Introduction to the human rights abuse at Kewunor, Ada Estuary Ghana
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Many people know the estuary where the Gulf of Guinea meets the Volta river as paradise and because of this it attracts many visitors every year either to watch the sea turtles (mostly Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Green turtles) or to stay or volunteer with an eco beach camp on the island. Many have experienced the pure freedom and accessibility of the estuary; but what most visitors don’t know is that Kewunor, the community which lives on the estuary Island has been threatened with forced removal and displacement by Trasacco Estates Development Company and Hilton Hotels who want to turn the entire island into a private vacation and resort center.
Therefore the community of Kewunor has determined that there will be no decisions made about this community without this community. Therefore the community is calling on the following actions:
The community is calling on Hilton and Trasacco to:
Withdraw from the project completely or Stop all payments, planning, and marketing for the referenced project until you have:
a. Met with the community with their lawyers for questions and answers and for the community to tell you what they want;
b. Met with the Kewunor Advocates and the community lawyers to talk about your intentions and the community’s desires to remain on the land;
c. Have an external company complete a full environmental, social, and economic impacts report on the environment and the peoples affected by this project;
d.Stop using the area stool and thrid parties to communicate and handle the community;
e. Produce all documentation showing your claim to the land and;
f. Stopped all bribery, threats, communications or any alliance formed to stop the Kewunor community from engaging their rights including filing suit in court.
The community is asking for partners and Allies to:
-Sign this petition
-Donate and share the community legal defense fund: https://www.gofundme.com/ada-estuary-humanearth-rights-fund
-Boycott all Hilton hotel chains until their people make satisfactory negotiations with the community or until they pull out of the haphazard development project called Ada Turtle Bay
-Tag Hilton and Trasacco on social media posts demanding that they meet with the community without armed guards (because the community is peaceful) and on the communities terms to talk about what the community wants
-Ask any journalists you know to cover the story, our team has a press kit with all documentary evidence ready to share, email Kewunoradvocate@gmail.com for more information
-If you or anyone you know has contacts in the administration of either Hilton or Trassaco, please contact them to say that they are violating the basic human rights of the community of Kewunor by denying them the right to autonomy and cutting them from all negotiations and communications, and that any bribes and threats will be reported on but will never shake the foundations of the community.
-Lastly please demand that they meet with the community without armed guards and on the terms of the community to hear what the community wants.
We have documentary evidence of everything we mention, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to have access to the press kit.
In October 2013, members of the community were sent a letter from Trasacco stating that the land which has been their home for the past 120 years is now owned by Trasacco. While the letter referenced the Executive Instrument which would give Trasacco legal ownership of the land, the community has never seen any documentary proof of ownership. Through customary law they acquired the land when the Dangbe chief gave it to them after their own home was submerged by the ocean at least 120 years ago. Since then many people have tried to claim the land, and in 1974 the Ministry of Tourism acquired the land through an executive instrument and site plan which can no longer be found and may no longer be relevant. Despite these claims the people of Kewunor have continued to live peacefully on the land and developed it for the benefit of all. For example through community efforts and the support of Maranatha Beach camp they built the first community school in 2007 and the Junior high in 2013. Since then the Volta Revival Foundation has begun to sponsor students from the school, and are making plans to build composting, and the fishermen have also come together with plans to build a harbor for their boat. The reality is that this community is monetarily poor, but they understand their value, and the community has been supporting and building on their human rights since long before Trasacco even knew about the estuary.
When the letter from Trasacco came, the community did not take the news sitting down. At the saw cutting ceremony, the community protested which led to multiple leaders being beaten and arrested. Since then many surveyors have come with armed guards to the community and marked every tree and building on the land, stating that it was for resettlement, yet the community has seen no documents pertaining to resettlement nor any realistic suggestion for where to resettle. As a people who have always been surrounded by water, many fear of a resettlement plan that land locks them, thereby cutting them off from their livelihoods as fishermen. This would be a devastating blow which many would never recover from, therefore the community does not want to resettle. Additionally, the community's lifestyle is very compatible with the wildlife and the vulnerable ecosystem of the estuary, and the beach camps serve to protect the turtles.
Beside the surveyors, there has been some construction on the island, two buildings (which are now in disrepair) at the Southern edge of the island, and one more building in Maranatha beach camp to store equipment, but there has been no demolition of any structures on the island because the community has fought the development company since the beginning.
However, Trasacco has been preparing for the fight, and has now partnered with Hilton Hotels which plans to also build a luxury hotel on the land. Neither company has come to the community for negotiations nor has there been any type of communication except the first letter from 2013 and an apology letter from Trasacco executives and local officials for the initial vacate notice letter. The companies are engaging in haphazard development which does not take the human rights of the community nor the natural environment at risk seriously, rather, these corporations have acted as greedy imperialists who wish to displace over 1,200 residents and 600 students from the only home they have ever known without even consulting community leaders.
Since the initial resistance and construction, there has been very little action, until August 2017 when a member of our advocacy team discovered through a press release that Hilton has partnered with Trasacco to turn the island into a resort they are naming ‘Ada Turtle Bay’, and that construction would begin in December 2017. Our representative group found a lawyer and filed a case for injunction which was to be heard on February 21, 2018. Unfortunately the case never saw the light of day because our only plaintiff, the accepted chief of Kewunor was threatened by the area stool (the chieftaincy which claims original ownership to the land) and was forced to withdraw the case without the consent of the community. The community now realizes that there must be many plaintiffs to ensure that nothing can be done on behalf of the community without the consent of the community. We are now refiling the case, and will make updates about the coming court date.
We believe Trasacco and Hilton to be in violation of Environmental Protection standards and have seen no record from either Trasacco or Hilton of an Environmental or Social Impacts Assessment as required by law for such a project. In addition we believe Trasacco and Hilton to be in violation of the following constitutional provisions according the to the Republic of Ghana:
Section 18 part (2)
Section 20 part (3)
Section 25 part (1) and (a)
Hilton is or will be violating the following of its own policies if it continues with this project:
Hilton stresses their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and states in their Human Rights Policy that Hilton not only expects all of its hotels and resort projects to comply with these standards but also all partners, and suppliers, in this case that includes Trassaco. The Human Rights Policy states that “Hilton strives to conduct human rights due diligence to determine actual and potential human rights impacts in our value chain, and seeks to mitigate these impacts through reasonable measures.”, it also declares that Hilton will follow all legal provisions from the host country (in this case Ghana). Hilton is also signatory to the UN Global Compact which states among its 10 principles: principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses; principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges; principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
Hilton touts itself as a socially conscious corporation which donates to the communities it works in. Yet, in this case, the Kewunor community comprised of 1,200 people and home 600 students has never seen any indication from Hilton that they have any interest in upholding the basic human rights of the community and environment which will be destroyed by their project. While some may consider Hilton a ‘good’ corporation, the community of Kewunor would like to respond by saying they have not acted in good faith concerning this project.
If Trasacco and Hilton go through with this project in its current form including no communications with the community, and no provisions or promises of just compensation and resettlement including plans for the education of neighboring children from the area who have no other options for education except at the Kewunor Community schools, they will be violating the following laws, regulations and policies both nationally and internationally:
Articles 14, 17, 20, 21, 22, and 24 of the African Charter on Human and peoples rights;
Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights of the Welfare of the Child;
Articles 5, 7, 8, and 14 of the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources;
Articles 10, and 19 of the African Youth Charter.
Living with uncertainty about the future of the island has caused great insecurity within the community. The whole community is trying to continue their lives with the constant threat that someone or some company will come to take their home, education and livelihood, denying them basic human rights to existence, culture, land, self-determination, and education. Communities must have the right to develop themselves, and when that right is threatened by land grabs and haphazard developments, they have the right to take all legal actions against the project, and that is exactly what the people of Kewunor intend to do. The companies and their lawyers may think the community is small or what one lawyer has said is full of “half baked people”, passing judgment against them for their lack of formal education. However, these companies will find that with every step there will be great resistance, so much that it will be impossible for them to complete this project. The people's voice will be heard like thunder , because the people of Kewunor are not powerless, their strength exudes from the sand where they build their homes, determination flows from their eyes like the river, and their minds are as resourceful as the coconut tree.