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Sierra Leone News: As ECOWAS Court rejects SLAES application…Ebola Survivor President laments advice

The Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES) President Yusuf Kabba has expressed disappointment saying that they were not advised before taking such legal action. “Our lawyers should have advised us better, to get the necessary documentation as to not be in this kind of situation” he said. SLAES filed an application to the Court in July 2018 to be joined as a party to the case in the interests of members of the Association who are all survivors of the Ebola virus and the said Joinder Application was to be heard on 24 January 2019. Lawyer Osman Kanu representing the Government of Sierra Leone on 24 January, 2019 objected on the grounds that SLAES is not a ‘juristic person’ and does not have any legal capacity. He however referenced that SLAES is not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Presiding Judge, Justice Edward Amoaka Asante ruled that the court has deliberated if SLAES can be considered as an entity to be heard before the court and finds that ‘SLAES has not been able to prove its legal entity and therefore SLAES application is rejected.’ On 15 December 2017, two healthcare workers who are Ebola survivors, along with the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law in Sierra Leone (CARL-SL), filed a suit against the Government of Sierra Leone before the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, Nigeria. In his reaction on the court’s decision on Tuesday 26 February, 2019, Kabba said that it is unfortunate that they do not have enough evidence to prove their legitimacy. “It is disappointing for our 4052 survivors, especially when we think about what we have gone through and still going through” he said. He said that he is assured by the reaction of the three Judges noting that the GoSL should look into their matter and that they still stand a chance to get all the required documentation if they still want to pursue the matter. “We survive the virus we might also survive this” he hoped. “It is unfortunate that the government will now react to our existence as such, and they invited us to make a statement at the opening of the Commission of Inquiry and we did.  So this is how it ended, it means they don’t want to take up their responsibility that is the simple answer to all this” he said. As an association, he is confident that it will not break them down, but will give them strength to withstand whatever challenges they may face in their course of seeking justice and if that means they go to regularise their status with the CAC they will gladly do it. “What we are seeking is not for individual benefit, but for services that will cover us all especially the orphans and widows. We want health care and social economic empowerment package” Kabba said. In her response to the GoSL application, SLAES Lawyer, Yasmin Jusu Sheriff responded to the government opposition for SLAES to be joined as a party to the case as saying Sierra Leone allows several methods for organisations like SLAES to be recognised beside the CAC Act 2009, among which SLAES has fulfilled, including: registration with Ministry of Social Welfare gender and Children Affairs and the Freetown City Council. Yasmin said associations like SLAES use both means above to operate and be recognised nationwide, which in itself makes them legally liable. Lawyer Yasmin further said that as a result of recognition by ministry, SLAES has been able to open and operate bank account in SLAES name. She said that bank statements and other documents confirm SLAES as having legal relationships. She added that SLAES also has undertaken Tenancy agreement with landlords which further puts legal obligations on SLAES. Furthermore, she noted that SLAES has entered into several agreements, partnerships and collaborations with 3rd Parties including the GoSL which wouldn’t be possible if SLAES was not July recognised. The SLAES Counsel made reference to exhibits including a detailed grant agreement between the Ministry and SLAES for a Trust Fund Capacity Project and also an MoU signed by Minister of Social Welfare and the SLAES president which shows that SLAES interactions and engagements with the government has been ongoing for years. She also referenced a January 2019 Letter of Attestation by the Permanent Secretary of the Min which further shows SLAES is a reputable, credible and registered organisation. In his response, Counsel Kanu responded that legal personality is a question of Law and not Fact, which according to Section 22 of the CAC Act 2009 on the formation of NGOs, the GoSL said SLAES does not meet the criteria to be qualified as a juristic person before the law. He argued that SLAES registration with Ministry is only for operational reasons, but it does not make it a legal entity. In her reaction to the ruling Counsel Jusu-Sheriff, said that although she feels disappointed that her application was dismissed but equally so feel happy that the Counsel Kanu has assured that they would be involved in any negotiations going forward and it is their intention to work with the existing plaintiff and the GoSL for them to reach an amicable settlement that addresses all the concerns and interests of all the parties including the Ebola survivors. As the Court upheld the GoSL, Counsel Kanu says his next step is to confer with the Attorney General on the substantive action which is before the court on the way forward. Responding to questions on any settlements with the plaintiff, he replied that there is none yet. “There is an action filed and I have to take further instructions from the Attorney General to file our defence, obviously depending on the instruction from her we will decide on what is going to be our next line of action” he assured. However, Oludayo Fagbemi, from the Institute for Human Right and Development in Africa based in the Gambia is the Counsel for CARL and two others. In his address to the court on the substantive matter he stated that in his view the GoSL is yet to uphold its desire to settle out of court as they have written twice as to what it wanted. Since the original case filed in January 2018 by CARL and two Ebola survivors (plaintiffs), the government has twice written (in July and Nov 2018) to the plaintiffs that they want to settle the case out of court. “Yet the government has not come forth to settle up till today, so we are asking the court to give a long adjournment” said Lawyer Fagbemi. Counsel Kanu did not object and the court adjourned the case to 3rd July.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque & Peter Nkanga in Nigeria

Wednesday February 27, 2019.

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