Sierra Leone: NGOs denounce imprisonment of community members opposing Socfin plantations; includes company response

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Article
4 October 2016

Coalition of civil society organizations calls on Socfin to disassociate from former country director's statement that accused govt. of surrendering its authority to NGOs; Socfin did not respond

Author: Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone

"Shrinking Civil Society Space in Sierra Leone: Silencing Freedom of Expression", 7 Sep 2016

[Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Socfin to respond - Socfin did not respond.] The network notes with grave concern the inciting statement of Mr. Gerben Haringsma, the former Country Director of SOCFIN…in which he stated that “The NGOs are destroying this country…No serious investor in the agribusiness sector will come to Sierra Leone again…”This statement by Mr. Haringsma is not only a direct attack on NGOs and civil society organisations but a deliberate and calculated incitement of the government against NGOs, civil society organisations and affected communities…In view of the above we call on…The SOCFIN Agricultural Company to: Publicly disassociate from the statement by their former country director, and thereby act in line with the internationally recognized “responsibility of all business enterprises, both transnational and others, to respect human rights, including the rights to life, liberty and security of person of human rights defenders, and their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and participation in public affairs, which are essential for the promotion and protection of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development,” as per UNHRC resolution A/HRC/RES/27/31.

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Company non-response
4 October 2016

Socfin did not respond

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre sought Socfin’s response to Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone’s statement.  It did not respond.

Article
25 July 2016

Sierra Leone: Socfin country director resigns; accuses govt. of surrendering its authority to NGOs

Author: Amadu Daramy, Global Times (Sierra Leone)

"Socfin Boss Resigns", 5 July 2016

The Country Director of Socfin Agricultural Company (SL) Limited, Gerben Haringsma...tendered in his letter of resignation to the Board of Directors of the company in Brussels, Belgium...In an exclusive interview with the Global Times...Mr. Haringsma said that, he was extremely pissed-off by NGOs’ allegations that, his company was engaged in land grabbing, slavery and forced labor in the Malen Chiefdom...[He] noted that, the government has surrendered its authority to NGOs. “The NGOs are destroying this country…No serious investor in the agribusiness sector will come to Sierra Leone again…The government has allowed NGOs (like Green Scenery and FIAN-Belgium) to give the country a bad name…I hope that in the long run the government will review the NGO policy and make it more responsible”.

[As related background, NGOs wrote a letter to Sierra Leone President, see the letter here; referring to background of the case here and Socfin's response to the letter is here]

 

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Item
20 June 2016

Community members opposing Socfin plantations released from prison; NGOs increase pressure on govt.

Author: Manuel Eggen, FIAN Belgium

"Civil society organizations demand to stop land grabbing by the Agro-industrial Company Socfin and to protect the human rights of the communities", 16 June 2016

[On 16 June 2016], a group of Sierra Leonean Civil Society Organizations, held a press conference in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, to celebrate the release of six MALOA activists (Malen Land Owners and Users Association). These individuals have defended the rights of the Malen communities following land grabbing by the Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd., a subsidiary of the Belgo-Luxembourg group Socfin. A petition in support of the MALOA struggle was also handed over to the President of Sierra Leone and called for the end to the criminalization of human rights defenders in Malen...West African members of the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles and international civil society organizations [have] sent a letter to the President [of Sierra Leone] urging to cease violations of the communities' right[s]...See the letter to the President of Sierra Leone and the background of the case (June 2016). You can also see a previous letter by the Global Convergence for Land and Water Struggles – West Africa in support of Maloa...

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Item
9 March 2016

MALOA Position on the court judgement and the Malen land issue

Author: MALOA & Green Scenery (Sierra Leone)

MALOA’s position on the court case and sentence: We continue to maintain our innocence in the matter that was brought to the courts by Socfin...While the sentence is viewed as moderate the fines are extremely too high for us who are out of work because we have lost our livelihoods. We believe this was a tactic to get us into prison so that we cannot raise our voice on the unacceptable land deals in Malen Chiefdom...The land issue remains to be crucial to MALOA because as we speak more land has been ascribed by SOCFIN...MALOA continues to say that transparency is lacking in the process, subtle coercion, and sometimes use of brute force on land owning families to give up their [pieces] of land to SOCFIN is clear and as long as this is what transpired ‘everything’ will not be okay in Malen chiefdom...We will continue to also seek appropriate redress by exploring international mechanisms. 

 

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Company response
1 March 2016

Socfin response

Author: Socfin

Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Socfin Agricultural Company (Socfin Group) concerning the abuses committed, since 2013, by 6 persons (oil palm damaging) in its plantation. It is regrettable that certain organisations interpret this as a lack of independence on behalf of Sierra Leone’s judicial institutions, which in their daily work, contribute to their country’s development...Sierra Leone’s Minister of Agriculture, after having visited the LAC plantation (Socfin) in Liberia in 2009, decided to call on the Socfin Group to develop a project in his country...Subsequently, a process of upward dialogue was embarked upon together with all stakeholders :farmers, landlords, traditional and community chiefs...At that time, a majority of village farmers decided to participate in a project with SAC, while others refrained from doing so...Consequently, these symbolic actions (abuses), supported by external associations are likely to weaken the relations developed over time locally. At various occasions, so-called « associations representing the villagers » turned out not to be representing neither legally nor legitimately the local communities surrounding the plantation and are sometimes just protecting personal interests...

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Article
24 February 2016

Jail term for activists in Sierra Leone, trial of French journalists in Paris: critics of Bolloré silenced

Author: AEFJN, AFASPA, Confédération Paysanne, FIDH, Intl. Alliance of Local Communities, GRAIN, Oakland Institute, Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l’homme, Peuples Solidaires, ReAct, Sherpa & Survie

A day before the start of yet another trial brought by the Bolloré Group against French journalists, organisations denounce the imprisonment on February 5th of six local community leaders affected by the investments of Socfin Agricultural Company Sierra Leone Ltd (SAC), a subsidiary of Socfin, linked to Bolloré. A year ago, Shiaka Sama was invited to Paris by the Bolloré Group to find a solution to the conflicts linked to the exploitation  of plantations in Africa and Cambodia by subsidiaries of Socfin. Today, he is behind bars…Five other activists have also been incarcerated, after being found guilty of destroying 40 oil palm plants...[They] deny the charges…The Group received Shiaka Sama and other affected community representatives in Paris on 24 October 2014. Bolloré agreed to a second negotiating round in 2015, but this never took place…On 11 February 2016, journalists from Bastamag will appear in a hearing in Paris for defamation charges brought in by  the Bolloré Group. The company filed a complaint following the publication of an article denouncing land grabbing and the involvement of investment funds and transnational corporations…The moral and financial pressure generated by these lawsuits hampers on freedom of expression in France and increases the power imbalance between rights defenders and journalists on the one hand and groups like Bolloré on the other…[See response by Bolloré and Socfin on accusations of land grabbing here (in French)]

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Company response
22 February 2016

Bolloré response

Author: Bolloré

[T]he Bolloré Group...reiterates that it is only a shareholder of the Socfin Group...Therefore the Group cannot be held directly responsible for actions or decisions taken by Socfin...However, the Bolloré Group carries out its duty of vigilance...[T]he Group...accept[ed]...mediation with the NGOs Sherpa before the French National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD, on the Cameroonian plantation Socapalm (subsidiary of Socfin)...[T]he Group organized a meeting in October 2014, with representatives of local residents of Socfin plantations...The Bolloré Group, active as a shareholder and director of Socfin but not leader, plays a facilitating role in this case...The Socfin group...says that none of these criticisms is proved true. The Bolloré Group has every reason to believe these answers and maintain its investment, which enables many new jobs and improves the opportunity for local people to eat at the best price while benefiting from social services...The Bolloré Group recalls that it is regularly noted by agencies on its extra-financial performance and that its rating improves. The company's existing actions and its willingness to make progress should be acknowledged. As for the question raised by some media about the trial Bastamag, namely "it is still possible to inform on the activities of Bolloré Group?", the Group responds: to inform is a right, to defame is a criminal offense.

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Article
8 February 2016

Socfin's public statement

Author: Socfin

"Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court did justice to Socfin", 23 Feb 2016

Since 2013, repeated abuses were committed by 6 persons (oil palm damaging) within the SAC plantation, subsidiairy of the Socfin Group, in Sierra Leone. The 6 men who were indicted for the destruction of private property were sentenced to imprisonment and the payment of damages. This court ruling confirms the legal principle of private property protection in this country...Several NGO's maintained that only poor plantation management of the Socfin Group provoked the abuses committed by the 6 accused...Socfin is a major vector for development in the regions where it operates : oil palm and rubber are perennial cultures having a positive impact on the surrounding communities...[T]he operations of Socfin in Sierra Leone are not limited to an agro‐industrial project ; Socfin actively participates in the development of the rural Sahn Malen region : modernisation of the hospital, construction of bridges, improvement of the road network connecting the plantation and the villages to Sierra Leone's second city, improved access of the inhabitants to health care, education...

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