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Nimba ‘Mandingoes’ trial at ECOWAS Court

Liberian Observer/Maximilian Kasseh, Jr.

The regional ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria is expected to shortly commence hearing into the lawsuit against the Government of Liberia by ethnic Mandingoes hailing from Ganta, Nimba County under the banner, ‘Ganta Support Group.

The Mandingoes in Ganta are claiming that their rights have been grossly violated by the government and have, therefore, sought justice at the ECOWAS Court. They are asking the Liberian government to pay the sum of US$500 million as compensation for the violations of their human rights to life, dignity, housing, property, development, and peace.

On their behalf, the Ganta Support Group Incorporated and Sekou Sanoe have also called for an order of mandatory injunction, compelling the government to restore their ancient homes, lands and properties. The complainants have requested the Court to place a perpetual injunction restraining the government and her agents, privies, and servants from further attacking the Mandingoes in the county.

But the government in its brief, said it has nothing to do with the case, but only intervened to promote, protect and reconcile the dispute to avert future conflict in the City.

The government said the Applicants’ application is inadmissible and should be quashed because it has failed to state or demonstrate any act or conduct on the part of the government of the Republic of Liberia which is indicative of a characteristic violation of fundamental human rights of the Applicants.

“A declaration that the Applicants’ Application is inadmissible and should be quashed because it fails to state or demonstrate any act or conduct which is indicative of the Applicants capacity to sue, because only real parties of interest have the right to question the constitutionality of a statute or ordinance to waste the Court’s time,” the government said in its motion for preliminary objection.

The government’s briefs were signed by Attorney Wesseh A. Wesseh, Assistant Minister for Litigation; Director of Civil Litigation, Cllr. Gartor Tate; Attorney Lafayette B. Gould, Sr., Special Assistant to the Solicitor-General and Solicitor General Cllr. J. Daku Mulbah on June 15, 2018.

The case was brought before the ECOWAS Court by the Ganta Support Group and Sekou A. Sanoe, who claimed to be suing on behalf of 823 displaced and victimized family heads of the Mandingo people. The suit emanated from a long-standing land dispute, which was offset by an alleged illegal occupation of the land and properties of residents of Ganta (mainly the Mandingo people), who fled the country during the war only to return, and to find their properties occupied.

According to the suit, “the Mandingo people have been the owners of the properties in Nimba County from time immemorial.”

In 2006, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf set up an ad-hoc committee headed by former Internal Affairs Minister, Ambulai B. Johnson to resolve the Nimba land disputes that had the potential to plunge Liberia into crisis. Another commission was constituted comprising only Nimbaians and presided over by Musa Hassan  Billity, himself a Mandingo from the county.

The two commissions established that to achieve peace and foster reconciliation, there was the need to compensate all the squatters to enable them to vacate the properties. “With particular reference to Ganta and its environs, 250 cases out of the 280 land dispute cases were resolved and the illegal occupants were fully compensated by the defendant,” the complaint stated.

The complainants, however, lamented that since the payments were done, the ‘illegal squatters’ are yet to turn over their properties of the Mandingo people.

The suit further alleged that over 75 heads of families of the Mandingo citizens of Ganta and its environs in Nimba were brutally beaten, tortured and jailed in 2016 by state security forces during a peaceful rally in demand of their ancestral land. According to the aggrieved party, the Government of Liberia allocated the unoccupied portion of the embattled land to former government officials, including former President Sirleaf.

Sekou Sanoe, a co-complainant, who claimed to be the administrator of his late grandfather, Nyama  Sanoe’s estate said, his late brother, Varfin Sanoe, was arrested, beaten, tortured and taken to Yekepa, and killed, because he challenged the illegal occupancy of his late grandfather’s property in Ganta.

According to Sekou, the property has been forcefully encroached on and developed by the illegal occupants who have received compensation for the property from the government but have refused to leave.
The complainants requested the Court to place a perpetual injunction restraining the government and her agents, privies, and servants from further attacking the Mandingos in Nimba. They further asked the Court to declare the violent attack of the peaceful rally held in Nimba in November 2016 unlawful as it violates their human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

The government admitted to paying those squatting on the properties in settling the matter but maintained that those who received the money refused to relocate from the properties indicating that it is inconceivable to apportion such blame on the government which was intended to resolve the conflict.

The government further explained that every effort by the government to amicably resolve the land dispute was rejected, ignored or challenged by the very citizens the government intended to assist by overt expression.

“There is no evidence to demonstrate by way of a written instrument that the government has violated any rights of the applicants which is the Mandingo people of Ganta city.
 

 


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