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Images of land exploitation

INVESTIGATIONS: Top 3 Stories from SESDev You Might Have Missed in 2020 (#3 Will Shock You)

According to Human Rights News, over 12,000 cases are reported every year around the world, ranging from exploitation, land grabs, just to name a few, of which Liberia is no exception.

In Liberia, the past years have been marked with scores of violations against individual rights as well as community rights, community tribal rights, not to even mention the ones that go unnoticed.

In this article, SESDev revisits the top three investigations that began earlier in 2018, got published in 2020, and are worth following up in 2021. These investigations should claim the attention of the Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy as well as every land-related and human rights-related agencies in Liberia.

This article contains collections of the top three human rights violations documented by SESDev that actually occurred within the borders of Liberia, which were heavily backed with geographic references.

#1: [Grand Kru] Miners Violate Government’s Ban on the Use of Dredges on Liberian Waters

Illicit miners dredging on the Droh River GPS (4.6757908, –

The Droh River in Grand Kru has seen several exploitations of mining activities. These activities ranged from the use of small scale tools (shovel, digger, etc) to the use of dredges and heavy excavators.

In 2018, SESDev began developing a comprehensive report around illegal logging and mining activities in Grand Kru County, which forwarded into 2019.  In 2019, logging activities ceased as the communities, supported by SESDev, exerted insurmountable pressure on the group of Ghanian who exported NFTP chewing stick through Guinea in trucks without the communities benefiting justly.

As logging activities retarded, mining became a very major one on almost all community rivers in the County. The most affected river amongst these was the Droh River. River Droh, which is shared by three distinct communities, runs from the north of Weslo Clan to the south of Putu Town, two of three communities that were greatly affected.

As the story goes, miners would seek a memorandum of understanding with the communities along the river, and as the communities give in, the miners would pay straight forward for two months. After two months, payments would come, but not in full. The communities would then complain to district authorities, but their complaints would meet no redress.

Furthermore, the memorandum of understanding signed with these communities does not indicate the use of dredges and excavators on community rivers. In fact, the memorandums of understanding were hand-written, indicating the number of miners that would mine on the community river.

At first, the miners would start off by digging along the banks of the river, creating a drastic change along the river’s bank.

Later, they would deploy dredges on the river. Below is a snapshot of a dredge being used by Ghanaian miners in the south of the river.

Dredge deployed south of the Droh River

The use of dredges and heavy excavator became so common even after the passing of the new Liberian law by Minister Gesler E. Murray on October 29, 2019. The law bans the use of dredges on all water bodies within the borders of Liberia for the mining of gold and diamond.

With immediate effect, the use of dredges on all water bodies within our borders for mining of gold and diamond is hereby banned.

Minister Gesler E. Murray

As the ministry proposed to develop a road map that will require the collective efforts of local government, law enforcement authorities and to enforce this mandate, the case of the Droh River is worth investigating.

#2: [Maryland County]  China Railroad No. 5 Dislodge Locals in Boniken

Rock Blasting Site, Boniken Community GPS: N 4.643626
W 7.684950

This happened in Maryland County, between the people of Boniken and China Railroad No. 5. If you have traveled the road that connects Fish Town and Harper, what you may not know is that the company in question, China Railroad No. 5, received a US$ 42.7 million dollars’ contract from the Government of Liberia in 2015 to connect these two counties.

Boniken is one of the twelve communities under the Kanbo Clan in Maryland. It borders Tuo chiefdom on the North, Pleebo City on the South, Gbolobo clan on the East, and Yelewobo chiefdom on the West. It has a population of over 2,920, with most of its citizens being farmers.

As the story goes, the company met with the community to use their land through a rent contract to quarry rocks for the construction of the Fish Town – Harper Road. After bringing the community to settle for US$15,000, to be paid in three installments, they also pleaded with the community to build a six bedrooms guesthouse and to recondition and widen a community road that connects the beneficiary (Boniken) to its neighboring community, Doloken.

Long story short, the company paid off the US$15,000 in three years but did not finish up the reconditioning of the community road as well as the six-bedroom guesthouse. This, the community regard as a disservice to the MoU. After several letters of complaints to the company and to NGOs about the projects, the company replied that some factors such as the heavy down pull of rain during the rainy season had impeded the smooth operation of the projects, which, as investigated by community monitors, was not the actual cause of the delay.

To date, the projects sill lies lingering through the seasons of year, unfinished.

#3 [Grand Kru] Golden Veroleum Liberia Desecrates Jlatwen Sacred Site

Jlatwen sacred land cleared by Golden Veroleum GPS: 4.6376134, –

Golden Veroleum is a big hand in the agro-business. The company is by far Liberia’s biggest palm oil company and is backed by the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), based in Singapore.

There are scores of illegal activities documented about this company due to its operation within the borders of Liberia. First, it was identified that there were flaws in the MoU the company signed with communities in the southeast of Liberia. The agreements were marked by the RSPO as the company did not comply with the FPIC principles.

In 2014, Golden Veroleum Signed concession agreements with four mega large communities within the Wedabo Belt of Grand Kru: Ylatwen, Beloken, Gbanken, and Zoloken. Three of these communities, on the same date of September 12, 2014, signed MoU, giving away several hectares of their land.

These communities were put under the impression that there would be more jobs. Remember, 2014 was the year Ebola hit the country hard, leaving many people in destitution.  The chiefs and elders were hungry for such opportunity so they went for it with every grasp of a chance. They signed a 65-year (2014 – 2079) lease agreement with the company, without seeking legal advice or CSOs intervention for that matter.

In 2018, things begin to go south as the company began to fall back on several promises made to the communities in the MoU. The MoUs outlined activities such as the rehabilitation and construction of schools, hand pumps, major roads that connect the communities, etc. Moreover, the lack of adequate information to the communities as to how many dollars are being deposited into each community development account raised a huge red flag.

SESDev along with other CSOs came in and investigated. It was discovered that most of the allegations were true. With pressure from these communities, backed by CSOs, the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) mounted on Golden Veroleum to revisit the MoUs with the communities as they were marked as deceptive.

Whether or not these communities will revisit their MoUs with the company is totally out of CSOs’ control. But as far as investigations have it, many negative impacts as to the operation of the company on the community land have been identified. One of such is the clearing of the community sacred land for the construction of warehouses and dormitories for their workers.

While SESDev was following up on the saga of the flaws in MoU with the communities in 2020, they discovered in one of the communities, Ylatwen to be specific, Golden Veroleum had gone in isolation, conducting a massive clearing of the community sacred land. When confronted by the community, they apologize for it in a letter but took no immediate action to vacate the premise.

Construction of warehouses and residences for workers found on community sacred sites. GPS: 4.6376134, -8.1531642

The community monitors found out that in addition to clearing, the company was cutting logs off the sacred forest to construct their facility, and also using the sacred ground to dispose of chemical plastic and unwanted palms.

Unwanted palm disposed on community sacred forest GPS: 4.6386121, -8.1538452

These complaints were documented and pushed forward to the RSPO for intervention. The question is, will the RSPO act on these human rights violations? Maybe this is the reason why Golden Veroleum left the RSPO in the beginning. Because they didn’t want to abide by the round table’s principles and criteria.

Those were the top 3 three investigations SESDev covered in 2020. These investigations have more to offer as the communities are yet to revisit their MoU with the company.

In the meantime, tell us what you think about these investigations in the comment section below. Do you think SESDev should follow these and other similar stories in the future?