By Sulaiman Juldeh Bah
Two survivors of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone with support from the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) past Friday filed a complaint to the ECOWAS Court of Justice claiming that ‘Government of Sierra Leone violated citizens right to life and health by mismanaging funds meant to respond to the outbreak.’
The 15-page application to the Court, according to the Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy, during a press conference held at the Harry Yansaneh Hall- SLAJ headquarters, claimed as follows:
That the government violated its citizens’ right to life by failing to adhere to relevant accounting and procurement controls which led to the loss of one third of the available resources, and was responsible for the greater number of deaths from Ebola than would otherwise have occurred.
The Application also claimed that government violated its citizens’ right to health by failing to dedicate maximum available resources to the Ebola response, adding that the government’s poor stewardship of the Ebola funds diminished the human and physical resources needed to handle the outbreak.
This, according to CARL and the two Ebola survivors, included the lack of healthcare workers, ambulances, basic medical supplies, and post-Ebola medical and psychosocial support.
The Application further claimed that government has failed to conduct an effective investigation into the violations of the right to life and the right to health caused by the mismanagement of the Ebola funds, and that such investigations are essential to ensure accountability and prevent future violations.
CARL and the two Ebola survivors maintained the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone all guarantee the right to life and the right to health.
The plaintiffs in this case, recalled that in February 2015, the Auditor General of Sierra Leone issued a “Special Audit” report, which showed that 30% of the Ebola response funds managed by the Ministry of Health within five months of the outbreak could not be fully accounted for.
Crucially, the plaintiffs went on to state that the report noted that the lapses in the management of the funds resulted in “a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the healthcare.”
In order words, CARL and the two Ebola survivors maintained that mismanagement of the Ebola funds meant that the response was not as effective as it should have been, and as a result, more infections and deaths occurred, while nothing that nearly 3 years after the report was published, the government has declined to investigate or otherwise meaningfully act upon the finding of the Audit Service.
“In the past 3 years, Sierra Leoneans have repeatedly demanded accountability and justice for the mismanagement of the Ebola response funds, but their demands have fallen on deaf ears. This is an effort mainly by victims to hold the state to account as well as help them get a sense of closure,” says Ibrahim Tommy.
Meanwhile, the Registry of the ECOWAS Court of Justice is expected to serve the application on the Government of Sierra Leone shortly, but oral hearings may not be held until next year.
Among the remedies the plaintiffs are asking for include: a declaration that Sierra Leone’s mismanagement of the Ebola funds violates the right to life under Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
A declaration that Sierra Leone’s mismanagement of the Ebola funds violates the right to health under Article 16 of the African Charter and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
A declaration that Sierra Leone’s failure to investigate and provide redress for mismanagement of the Ebola funds constitutes continuing violations of the rights to health and life, as guaranteed under Article 1,4 and 16 of the African Charter, Article 6 of the ICCPHR, and Article 12 of the ICESCR;
An order compelling Sierra Leone to undertake a comprehensive review of compliance with relevant financial reporting, internal controls, and procurement regulations, with a view to ensuring effective use of financial resources in times of national emergency;
An order compelling Sierra Leone to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate any civil or criminal liability arising from mismanagement of the Ebola funds and general and special damages for pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses to be paid to the Applicants and all similarly situated persons as compensations for violations of their rights to life and health.