Similimi Community welcomed Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA) staff for a combination of jubilation and serious discussions on the outcome of a recent ruling by the ECOWAS Court of Justice, which condemned the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire for failing to halt the negative impacts of manganese mining in the area.

African culture was at its best.  Jonathan G. Kaufman, the Executive Director of ACA, and Lalla Toure, ACA’s Legal Coordinator, were treated to a rich cultural display and mouth-watering local dishes as the community celebrated the Court’s decision of November 30, 2023 in Adou Kouame and 14 others v. Côte d’Ivoire, which validated the claims of 14 representative inhabitants of Similimi, along with a communal self-help organization.  Festivities included dancing, drumming, and a todjo, a traditional meal prepared by men in the bush.

The court found the Ivorian government culpable of human rights violations in connection with destructive mineral extraction on their traditional lands by Bondoukou Manganese Ltd, an Indian-owned mining company. The government was ordered to pay 20 million CFA Francs to eleven individual plaintiffs, repair environmental damage, resettle the community, and prosecute the authors of the environmental destruction at Similimi.

The ACA team was joined by representatives of Groupe de Recherche et de Plaidoyer sur les Industries extractives (GRPIE), a non-profit organization that advocates for democratic, transparent, and responsible management of natural resources for sustainable socio-economic development in Côte d’Ivoire and globally.  GRPIE has been working on behalf of Similimi and other communities affected by the operations of Bondoukou Manganese for over a decade.

The Hopeful Path Ahead

Celebration aside, ACA’s visit to Similimi was an opportunity to explain the decision of the Court to Adou Kouamé, a key figure in the matter and his people, and to discuss the way forward in the matter.

The team commended the entire community of Similimi for their tireless efforts at pursuing the case to its conclusion and encouraged them to remain united towards their common good.  Given the constant delays that many successful claimants face in executing ECOWAS Court decisions, however, they should not anticipate that the 20 million CFA Francs awarded by the court to each of the eleven individual plaintiffs and the order to repair the environmental damage caused by the mining project will be honored immediately.

ACA, GRPIE, and community members all agreed that the Court’s award to the eleven claimants should be managed in a way that benefits the entire community.

The Fight for 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 ACA and GRPIE in their capacity as members of the Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa (PILIWA). The plaintiffs accused the Côte d’Ivoire of illegal expropriation, non-compliance with the rules of due diligence, and complicity in environmental, economic, and cultural damage.

The Court’s November 30 ruling determined that the State was responsible for violations of Similimi residents’ rights to a healthy environment, to health, to an adequate standard of living, to private and family life, and to 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.  “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, one of the complainants.