Equatorial Palm Oil Accused of Breaching Land Rights Agreement in Bassa
Nohn Town, Grand Bassa County – Residents of Nohn Town in District #4, Grand Bassa County are calling on international land rights advocacy groups and civil society organizations to intervene and save their land from the Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO).
Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh/[email protected]
Speaking to FrontPage Africa in Nohn Town, the citizens accused EPO of using some of their kinsmen to coerce them in entering into agreement with the company to acquire portion of their land for cultivation.
According to them, some prominent citizens of the town who no longer live in the town were invited by the company to ask them to give in to the request of EPO.
They also alleged that the company has also begun conducting studies within the area in preparation for clearing.
The company denies the allegation.
“They came to only enrich those who have money and are privileged. That’s why we will not allow them to encroach on our land,” said Assistant Town Chief Joseph Glebo.
“They can go and bring all our people from Monrovia. We remain committed to our land and we will preserve our land for the future, for our children.”
“This signature on the paper is the people that EPO brought from Monrovia, and not us,” added Glebo.
“The reason that we don’t agree is that they want to take all of our land from us,” said Martha Tokla, representative of the women group in the town.
“They have not told us what we will benefit.”
“The company’s officials told us over and over that they want our land, including this very place we are sitting. We will never agree,” she vowed.
Another resident Petermah Johnson added: “Our ‘no’ is our ‘no’. We the youths will continue to stand up for our right.”
“Our land is our future. We were beaten, abused and jailed because of our land. We are willing to die for our land.”
When contacted EPO denied the allegation and termed it as a smear campaign intended to tarnish the reputation of the company.
The company in a statement issued by one of its officials, Jasvinder Singh said it will respect the agreement signed in 2015, which called for citizens free prior and informed consent (FPIC) in future negotiation.
He said the meeting was held with cross section of residents and was part of the citizens’ engagement process.
“EPO recently concluded its compensation payments in its Phase 1 consented communities. Land development is progressing after payment was smoothly done in these areas,” Singh contended.
It asserted that the community engagement team has begun holding consultations at the request of some of these local communities.
“The community engagement team has initiated community engagements with phase 2 communities adhering to FPIC principles.”
“Some communities in phase 2 namely Gbah Town and Weleysama have been inviting the company and have since provided their consent in writing for development after the completion of all necessary assessments guided by RSPO NPP principles and criteria,” he averred.
It added that once all the FPIC engagements and all required assessments (ESIA, HCV, and HCS) in phase 2 have concluded, the company will have a clear picture on where it will be able to develop and where it will avoid.
“EPO will always respect the decision of the communities and have recently proved their commitment by completing the crop compensation payments in Phase one,” Singh avowed.
The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) has termed the allegation as disturbing and called on EPO to follow the legal procedures.
According to Arthur Cassell, preparatory activities for land clearance would be unlawful, as they do not respect communities right to give or withhold their free prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which is a requirement provided for under both national and internal laws.
Cassell noted that FPIC is a key principle of Liberia’s Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands, which provides communities the right to give or withhold their consent to activities planned on community land.
The law was legislated primarily to allow communities benefit more from their forest resources.
FPIC is also an established legal right principle supported by numerous regional and international legal instruments to which Liberia is legally bound, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Right (ACHPR).
Nohn Town is one of several communities found within Joegbah Clan.”
“It can be recalled that the clan and the company were embroiled in a bitter dispute between 2013 and 2014 that led to the destruction of the company’s properties and flogging and incarceration of scores of the residents.
The dispute was settled in 2014 when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made a remarkable decision by putting a halt to EPO’s expansion and assured the residents that their land would be secured.
This led to the signing of a landmark agreement between the clan and the company in 2015, and witnessed by the government of Liberia and several nongovernmental organizations.
The agreement, among other things, calls for the recognition of the rights of the people of Joegbahn Clan and pointed out that the company should respect the decision of the people.