Public Interest Lawyers Meet, Strategize on Institutionalizing Practice

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The Public Interest Lawyering Initiative of West Africa (PILIWA), a practitioner-led, movement-building initiative that seeks to transform the role of lawyers in West African communities has ended a strategic meeting in Monrovia, Liberia with a resolve to institutionalize the organization. The meeting, which held last week was attended by five members of the Steering Committee (SC) of the sub-regional legal group.                    

Commenting on the achievements of PILIWA, Dr. Michel Yoboue, who is also Chairman of the MRU-CSO Platform, said, they have successfully taken on several court cases to domestic courts and the ECOWAS court to seek justice for affected communities in the region.  They intend to continue challenging the illegal operations of multinational companies in the region.

At the meeting, Madam Lalla Toure a Malian lawyer, also the Legal Director for Advocates for Community Alternative (ACA) based in Ghana noted that the Koidu conference will adopt the five years strategic plan crafted in Monrovia.

“Koidu is important in many respects as it is emblematic of community resilience in the fight for land rights in Sierra Leone.  It is one of the many communities in the region affected by the operations of multinational mining companies. In March 2019, about 73 Koidu residents under the banner of the Marginalized Affected Property Owners (MAPO), filed a class-action lawsuit against Koidu Holdings, alleging breaches of contract, contraventions of the Mining Act of 2009, and failure to respect a resettlement agreement signed in 2011-2012. The mining company began operating in the early 2000s, originally owned by the mercenary company Executive Outcomes.

The affected communities remained locked in a legal battle with the company for their rights to be restored. The selection of Koidu is therefore seen as a solidarity action. Meantime, the client network of affected communities across the West Africa, Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resources Rights and Governance Platform are also expected to assemble in Koidu alongside their lawyers for their 3rd annual People’s Forum of the Platform. This will be the first time PILIWA, (the lawyers) will meet with their clients (the MRU-CSO Platform) and will convene in the same space at the same time.

At the opening session, Dr. Michel Yoboue of GRPIE from Côte d’Ivoire said, the meeting of the Steering Committee is very important at this time, as it allows partners to put together all the different ideas leading to the success of the PILIWA’s annual conference. Dr. Yoboue explained that the SC is clothed with the responsibility to make suggestions and recommendations to the membership every year for smooth running.

“We as committee members gather every year before our annual conference to plan activities. leading to, during and after the conference this is why our meetings are so important”

The Public Interest Lawyering Initiative for West Africa (PILIWA) was established seven years ago in Monrovia, under the auspices of Green Advocates. The group is a conglomeration of public interest lawyers across West African region, committed to the defense of marginalized communities fighting for their land and environmental rights.

The Steering Committee convened in Monrovia ahead of the annual conference of PILIWA, scheduled for Koidu, Sierra Leone later in August this year. 

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