President Weah Urged to Protect Fendell Evictees

 CSO Platform Secretary Adama Dempster.

The Civil Society Organizations Human Rights Platform in conjunction with the Independent Human Rights Investigators is reminding President George Weah of his commitment made to amicably resolve the eviction crisis at Fendell by meeting up with payments that should be made to the evictees who were affected by demolition in 2016 in areas claimed by the University of Liberia.

It may be recalled that in 2016, the University of Liberia’s authority, claiming to have legal title to 5,800 acres of land in the area, got permission from the Government of Liberia to evict about 11,471 occupants.

“Over 2,107 family heads and their dependents were left homeless, destitute, and deprived of their possessions within a matter of hours when bulldozers and demolition squad started to destroy their settlements with no notice of warning, compensation, resettlement or legal redress,” CSO Platform Secretary Adama Dempster said in a statement on September 14, 2021 in Monrovia.

The human rights groups contend that this demolition exercise in 2016 left the affected people in complete devastation and untold suffering that they could not afford to send children to school, meet their sheltering needs, and continue businesses they were making to meet the economic needs of their children. 

This eviction did not only leave the affected people in grief and frustration through which some reportedly died, but ignited tension that caused some to attempt arson attacks on buildings belonging to the University of Liberia. 

The following year, 2017, was an election year that former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had no major part to play in but to support whomever she could.  Therefore, she did not do much to address the situation but left it with the incoming leadership since perhaps she had no major political interest.

As pressure mounted on the George Weah Administration to address the plights of the evictees, a media committee was set up in 2018 and following its investigation, it came out with its findings on August 2, 2019 highlighting that the total damage caused during the demolition was in the monetary value of US$16,610,783.96 affecting the 11,471 citizens.

The government, therefore, set up a committee led by the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) to review the process to advise the government given the economic constraint the country faces, and after carefully assessing, it was concluded that the government would afford to pay US$8 million in two installments starting most likely with an initial payment of 50% upfront to the affected residents of Fendell.

Dempster who intervened in that crisis along with his groups indicated that they are grateful to the President for being humane not to take legal issue with his citizens in the court but resolve the matter amicably by providing a resettlement package for the affected parties.

While this is welcoming to the CSO Platform and other human rights campaigners, Mr. Dempster said, “We welcome the very important step taken by the President Weah in the interest of affected residents and victims of Fendell; however, Your good intentions are not enough until the agreements between the government and people of Fendell highlighted in the Liberia Land Authority report are fully implemented in time.” 

"Also, some arrangements made to be implemented after the negotiation were to set aside an area “Bordered GREEN” containing 607.995 acres for resettlement of residents of five demolished villages; deed for the 5,800 acres be canceled and nullified and a new deed issued the University of Liberia for the remaining land area, the other unaffected settlements be left alone in line with the mediation," the CSO Platform added.

They noted that "The University and the government conduct no further demolition of villages and structures in areas enumerated under the recommendation and that any and all final understanding and agreements reached between the government and the Fendell Estates and Land Working Committee be put into written Memorandum of Understanding, and attested by the Ministries of Finance and Justice, and a symbolic announcement of restoring the respect and dignity of the Fendell victims be made by President George Weah to signify government’s responsibility, care, sympathy, and respect for the human rights of citizens that were dehumanized."

The Fendell campus of the University of Liberia has its roots traced to the administration of President William R. Tolbert during which the land was reportedly acquired.  The land now has the Agriculture College building on the western side and the academic and science complexes to the northern point beginning from the Kakata Highway.

A vast portion of the land is yet to have buildings constructed thereon or any notable project; a condition that might have facilitated the building of residential homes even close to areas where the university has its buildings. The affected parties and the human rights groups also argue that though UL claims the 5,800 acres of land, it did not have a title deed to it until 2018; something the opponents claim is belated and has no magnitude to substantiate that UL owns the property.

“We call on the government to ensure that National laws governing evictions must be in compliance with human rights norms, including the principle of respect for human dignity and the general principles of reasonableness, proportionality, and due process, and should equally apply to those living in homeless encampments,” said the human rights groups. The group also added,The people of Fendell have suffered too long, there is no better time than now to resettle them in one piece.  The right to adequate housing [is] a basic human right ... people should be protected by law against unfair eviction from their homes or land.”