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Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf committed to defend the lands of the Joghban Clan, in District Four of Grand Bassa County, against the potential new expansion of company Equatorial Palm Oil.
The Sustainable Development Institute – Friends of the Earth Liberia welcomed the President´s decision to commit to recognize and respect the rights of local communities over their lands and to say if they want palm oil plantations there or not.
On March 5th, representatives of the Joghban Clan and Sirleaf met in Monrovia, capital of the country. In this meeting the government committed to support communities in the defense of their lands against potential new attempts by Equatorial Palm Oil to expand.
The company, founded in 2005, is listed on the Alternatives Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange in the UK. In 2007, the company and the Liberian government signed an agreement for the concession of almost 14 thousand hectares to be destined to palm oil plantations. According to Equatorial Palm Oil, by the beginning of 2013 it only operated 5600 hectare, when a process to expand its crops started. The affected communities tried to resist this, but they were intimidated by a paramilitary group of the Liberian National Police, the Police Support Unit and the private security forces of Equatorial Palm Oil.
In September 2013, after some demonstrators from the Joghban Clan were beaten by Equatorial Palm Oil and Police Support Unit agents, members of communities marched to Buchanan, Grand Bassa´s capital to protest and call the authorities attention. 17 demonstrators were arrested but they were released when the local attorney confirmed there were no reasons for them to still be imprisoned.
From that moment on, SDI-Friends of the Earth Liberia supported the citizens of 11 Joghban Clan villages to file a complaint to the round table on “Sustainable Palm Oil” against the expansion plans of Equatorial Palm Oil. They claimed an end to the topographical survey, to stop clearing traditional lands and to stop the expansion of plantations.
After months of negotiations and struggles by the communities, SDI-Friends of the Earth Liberia and different international allies, President Sirleaf invited representatives of the Jogbhan Clan to the 5 March meeting.
“This is a victory for Joghban clan who have secured their rights to their most valuable resource; their land which they rely on for their livelihoods and their cultural heritag” ”, said activist Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, SDI-Friends of the Earth Liberia campaigner.
“This is also a victory for community rights in Liberia with communities’ voices being heard and respected. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a progressive practice. The government’s willingness to listen to these community concerns and taking steps to ensure that those concerns are addressed is laudable.”
“No queremos ser mártires, no queremos que hayan más mártires en este país, pero también hay una responsabilidad histórica de hacer valer la palabra y demostrar que tenemos derecho a la construcción de un mundo mejor. Y no podemos huir a esa responsabilidad”, dijo a Radio Mundo Real la dirigente garífuna Miriam Miranda, coordinadora de la Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH).
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