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Socfin lawsuits (re defamation by Green Scenery, Sierra Leone)

Snapshot:

Since 2012, Socfin has filed several lawsuits against environmental NGO Green Scenery in Sierra Leone alleging defamation. The suits are in response to Green Scenery’s reporting of human rights abuses on Socfin’s palm oil plantation in Sahn Malen Chiefdom.


Factual Background

In 2011, Socfin, a multinational agribusiness group headquartered in Luxembourg, obtained a 50 year lease for 6,500 ha of fertile land in Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehan District, in the south of Sierra Leone to cultivate palm oil. Locals have strongly opposed Socfin’s presence, because of the lack of proper consultation in the land deal, the company’s lack of transparency, and inadequate compensation for land owners. In October 2011, protestors gathered to contest the land deal resulting in 40 protestors being arrested.

Since 2011, tensions between Socfin and the surrounding community have heightened, with increasing reports of grave human rights abuses taking place in the region. Complaints include pollution of the community’s water sources, violent clashes between Socfin security forces and community members, and excessive force used during police raids against the community.

The NGO Green Scenery released several reports which highlight allegations of the inadequate compensation, corruption, and pressure on land owners to give up their land.

Legal Argument

Socfin has filed several defamation lawsuits against Green Scenery and its Executive Director following reports on the human rights implications of Socfin’s activities in the area.

In most of the suits, Socfin asks the Sierra Leonean court to order Green Scenary to apologise, pay damages, and stop publishing information that the company may consider defamatory.

Legal Proceeding

In 2013, in response to two 2012 reports titled, “Land Owner Protests against Socfin’s Operation as Police Intimidation Continues” and “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa- Socfin Land Investment in Sierra Leone” which highlighted Socfin’s activites in the Malen Chiefdom, Socfin filed a complaint against the NGO Green Scenery, alleging defamation.

This suit was challenged by Green Scenery, but was not pursued further by Socfin. The matter was sent out of court.

In 2019, Socfin filed a defamation complaint against Green Scenery in response to a new article they published regarding the human rights implications of Socfin’s palm oil plantation on the local population.

In July 2019, Socfin sought a default judgment from the court, which was allegedly never served on the defendant or his lawyer.

In November 2019, Socfin claimed that Green Scenery was in breach of the default judgment, arguing the court had restrained the NGO from publishing information relating to the operations of Socfin.

On 7 November 2019, the High Court of Sierra Leone adjourned the contempt of court hearing brought against Green Scenery, after Socfin failed to appear in court. Green Scenery requested the judgment that led to the contempt charges be set aside as they allege they were never properly served. Additionally, they requested that the court review the legitimacy of the July 2019 ruling.

On 22 November 2019, the High Court of Sierra Leone adjourned the contempt of court hearing for a second time.

 

News Items

- “Socfin vs. Green Scenery contempt case adjourned again,” Politico SL, 22 Nov 2019
- “Landgrabbing by SOCFIN in Sierra Leone-documentation,” Fian Belgium
- “Sierra Leone environmentalist fights contempt charges in High Court,” Farm Land Grab, 9 Nov 2019
- “SOCFIN Using Intimidating to Silence Local Opposition to African Land Grab,” Oakland Institute, 3 Jun 2013
- “Understanding land investment deals in Africa: Socfin land investment in Sierra Leone,” The Oakland Institute, Apr 2012

Socfin

- Socfin’s response to report titled “Land Grabbing for palm Oil in Sierra Leonne,” Apr 2019, UN Reports


- “Report of the Special Rapporteurs on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes on his mission to Sierra Leone,” Note by the Secretariat for the Human Rights Council, 28 Sep 2018

Court Documents

- Complaint by SOCFIN against Green Scenery for Defamation, 2013