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9 Aug 2022

Elian Peltier, The New York Times

Sierra Leone: New laws covering mining activities among the world’s most protective, state that women should have equal land rights

"New Laws of the Land: Sierra Leone Reshapes Environmental Battleground" 9 August 2022

Under new laws passed this week, companies operating in Sierra Leone will have to obtain the express consent of local communities before starting mining, industrial or farming activities. Residents owning land will be able to veto any project affecting it. And the government will have to help pay for any legal fees that the local communities incur in negotiations — meaning it will most likely finance legal expertise used against the companies.

Environmental and land rights experts have hailed the laws as a bold step for the nation of eight million people, which remains among the world’s poorest despite extensive natural resources, and even as intensive mining and palm oil and sugar cane plantations have led to deforestation, landslides and soil erosion...

Two of Sierra Leone’s new laws, the Customary Land Rights and National Land Commission Acts, are going the furthest, according to environmental experts, capping a decade of fights by local organizations against land grabbing and pollution. A third law, adopted on Tuesday, strengthens community protections against mining activities...One of the laws will also end a colonial-era rule preventing descendants of freed slaves from owning land outside Freetown...

It also states that women should have equal land rights, without interference and discrimination, a problem that has long plagued Sierra Leone. While women make up the majority of the country’s agricultural work force, they often face barriers to owning land, according to Aisha Fofana Ibrahim, a professor of gender studies at the University of Sierra Leone. It has left them dependent on their husband or male relatives and at risk of losing access to land in case of divorce or death, she said. The new legislation creates committees tasked with managing communal lands and resolving land disputes, at least 30 percent of whose members will have to be women. “The law is a huge win for women,” Dr. Fofana Ibrahim said...