Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cameroon Activist Sentenced For Opposing ‘American Land Grabber’

Mundemba, Cameroon—Award-winning Cameroon activist and director of a local nongovernmental organization, Nasako Besingi would serve three years in jail following a suit by SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SG-SOC), a subsidiary of the American firm, Herakles Farms.
The director of Struggle to Economize our Future Environment (SEFE) was last Wednesday November 4, 2015 convicted by a court in Mundemba in the Southwest region of Cameroon.
Locals of Nguti protesting against SGSOC
In 2013, the frontline campaigner against the Herakles Farms Cameroon project was sued by the latter and two of its former employees for “publication of false news via the internet.” The judgment was handed down after several adjournments in recent months.
According to the verdict described by other rights activists as ‘heavy,’ Nasako Bisingi was charged to pay a fine of FCFA 1million or serve a three years jail. He was also posed to pay damages of FCFA 10 million to the two civil parties and costs of about FCFA 200,000 within 24 hours.

Appeal On Questionable Evidence

Nasako’s lead counsel, Barrister Adolf Malle, said he was surprised by the conviction of his client, promising he would appeal the decision ‘based on most questionable evidence.’
Nasako Besingi has been working alongside other activists and local organizations to protect people’s rights and preserve forests in the Ndian division of the country where the New York based agro industrial company through its Cameroon subsidiary, SGSOC is developing a ‘controversial’ oil palm plantation.
Nasako Besingi has been sued and arrested several times since the installation of the Herakles Farms Company (SGSOC) in the Southwest region, because of his denunciation of violations of the law by the agro industrial firm.
The American agro industrial firm started operations (clearing, road opening and creation of nurseries) before obtaining a legal land title, which constitutes a violation of Cameroonian land law.
The opposition of communities, challenging the legality of the presence of the company on their land and who in their vast majority, condemned this attempt to ‘grab their land,’ led to numerous conflicts with the company.

Desire To Intimidate Environmental Activists

Environmentalists in Cameroon have described the conviction of Nasako Besingi, as a ‘desire to intimidate environmental activists,’ in a context marked by the proliferation of investments in land and natural resources, which strongly encroach on village land.
 “The massive influx of investors in the exploitation of land and natural resources can lead to more conflicts of this nature, and it is important that the administration and justice in our country be prepared to manage these tensions,” said Mr. Samuel Nguiffo director of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) Cameroon.
 “Failure to comply with the law when installing SGSOC Company in the Southwest has been the source of many problems, and the Government must learn from this experience,” Nguiffo added.
In a release, CED said the sentence sends a worrying signal to communities defending their lands and resources faced with activities of multinational companies. It also urged that the activist be granted appeal for his right to a fair trial.
“This case shows us the importance of natural resources management policies which should include better protection of Human Rights and consider customary rights of communities”, Apollin Koagne, coordinator of ‘Verdir;’ an E.U  project  that aims at Greening the respect Human Rights in the Congo Basin.”
Nasako’s organization, Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE) won the first prize of the TAIGO awards in 2012 for its frontline campaign against the New York- based Cameroon palm oil Project in Ndian.
The activist led a campaign that highlighted the issue of land grabbing in Cameroon, absence of prior consultation of local communities, resulting to Herakles withdrawal of an application for membership into of the Kuala Lumpur-based Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
By Ndi Eugene Ndi

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