‘This Brazen Security Impunity MUST STOP’ – Grassroots Defenders; welcomes Kinjor fatal violence Probe

MONROVIA: The West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders’ Directory is alarmed and saddened by the heavy-handed police action against local residents of the Mining Town of Kinjor and surrounding communities in Grand Cape Mount County, Western Liberia, who were protesting against the repressive practices of the Bea Mountain Mining Company, demanding that this level of brazen impunity MUST STOP as it welcomes investigation into the Bea Mountain Saga. .

Notwithstanding the West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders’ Directory noted that the Turkish Mining Company is accused of failing to fully implement the terms of its concession agreement, while at the same time abusing the poor people and dumping harmful chemical substances in their water sources and the environment.

The group in a press release said what started as a peaceful protest mainly by women and children of the affected communities carrying placards on Wednesday, February 28, soon turned chaotic and violent as the Liberia National Police (Emergency Response Unit – ERU) moved into the communities to quell the protest.

Community residents told the Directory that between 7 to 8: pm, the police resorted to the indiscriminate shooting of teargas causing residents to flee the town into the bush, with pregnant women and children suffering suffocation. “Many were forced to sleep in the bush to escape the effects of the teargas and for fear of reprisal,” the West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders’ Directory alleged.

The group noted that the situation escalated on the morning of February 29th, when the police attempted arresting one of the protesters who is said to have resisted arrest, saying however that  even after 17 years old defender Abraham Kamara was subdued, a police officer still shot and killed him at close range.

“It was at this point, according to eyewitnesses, that angry youth went on the rampage, throwing stones, while the police responded with live bullets. At least two other protesters are known to have been shot dead, our investigation revealed. Two of the three killed were students,” the West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders’ Directory further alleged. .

The dead, according to the group, were identified as Bangalie Kamara, 21 years old and Essah Massaley, 28 years of age. Essah returned to his family from Sierra Leone in December last year, where he had been studying.

The statement by the West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders’ Directory pointed out that nine protesters are reported to have been critically injured, some with bullet wounds and admitted to hospital. Several Police officers are also said to have sustained injuries, with thousands of dollars worth of public and private properties destroyed.

“16 Community defenders were taken into Police custody and charged with burglary, arson, disorderly conduct, rioting, among others. They were however released upon the intervention of the County Legislators, the group maintained, stating that while condemning the disproportionate use of lethal force on the aggrieved residents in defense of their land, livelihood and human rights, the West African Frontline Grassroots Directory welcomes the investigation reportedly launched by authorities into the fatal violence.

“It is worrying however that more than two weeks after the government announced probe into the incident, authorities are yet to name any suspects for the deadly force used on citizens who are struggling for survival,” the group stressed, saying, “The Directory urges authorities to conduct a full scale investigation to identify those culpable and ensure that they are prosecuted and punished for shooting the defenders who had been voicing their legitimate concerns.”

Said investigation, the Directory stated, should be extended to a review of Bea Mountain’s Mineral Development Agreement to determine whether the Company has been in compliance with its obligations.

In a separate brutal crackdown on indigenous communities, The Directory has received information that the death  of the late Boimah Lansannah of Darma Town, in Zepeh Clan, Senjeh District, in Bomi County happened when he was police custody. Darma is in a community affected by the operations of the Mano Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP), formally Sime Darby.

According to family sources and the Affected Community Leadership, Boimah was arrested along with other residents on October 29, 2023 by MOPP Security, backed by the Police Support Unit (PSU) of the Liberia National Police on suspicion of stealing palm and other items belonging to the company.

Boimah, a farmer and rubber tapper, is believed to have been tortured and thrown into prison in Tubmanburg, where he fell sick, and was taken to hospital for treatment when his conditions had worsened. Boimah was later pronounced dead and hurriedly buried reportedly, on the instruction of the local authorities.

It is not known what must have killed him, but the Darma Affected Community Leadership suspects the government was hiding something, for which the county authorities buried the victim in the absence of family members and the community.

The Grassroots Directory reckond that the Kinjor violence is emblematic of the undercurrent of discontent in communities affected by the operations of multinational concession companies across the country.

From Bea Mountain in Grand Cape Mount, to Mano Oil Palm in Bomi, to MNG Gold in Bong, to Golden Veroleum in Sinoe and Salala Rubber Corporation in Margibi Counties, the Directory has documented how indigenous communities and their defenders are subjected of harsh conditions and brutality perpetrated by these foreign companies with the support of state security.

The Directory further maintained that it is in the interest of Liberian authorities to undertake a comprehensive review of all concession agreements in the country to guarantee a balance between community rights and livelihood and foreign direct investment, stating that the Government of Liberia appears to only be concerned about protecting investors, but remain indifferent and laidback without heeding the cries and anxieties of its citizens in the face of the blatant violations.

“In all of the concessions across the country, Liberians have been killed, injured, imprisoned or uprooted from their habitats and livelihood destroyed by police actions without any form of accountability. This level of brazen impunity MUST STOP,” the Directory demanded, calling for the formulation of a policy to regulate police conduct in responding to grievances expressed by frontline grassroots environmental and human rights defenders as well as indigenous communities.

The West African Frontline Grassroots Defenders’ Directory is a documentation initiative of the MRU CSO Platform, a network of indigenous land, environment and human rights defenders across the sixteen countries in West Africa.

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