Freetown, September 8, 2022 – Sierra Leone’s President Bio signed into law two groundbreaking bills yesterday that transform communities’ ability to protect their land rights and pursue sustainable development. The new legislation serves as a model for the rest of the world.
The Customary Land Rights and National Land Commission Acts will, among other things:
“To our knowledge, there is not a legal regime anywhere, in either hemisphere, that grants such robust rights to communities facing environmental harm,” said Sonkita Conteh, Director of Namati Sierra Leone and co-drafter of the bills.
Vivek Maru, Namati’s CEO, said that countries worldwide need to follow the West African nation’s lead.
“Whether it is in Sierra Leone, Brazil, or the United States, the causes and consequences of climate change and environmental destruction are concentrated in communities with less wealth and less power and that face discrimination. To tackle the climate crisis and open a pathway to sustainable development, countries must grant communities facing harm the right to determine what happens in the places they live. Sierra Leone has done so with this historic legislation. Other countries should follow.”
At least 20% of Sierra Leone’s arable land is currently leased to foreign businesses for mining, large-scale agriculture, and other development ventures. “Negotiations between investors and the communities whose land they seek are fraught with deep power imbalances and undermined by weak regulations,” said Conteh. “The results can be devastating — for people and for the planet.”
Momoh Bango, a farmer and resident of Subuya community in Sierra Leone’s Southern Province, explained:
“When an American and Philippine company wanted our land for a pineapple plantation, they negotiated only with our Paramount Chief. We didn’t even see the lease. They took our land and cleared part of our forest. They promised us scholarships, schools, and jobs, but it has been five years and those promises still have not been met.
“I’m so happy that our rights as landowning families have been fully respected under these laws. The power to manage and make decisions relating to our land has been given to us through their passage.”
Over the past decade, Namati Sierra Leone has worked with communities from across the country whose land has been taken or destroyed without their consent, typically by mines and mono-cropped plantations. “Not one of those communities opposes development per se,” said Conteh. “They have merely asked for development on terms that are fair.”
“After using existing — and often imperfect — legislation to protect their environment and enforce their land rights, these rural communities helped shape new laws that would work for them. Hundreds of people showed up to consultations to input on the bills’ provisions. And when the legislative progress stalled, they organized to push them through.”
Notes to Editors
For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
McKinley Charles, Director of Communications, Namati
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