Kono community members in Sierra Leone and their civil society partners were alarmed by the result of an Appeals Court hearing on Thursday May 9, 2024, which produced yet another delay in their case against diamond-mining company Koidu Limited.

The community members and their partners left the court premises disappointed and helpless in a case which has dragged on for five years amidst several court adjournments.

Last Thursday, the Sierra Leone Court of Appeal again adjourned hearing Kono community’s human rights claims which seek to determine whether the community members can legally take on a multinational diamond mining company for causing harm to their livelihoods, health, and their traditional lands. The new date for hearing of the case is 21 May 2024.

Although the Presiding Judge, Justice R.S Fynn, was ready for proceedings, one of the judges, Justice Amy Wright, pleaded that she was ill-prepared for the hearing due to some administrative tasks she had been performing about the arrival of the ECOWAS delegation to the country.

It is anticipated that the ECOWAS delegation will be out of the country by the new date set by the court.

“It is extremely worrying that the people of Kono would be made to go through this frustration over the years at the hands of the powers that be without any clear sign of hope for them. Is it the case that the government is behind this delay, or it is the Koidu Limited that is pulling some strings behind the scenes to drag the case?”, Mr. Prince Boima, Chairman of the Marginalized Affected Property Owners Association, said after the court announced yet another adjournment on Thursday.

The lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Dr. Chernor Mamoud Benedict Jalloh urged the justice system to ensure that justice is delivered in a timely manner in this matter because “justice delayed is justice denied to all parties in this litigation.”

The hearing of the Koidu community’s human rights became possible after a ruling on Thursday February 29, 2024, that struck out preliminary objections filed by the defendant mining company, Koidu Limited.

The Appeals Court’s ruling last February brought a new life into the Koidu plaintiffs’ case, which was dismissed by the High Court in Makeni on 27th October 2022, on the basis that the plaintiffs were not qualified to press their claims in court.  The dismissal order also ruled that the plaintiffs should have used a non-judicial grievance mechanism before going to court, despite also recognizing that the grievance mechanism did not actually exist.

Brief background

Koidu Limited is a diamond mining company that operates in Sierra Leone and is privately owned by BSG Resources Limited (BSGR) through its subsidiary, Octéa Limited. The company is accused of degrading the living conditions of people living near its mining operations and failing to properly relocate them or compensate them for their losses.

Residents who have not been relocated find it increasingly difficult to farm because waste rock and rubble from Koidu Ltd.’s operations have covered much of their farmland. “Koidu Limited has destroyed our lives,” said Mr. Prince Boima, Chairman of the Marginalized Affected Property Owners Association. “We used to farm and live in peace, but now our lands and water sources are poisoned and covered in rubble. Our homes are shaken by explosives every day.”

Residents also report that their health has suffered. Dust from the mining operations often covers the community and causes headaches, difficulty breathing, and a burning sensation in the

residents’ eyes. The operations have also contaminated the water, and many residents develop skin rashes and digestive problems they did not previously experience. High stress from living with frequent blasting further causes headaches, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and respiratory problems in the community.

Despite promising to properly relocate affected community members in advance of expanding its mining operations, Koidu Ltd. has left the people to suffer.  Many community members have neither been relocated, nor compensated for the damage to their properties, health, and livelihoods.  Others have been relocated to a new area, but the conditions of relocation have been incommensurate with what they lost.

The community is supported in its fight for justice by Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA), a Ghana-based human rights organization, and Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), a Sierra Leonean civil society organization that organizes communities for a more just society in the face of natural resource extraction.