Oakland, CA: After months of repression, the small land owners and farming families living in Pujehun, Sierra Leone are calling on the national Human Rights Commission, Civil Society Organizations, and the United Nations to support their struggle against a subsidiary of Socfin, a corporation controlled by the French Tycoon Vincent Bolloré and his associates. The call was released as a resolution  by 101 members of landholding families from 36 villages from Malen chiefdom in Sierra Leone after they met on Saturday December 1, 2012 in Pujehun.
The signatories of the resolution blame a local chief and the Socfin for harassment and the forceful takeover of their land “with no regards for the persistent protest from the various landholding family members.” People oppose the takeover of their land and the destruction of their crops and forests by Socfin, which plans to use the area for the development of its 6,500 hectare palm oil plantation, soon to be extended by an additional 5,000 hectares. More than 40 people have been arrested over the past year, and when not put in jail, those who oppose this dispossession are intimidated by the police, brought to court, and forced to pay huge fines as a punishment.
Calling for outside support for their struggle, locals are announcing the start of a movement to “peacefully resist the Socfin Agricultural Company’s operation” and proclaiming that they will “no longer allow the company’s personnel and or their machines to enter upon and operate on [their] land.”
In April 2012, the Oakland Institute released a land deal brief, Socfin Land Investment in Sierra Leone, which detailed the pattern of coercion, lack of consultation, and failure to fairly compensate Sierra Leonean villagers and landowners who have been pressured into ceding their land to Socfin. Following the release of the report, Socfin accused the Oakland Institute of being “unfair, biased and incorrect” and described it as a “typical example of western intellectual paternalism.”  Socfin is now threatening legal action against the Oakland Institute and Green Scenery, our local partner in Sierra Leone, if our report and materials pertaining to its land acquisition are not withdrawn with an apology.
“We are proud to stand by the courageous people of Pujehun, who put their life and livelihoods at risk to defend their basic human rights and their right to live on their land.” said Frederic Mousseau, Oakland Institute’s policy director and author of the Institute’s brief. “Bolloré Group, ranked among the top 500 companies in the world, and its subsidiaries has gained a reputation for descending powerfully on developing countries and setting up plantations for palm oil and rubber trees. In Cambodia, Liberia, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone, the group has a reputation for leaving communities disfranchised as they acquire land cheaply through questionable processes and act with little regard for existing owners,” he continued.
“The landowners and community members in Sierra Leone have courageously taken on a goliath.” said Mousseau. “It is of utmost urgency that the international community join them in demanding their rights be respected by the Sierra Leonean government and the investor.”
Contact: Frederic Mousseau, firstname.lastname@example.org / +1 510 512 54 58