Resisting human rights violations in West Africa

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

ESCR-Net members have been engaged in several actions in opposition to Luxembourg registered agri-business Socfin Group and its operations in several Western African countries.

Liberian members Association of Environmental Lawyers of Liberia (Green Advocates) and Natural Resource Women Platform collaborated with Bread for All to develop the report "Struggle for Life and Land – Socfin’s Rubber Plantations in Liberia and the Responsibility of Swiss Companies,” which was released on 21 February, 2019. The report denounces human rights violations occurring in Socfin Group’s rubber plantations operation in Liberia.

Also on 21 February, 2019, FIAN Belgium released a report on land grabs by the same Socfin Group in Sierra Leone. The report, “Land Grabbing for Palm Oil in Sierra Leone: Analysis of the SOCFIN Case from a Human Rights Perspective,” outlines how Socfin has increasingly acquired land in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun District, Sierra Leone, resulting in a series of human rights violations.

On 4 March 2019, ESCR-Net sent a collective letter in the name of its more than 280 organizational and individual members to the authorities of Sierra Leone as a response to a violent incident between local communities and military personnel deployed to protect the palm oil operations by Socfin Group in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom. The incident resulted in two land human rights defenders being shot dead, presumably by military personnel. Ensuing raids in local communities resulted in 15 land human rights defenders being arrested, including a member of parliament that has worked to secure the land rights of local communities, and more than 2500 people displaced from their communities.

The incident forms part of a wider land conflict between local communities and Socfin Group as described in the previously mentioned report from Fian Belgium. As a result of opposing Socfin Group, local human rights defenders appear to be specifically targeted with violence, arbitrary detentions, defamation and efforts to criminalize their legitimate work of defending the rights of their communities.

The collective letter also called attention to the undue influence that Socfin Group appears to exert over the decision makers and public institutions in Sierra Leone, including security personnel as well as judiciary and parliament. This illustrates various manifestations of corporate capture.

ESCR-Net members are increasingly using the term “corporate capture” to refer to the means by which an economic elite undermine the realization of human rights and the environment by exerting undue influence over domestic and international decision-makers and public institutions. The Corporate Accountability Working Group has developed 8 manifestations of corporate capture and recently released these new tools to understand corporate capture.