Ebola Case Comes up in ECOWAS Court on February 6

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By Amin Kef Sesay

The ECOWAS Court, sitting in Abuja, Nigeria will again conduct a hearing in the case filed by Ebola survivors and the local NGO CARL-SL against the Government of Sierra Leone (GOSL). The matter, which was filed against the Government in 2017, alleges that the mismanagement and possible loss of Ebola funds, as documented in the report of the Auditor General in 2015, led to the violation of the rights to life and health of Sierra Leoneans.

This is the first time that citizens have taken legal action against the Government based on the findings of the Auditor General. If heard to conclusion, it will be a major development in establishing a nexus between corruption or mismanagement of public funds and corruption. The Applicants in the case argue that by failing to dedicate the maximum needed resources to the Ebola response, failing to comply with various accounting and procurement procedures, and by failing to conduct effective investigations into the mismanagement of Ebola funds, the Government is in violation of its human rights obligations under various international covenants.

These include the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Sierra Leone is a party to all of these conventions. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and other remedies for Ebola survivors.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone recorded over 14,000 confirmed cases of infections and almost 4000 deaths. Many of these included healthcare workers. While many of the over 14,000 infected persons survived, they continue to deal with life-changing challenges relating to their physical and psychological wellbeing.

The case itself was inherited by the Government of President Julius Maada Bio, having being filed during the life of the previous Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The present Government had earlier indicated its plan to settle the matter out of court, something that the Government Transition Team recommended in its report of July 2018. It has therefore come as a surprise to many that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice has chosen to submit a defense to this action—effectively going against Government’s originally stated position, as well as defending allegations of corruption under the previous APC regime.

When the matter comes up before the ECOWAS Court on Feb. 6, the parties will provide an update to the court on the status of settlement talks, as well as to understand why the Government has changed its position on the matter. The Court will also hear other motions that have been filed by the plaintiffs including one that requests the court to hold its hearings in Sierra Leone as well as an application to summon expert witnesses. The Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES), the umbrella organization for Ebola survivors is also seeking to be joined as a party to the matter.

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