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Sierra Leone enacts unprecedented laws related to land, climate, and sustainable development

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:

  • Grant all local communities the right to Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) over all industrial projects on their lands;
  • Ban industrial development, including mining, timber, and agribusiness, in old-growth forests and other ecologically sensitive areas;
  • Incorporate public environmental license conditions into binding legal agreements between communities and companies; and
  • Establish local land use committees to make decisions about how community lands are managed, and mandate that those committees are at least 30% women.

“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.[1][2]

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.[3] “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

  • [1] In the handful of places that codify the right to Free Prior Informed Consent, for example, the right is typically limited to Indigenous peoples, and even then it’s often watered down to ‘Free Prior Informed Consultation and typically excludes mining projects.
  • [2] Sonkita Conteh, Director of Namati Sierra Leone, and Eleanor Thompson, Deputy Director of Namati Sierra Leone, drafted the two bills in their private capacity as lawyers.
  • [3] Action for Large-Scale Land Acquisition Transparency (ALLAT) reported that between 2009 and the end of 2012, foreign agribusiness investors had secured 50-year leases with possible extensions to 21.4 percent of the country’s total arable land. This does not include leases for mining operations, forestry, or other ventures.
  • The Customary Land Rights and National Land Commission bills were introduced to Parliament on October 21st, 2021 by Dr. Turad Senesie, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning. They were passed by unanimous votes in parliament on August 8th, 2022.
  • To learn more about land and environmental injustices in Sierra Leone, and how communities are remedying them with the support of Namati paralegals, watch this 11-minute documentary or review the stories and blogs on Namati’s website.

Contact Information
For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
McKinley Charles, Director of Communications, Namati | Mobile / WhatsApp: +254 794 677 868


September 8, 2022 | Namati