Two Ebola survivors have filed a law suit at the Economic Community of West African States challenging the Sierra Leone government over its handling of the 2014 epidemic.The survivors, who are supported by the Freetown-based civil society the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL), said in their suit that the government violated its citizens’ right to life by mismanaging the funds meant to fight the Ebola epidemic thereby leading to the infection and death of many people.
The epidemic which began in Guinea and spread to Liberia and then Sierra Leone ended up claiming over 11, 000 lives globally, among nearly 30,000 cases.
Sierra Leone was considered the most affected among the three in terms of number of casualties. It had 3,956 fatalities out of 14,124 confirmed cases.
Hundreds of millions of US Dollars in aid came from the international community, but much of it was later discovered to have been mismanaged by corrupt officials in charge of battling the epidemic.
In a 15-page application document filed with the Ecowas Court on Friday, the plaintiffs claim 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 therefore was responsible for a greater number of deaths from Ebola than would otherwise have occurred.
The suit also alleges that the government violated its citizens’ right to health by failing to dedicate maximum available resources to the Ebola response. It adds that the Government’s poor stewardship of the funds diminished the human and physical resources needed to handle the outbreak.
The complaints are also charging the government for its failure to conduct an effective investigation into the allegations of violations of the right to life and the right to health caused by mismanagement of the Ebola funds.
The lawyers representing the survivors reference three international instruments: the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Constitution of Sierra Leone – all of which they say guarantee the right to life and the right to health, as basis for their suit.
CARL, a civil society organization which promotes and monitors access to justice, hired the lawyers on behalf of the complaints. It said in a statement to the press that a February 2015 report of the country’s Auditor-General which revealed that 30 percent of the Ebola response funds managed by the Ministry of Health within five months of the outbreak could not be fully accounted for represented a perfect independent testimony of the situation.
“Crucially, 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 sector,’” the CARL statement adds.
“In the last three years, Sierra Leoneans have repeatedly demanded accountability and justice for the mismanagement of 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,” its Executive Director, Ibrahim Tommy adds in the statement.
This will be the second case brought against the Sierra Leone government at the regional court in less than three years, after the one brought by the country’s former Vice President challenging his sacking in 2015.
That case went in favour of the ex-VP Samuel Sam-Sumana, but the government refused to accept the judgement.