Monrovia – Liberia’s first commercial gold mine, New Liberty Gold Mine would soon be dragged to court for allegedly reneging on promises contained in its concession agreement, as some citizens affected by its operations in Grand Cape Mount County has run to Green Advocates International for legal assistance.
Green Advocates International is a group of environmental lawyers providing free legal services to pro poor, and slum communities across Liberia. The group exceptional work in advocacy for the protection of the environment has been recognized locally and internationally.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) pumped over US$ 19 million into the New Liberty Gold Mine, but the project according to local residents hasn’t better their lives as promised.
A citizens’ representative, Elizabeth Fahnbullah, on behalf of citizens of Cape Mount County asked Green Advocates International to help them institute lawsuit against Aureus Mining for evacuating them from Kinjor and for failing to complete housing units it embarked on for relocation purposes.
She told an experience sharing workshop organized by Green Advocates International in collaboration with the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) and the Natural Resources Platform on Wednesday that the place acquired to resettle them is in dispute, while a health post project it promised has not started.
The Natural Resource Women Platform was setup in 2010 by a group of women from forest communities and urban slum communities across Liberia to amplify the voices of marginalized women, while ARD is a group of community based organizations working in all 15 counties to resolve issues confronting rural communities, urban slums, squatter communities and independent labor unions in Liberia.
The experience sharing workshop, which brought together rights defenders from across the country, was on ‘using Voluntary Principles and International Grievance Mechanisms to Protect, Respect, and Remedy Rights of affected communities impacted by the operation of extractive companies in Liberia’.
The experience sharing workshop follows four regional trainings held by Green Advocates and her partners that attracted human rights defenders from all 15 counties.
The “using voluntary principles and international grievance mechanism to protect; respect and remedy rights of affected communities impacted by the operation of extractive companies in Liberia” experience sharing meeting was funded by the Australian High Commission Direct Aid Program.
The Direct Aid Program is a flexible small grants program funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs through the High Commission in several countries including Ghana.
DAP projects, reportedly have strong developmental focus and is aimed at contributing to poverty reduction and strengthening poor communities, John Brownell of Green Advocates International said.
In an overview of the Voluntary Principle on Security and Human Rights, John Brownell said citizens have rights to request information from companies operating in their communities.
He said several international companies are part of the Voluntary Principle on Security and Human Rights, which compel them to respect the rights of local communities where they operate.
According to John, companies are forbidden from hiring individuals who perpetrated crimes during the civil conflict and ensure that its security guards observed the rights of local citizens, while government is under obligation to individuals who are serving in state security apparatus are professional and uphold the rule of law.
For her part, the Head of Secretariat of the Natural Resources Women Platform, Maminah Carr disclosed that Liberia is not part of the Voluntary Principle on Security and Human Rights, but said it doesn’t require companies abusing the rights of local communities here.
She corroborated that companies are under obligation to uphold the rights of citizens in accordance to Voluntary Principle on Security and Human Rights or risk losing their customers.
Speaking on International Grievance Mechanism, Maminah explained that there are many grievance mechanisms and said there are positive and negative sides of the complaining process.
She indicated that the privacy of complainants is also kept private, and told rights defenders that the process is very expensive and takes lot of time.
“It is not like a court. Sometime they will not tell you that you are wrong or right, but will allow you and the institution that you have complaint to talk among yourself,” Maminah said.
The head of Head of Secretariat of the Natural Resources Women Platform also indicated that citizens resort to violence when they don’t know where to complain companies that violates that rights and assured them that Green Advocates International would help them whenever they have complaint to file against concession companies.
Participants lauded Green Advocates International and her partners for the awareness and said the DAP project has served as an eye opener for rights defenders working in rural Liberia.
Oretha Morris, a representative from Neipukollie-Ta in Bong County praised Green Advocates for the training conducted in Bong Mines and said they have started executing what they have learnt. She said they have asked China Union, a mining company operating in their area to repair the environmental damage it has created in their area.
Lawrence Bloh, Head of Sinoe County Human and Natural Resources Rights Movement said the training would help reduce conflict at various concessions across the country.
He made reference to series of confusions allegedly created by Golden Veroleum in Sinoe County.
According to him, many persons are agitating due to the company failure to provide jobs to local residents as and noted that the training now provides knowledge on where residents can turn for redress.
Report by Alloycious David