Liberia: Government, Salala Rubber Plantation Company Suffer Major Setback in Court Case
Kakata, Margibi County-The Government of Liberia and the Salala Rubber Plantation Company (SRC) have suffered a major legal blow in an ongoing Petition for Declaratory Judgement before the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Kakata, Margibi County.
On Tuesday, Assigned Circuit Judge His Honor Cllr. J. Kennedy Peabody denied and quashed the Government of Liberia Motion to Dismiss a Petition for Declaratory Judgement filled by 22 communities located in Margibi County.
By Selma Lomax, [email protected]
FrontPageAfrica Judicial Reporter who witnessed the proceeding said Government and SRC lawyers fumbled to defend the Motion to Dismiss as the Communities lawyers represented by Green Advocates International prevailed with the Assigned Judge sustaining the Resistance to the Motion to Dismiss.
Following legal arguments into the Motion to Dismiss, His HonorJudge Peabody ruled “Wherefore and in view of the foregoing facts and circumstances, it is the considered opinion of this Court that there are factual issues raised which needs evidence taking since the parties are contesting over the subject property hence, the Motion to Dismiss is hereby denied, overruled and the resistance of the Respondent/Petitioner is hereby sustained for their reasons stated”.
The Motion to Dismiss filled by the Government of Liberia grew out of a Petition for Declaratory Judgement filled by the Petitioner, a total of 22 communities including 37 villages and towns seeking the aid of the Court to declare their rights to land being covered by Salala Rubber Plantation Company.
The Petitioners indicated in their petition that they are pre and post-independenceinhabitants of land that was granted to SRC by the Government of Liberia through a concession agreement.
During argument Government lawyers led by Cllr. J. Adolphus Karnuah, II assisted by SRC lawyer, Cllr. Albert Sims stated that the Public Land Law of Liberia 1956 declared the land which is subject of the Petition for Declaratory Judgement a public land and thus the Government of Liberia was legally right to grant the land to SRC through a Concession Agreement.
Government lawyers also argued that the Government is the original owners of all land and has the right to give land to any individual or company for concession purpose.
In further argument, Government lawyers also indicated that the Petitioners have sat for so many years without raising any issue and can not now be claiming to have rights to the land covered by the Concession Agreement and thus have no legal capacity to sue.
In counter argument, Green Advocates Lawyers led by Cllrs. J. LavelaSupuwood, Amara M. Sheriff, Margaret M. Nigba and Atty. Samwar S. Fallah insisted that the communities have the capacity to sue because they are citizens of Liberia and have been living on the land which is subject of the Petition for decades before the Government of Liberia granted the Concession agreement to SRC.
The Respondents also said there is no statute of limitations in bringing an action to declare rights and seek relief against the Government of Liberia.
Following lengthy legal arguments, the Presiding Judge His HonorPeabody ruled that the Petitioners have the capacity and the Petition for Declaratory Judgement needs evidence taking and therefore the Petition cannot and should not be dismissed as requested by the Government of Liberia.
The denial of the Motion to Dismiss is a big legal blow to the Government of Liberia and SRC as FPA reporter observed that the communities are very united and firmed in having their rights to the land declared by the Court.
The Court room was parked with people from the communities who tuned out in large number to witness the hearing. After the hearing, the Petitioner were rejoicing and chanting slogans “We want our rights, we want our land”.
Abraham Kamara, who is now blind as he claimed it is a result of maltreatment by SRC security said SRC has overtaken all their land and they now don’t have anywhere to make farms.
“We have nowhere to make farms, the rubber trees have circled our towns and villages and we cannot survive”, said Kamara.
Kamara said for too long SRC has overlooked the local communities, forcefully removed them from their customary land and subjected them to suffering.
James Whale, one of the Petitioners also said they are living in extreme poverty because they have nowhere to make farms with everywhere now covered by SRC rubber.
Whalee also said the graves of the forefathers are now under rubber trees with SRC wasting chemicals on the dead and also their cultural shrines, snakes’ bushes and other traditional places are no longer in existence.
He said listening to Government lawyers saying because they have not sued government long ago it means they agree to the actions of the Government and SRC, Whalee said as communities they are already suffering and don’t have the money to hire lawyers to fight for them against the Government that’s why it has taken so long.
“We are happy for Green Advocates to come and fight for us. We been suffering for long but we didn’t have money, that’s why we have not been able to come to Court but it does not means be are happy with what been happening to us”, said Whalee.
The Petition will be a landmark legal case in the land rights history of Liberia and could set the stage for communities to begin challenging the manner and form in which Government is granting land to concessionaires without the consent of the local communities.