Environmental Activists Threatens to Sue Liberian Government Over Rights Abuses

The Key campaigner of Green Advocates, Cllr. Alfred Brownell has threatened a lawsuit against the government for allowing Sime Darby, an oil palm production company to operate in Cape Mount and Bomi Counties in violation of the citizens’ rights under the constitution of Liberia.

Cllr. Brownell said in an exclusive interview with this paper that the Executive branch of government is practicing massive human Rights violations against the inhabitants of the two counties by authorizing Sime Darby to force dwellers from their   homes.

“It is a gross violation of the Liberia Constitution which protects the rights to property; it also includes customary rights as well. As a little boy who grew up in the village, our people had no deeds to make farms and build their homes. They did not need deeds to gather herbs, make farm, and hunt and fetch water.”

“The rights upon which they gather those resources was customary, which is a legitimate property rights under the constitution of Liberia. How could the government of Liberia extinguish those rights from the people?”

Describing what he called unjust treatment Mr. Brownell said it is a serious crime for the government of Liberia to starve the people by destroying their farms and cultural heritage with bull dozers.

“You don’t need guns to go and shoot people before you know you are killing them. When you take food from them, you are starving them. If you go ahead and destroy historical graves of powerful chiefs, porro and sandi societies, you have destroyed their cultural heritage, which is part of massive human rights abuses and our courts must respond to that.”

“We have to let those in the government understand that they cannot do this and walk away with impunity; this is why we Green Advocates are standing by these oppressed people. We feel that the people from Bomi and Cape mount have been robbed of their ancestral rights that were given to them before Liberia was founded.”

Sime Darby, which is now sarcastically referred to by the people as “Sammie Damage” by dwellers of the areas, is a 3.1 billion dollar oil company that signed a concession agreement in 2009 with the government of Liberia. The agreement was to operate in four counties including Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Grand Bassa and Gbapolu on 220,000 acres of land to produce oil palm with the intend to provide jobs opportunities for the inhabitants of those counties who are now crying slave labor and unjust treatment from the company they thought would have changed their lives for the better.

In an effort to speak with the Spokes person of Agriculture Ministry on behalf of government, Mr. Hassan kaiwu, his mobile was swished of at 4:20 p.m. but another arm of government, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through its spokes person Mr. Seckai Gomah, via mobile, said EPA inspectors had not informed the office of any complaints from the citizens, so he cannot speak about something he does not know about.

Angry and frustrated, Cllr. Brownell raged as he exclaimed: “Enough is enough; the government of Liberia has to know that you match development with sustainability. The investment of Sime Darby is not sustainable if it is going to destroy the livelihood of our people. You cannot bring a 3.1 billion dollar company to invest and after investment, the people die. So we have to find a way to stop that.”

Referring to the government as Pontius Pilate, in the Bible, who washed his hands in a basin and said he was not a part of Jesus’ death. “The government cannot continue to play Pontius Pilate by saying it does not know what is going on, when, in fact, it   created this Sime Darby problem.”

This human rights advocate said, the presence of Sime Darby in Bomi and Cape Mount counties represents a flash point for conflict in Liberia. “This is a time bomb we are sitting on! It could go off in a way that no one would understand. The people are angry and could be used to bring violence and war once they are given guns, and we do not want that to happen.”

“This is why we have intervened and pursued the path of the law. Our effort is to prevent conflict in this country because we believe that part of the reasons that brought about the conflict was the issue of disenfranchisement, when poor people were being cheated of their resources.”
Few weeks ago FPA visited Sime Darby operational area in Madina, Grand Cape Mount County and saw the deplorable living condition of the inhabitants. Their community is completely surrounded by the plantation.

The rural dwellers complained of unjust treatment from the company who they said they thought would have change their poverty stricken lives for the better with job creation and social services. Many of the citizens said their lives were better off without Same Darby.  They now describe their living situation as a “nightmare” that they wish would pass away quickly.

Nancy Kollie who fills pollen bags U.S .3 cents per bag, for Sime Darby, said she in order to make U.S$ 1.00 a day, she has to fill fifty pollen bags and to be able to make U.S$3.00 for that day; she has to fill 150 bags.  Driving through the plantation, yellow machines were observed working on the plantation, covering old fell trees with soil from the earth in order for it to decay and make fertilizer for the young oil palm.

The citizen called burying of old trees as inhuman treatment because they believe that the old rubber trees could have been used by them to make char coal for sale, but they prefer burying it just so they won’t have access to it.

In the next town, people were fetching water for drinking from a polluted creek with fungi and algae all along the sides. Anyone visiting there for the first time would think the water is used for washing clothes and not drinking because of its color.

According to scientists, the qualities of water are: colorless, tasteless and odorless; but the color of the green looking water that drew a lot of attention to visitors who later found out the water was meant for drinking.