of a diamond mining firm, which occurred on May 31st, 2023.

The presiding judge, Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara, announced the date for the case after informing the parties about a change in the panel of judges due to the expiration of one judge’s tenure from the previous panel. He also reminded the parties that they had previously submitted all their pleadings, which were adopted.

On August 29, 2019, Sia Momoh and seven others filed an initiating application before the Court, asking the Sierra Leonean government to be held responsible for their failure to protect them from the human rights abuses resulting from the company’s operations.

According to Chernor Benedict Jalloh, the lead counsel for the Applicants, the government violated the Applicants’ rights to life, human dignity, a suitable environment with access to clean water, safe housing free from environmental pollution and destruction of farmlands, property, health, and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention.

The company’s activities led to two violent protests, one by the host community in December 2007 and the second in 2012, initiated by the company’s workers, who were later joined by the community. The company’s explosives were determined to be dangerous following an environmental impact assessment, based on which the company was obliged to relocate families willing to move.

However, the company acted contrary to the agreement, forcibly ejecting families who refused to move, and destroying their properties with the support of government agents. This led to a violent protest that left some dead and others wounded, for which the company denied liability, although it disbursed a “goodwill donation” through the Ministry of Mines that was insufficient to cover the medical bills of the victims.

Following the incident, the government set up a judicial commission – Jenkins Johnson Commission – to determine the level of involvement of state security agents and make recommendations.

The applicants alleged that the report of the commission, submitted in 2008, indicted state security agents and recommended, among other things, the prosecution and disciplining of officers indicted, the amendment of police rules of engagement, the reform of mining laws and practices, and the suspension of the blasting undertaken by the company until after the resettlement of the indigenes.

However, the government did not implement any of the recommendations, thereby exposing the indigenes of the community to continuous rights violations. The victims of the 2012 protest received no compensation, and the security agents had not been prosecuted to date.

The affected victims, including those awaiting relocation by the mining company and those already relocated but not adequately accommodated by the company, formed an association – Marginalised Affected Property Owners Limited (MAPO) – to advocate for their right to remedies.

Due to lack of compensation, environmental degradation, inadequate accommodation, poor health conditions, poor access to clean water, and loss of property as a result of the company’s activities, the victims’ standard of living had regressed, and some of their lands were turned to dumpsites or flooded from diverted water channels.

The applicants wrote a letter of complaint to the Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but it yielded no results.

The Applicants are seeking various remedies from the Court, including the declaration of the government’s violation of their rights, the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, compliance with the mining lease agreement, and compensation for the physical, psychological, and economic stress suffered by the victims.

Justices Dupe Atoki and Sengu Mohamed Koroma are also on the panel for the case.