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Sierra Leone: 'Globally Unprecedented' Rights

The Parliament of Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean, has just passed legislation to significantly boost the rights of rural landowners, protecting them from land grabs by large, multinational companies.

Coastal village in Sierra Leone

Described by land governance experts as “globally unprecedented,” the new act enshrines the concept of “free, prior, and informed consent,” or FPIC, into law, empowering communities to block mining and large-scale agricultural projects. Under the laws, corporations will be unable to undertake industrial development without the explicit permission of the people whose land they would disrupt.

“To our knowledge, there is not a legal regime anywhere, in either hemisphere, that grants such robust rights to communities facing harm,” Sonkita Conteh, director of the legal nonprofit Namati Sierra Leone, said in a statement. Similar laws in other countries have granted FPIC only to Indigenous nations, or include stipulations allowing the government to overrule community decisions.

In Sierra Leone, communities hope the new rules will end a long cycle of exploitation, reports Grist's The Beacon.

In addition to ensuring FPIC, Sierra Leone’s new laws ban industrial development in old-growth forests and other ecologically sensitive areas. They empower women as well, granting them equal land rights and requiring that women make up at least 30 percent of new committees to manage communally owned land.


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