What happened?

The inhabitants of Similimi, a village in the sub-prefecture of Bondoukou, about 430 km from Abidjan in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, mainly grew cashew nuts, planted other fruit trees, legumes and vegetables on plots of land before manganese mining company, Bondoukou Manganèse SA (BMSA) began operations. These lands were their sole form of economic support until the Ivorian government granted the company a mining concession in the area.

 Organizing workshops to train and exchange views with administrative authorities about the impacts of the mining operations on the lives of the Similimi residents, national and international standards on relocation, and the associated risks.

Over more than a decade, the operations of BMSA have caused serious disruption to the lives of the people of Similimi. Improper disposal of waste products has polluted the waters, resulting in serious – and sometimes fatal – digestive disorders. Heavy vehicular traffic and extensive strip mining create constant dust and fumes causing respiratory problems. The company’s land clearing activities have deforested the landscape and devastated places of worship, making cultural practices of residents impossible. And the noise of dynamite disrupts residents’ sleep and affects their mental health. Women are particularly affected, as the loss of natural resources undermines their social status and ability to provide for the basic needs of their families.

It took an advocacy by the community members and Groupe pour la Recherche et le Plaidoyer sur les Industries extractives (in English, the Extractive Industries Research and Advocacy Group, known by its French acronym, GRPIE, for the company to provide a fountain and renovate the village school. GRPIE is the partner organisation of Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) in our partner in Cote d’Ivoire.

Air and water pollution has taken a toll on health conditions of the people vis-à-vis their means of livelihood. As pertains in a lot of mining communities in Africa, farmlands belonging farmers have been taken over for mining activities without the prior notice and approval by the owners. Even though some amounts were paid as compensation, they were inadequate.

The company has gone further to destroy the sacred hill where the residents previously conducted traditional practices.  Considering all this, the community needs to be relocated immediately.

Despite numerous complaints addressed to the mining company and the Ivorian authorities, the injuries and human rights violations have persisted without an effective remedy. The people of Similimi have requested repeatedly to be relocated away from the mine, but their prayers have gone unanswered.

 With time, the people of Similimi then decided to file a complaint before the ECOWAS Court of Justice against the Ivorian government in April 2020.

 What’s new?

On Thursday, November 30, 2023, the ECOWAS Court of Justice, at its sitting in Abuja, declared the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire guilty and ordered the government to pay 20 million CFA Francs each to eleven individual plaintiffs and to repair the environmental damage caused by the mining project.

Residents of Similimi could not hide their joy upon hearing this as they celebrated this decision of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, which found the Ivorian government culpable of human rights violations in connection with destructive manganese mining on their traditional lands. 

On Monday December 11, 2023, the ECOWAS Court of Justice released its judgment on the ruling, which justified its earlier ruling against the Ivorian government in a case brought before it by 14 representative inhabitants of Similimi, along with a communal self-help organization.

“It is precisely this failure to act, to prevent environmental damage and to hold offenders accountable, who feel free to carry out their damaging activities with a clear expectation of impunity, that characterizes the Respondent State’s violation of articles 1, 16 and 24 of the African Charter and article 12 of the ICESCR”, the court said in its ruling.

The court further accused the Ivorian government of failing to take adequate steps to protect the environment, saying: “It is important to note that, despite all the laws it has passed and all the agencies it has created, the Respondent has not been able to point, in its defense, to a single action that has been taken in recent years to hold to serious and diligent account the perpetrator of the many acts of environmental degradation that have taken place in the Similimi region.”

The Court’s November 30 ruling indeed affirms the plaintiffs’ long-held view that the State is in fact responsible for violations of Similimi community’s rights to a healthy environment, to health, to an adequate standard of living, to private and family life, and freedom of worship and religion. The Court dismissed the Applicants’ claim that their right to property was violated, for lack of sufficient evidence of ownership. 

Standing up for justice – how the legal battle started

In the hope of obtaining justice, 14 representative inhabitants of Similimi, along with a communal self-help organization, filed a complaint in the ECOWAS Court of Justice in April 2020. The communities were supported by two-member organization of the Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa (PILIWA), Advocates for Communities Alternatives (ACA) and GRPIE.

The plaintiffs accused the State of Côte d’Ivoire of illegal expropriation, non-compliance with the rules of due diligence, and complicity in environmental, economic, and cultural damage.

“Even if the Court did not recognize our proprietary right to our ancestral lands, we are indeed happy that our voices were heard by a regional tribunal and that the suffering that we have endured over the years has not been in vain,” said Adou Kouamé, village chief of Similimi and a complainant.

“We welcome this decision of the ECOWAS Court of Justice which recognized that the State of Côte d’Ivoire voluntarily facilitated and permitted the actions of BMSA, leading to the deterioration of the environment, causing health problems among residents, deteriorating the quality of water and air, destroying their crops and places of worship,” declared Mr. Rashidi Ibitowa, lawyer for the plaintiffs.


Road to justice – Highlights of activities in the last few years

Complaints registered by the residents to the authorities on many times have fallen on death ears as no action has been taken to protect them from the negative impacts of manganese extraction. 

To this end, ACA and its Ivoirian partner, GRPIE, stepped in with local lawyers to support the people of Similimi with the following:

  1. Awareness Raising
  • Organizing several meetings with the people of Similimi to help them understand their rights and the strategic actions they can take to address the risks of mining and defend their interests.
  • Organizing a learning exchange to share experiences with other communities that have been affected by mining and been through the process of relocation.


  1. Advocacy
  • Advocating and lobbying Ivoirian authorities about the need to relocate the community.
  • Creating pressure at the international level on the dangers and suffering faced by the people of Similimi.
  • The Ivoirian government continues to organize meetings with the residents of Similimi, with the aim of eventually relocating them.
  • In August 2020, GRPIE commissioned an independent study into the environmental impacts of BMSA’s operations, which revealed dangerous levels of particulate matter and noise pollution.


  1. Legal strategy

Conducting missions to investigate, document, and collect testimony and evidence necessary for legal action at the national level against Bondoukou Manganèse and at the ECOWAS Court of Justice against the government of Côte d’Ivoire.

Collaboration with the law firm SCPA les OSCARS in Côte d’Ivoire to provide pro bono legal assistance to the community and represent them in national and regional forums.

In October 2019 and May 2020, the lawyers for Similimi were granted “ordonnances de compulsoire” – orders from a court that require the company and the government to disclose the documents forming the basis for the renewal of BMSA’s operating permit despite the unresolved complaints of the community.

The documents provided reveal important procedural gaps, and the community is considering its options.

On January 29, 2021, the residents of Similimi sued the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire in the ECOWAS Court of Justice for facilitating the pollution of their natural environment, the appropriation of their traditional lands, and the destruction of their sacred sites. The Court initially set the date to release its ruling in February 2022, but later postponed, and eventually the judge’s 5-year mandate expired before the new release date could be set. As of September 2022, the plaintiffs are waiting for the new judge to be appointed to their case and clarify the status of the ruling.

In October 2019 and May 2020, the lawyers for Similimi were granted “ordonnances de compulsoire” – orders from a court that require the company and the government to disclose the documents forming the basis for the renewal of BMSA’s operating permit despite the unresolved complaints of the community.

The documents provided reveal important procedural gaps, and the community is considering its options.

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