The ECOWAS Court on 9 May 2023, dismissed a case brought by the families of the victims of the 2007 crash of Paramount Airlines helicopter in Sierra Leone for their failure to lead evidence to show their relationship with the victims.

Twenty two people were killed, while only one of the passengers survived the crash of the helicopter operated by the airline between the country’s capital, Freetown  and the airport in Lungi when the helicopter crashed at the airport.

Delivering the Court’s judgment, Justice Edward Amoako Asante said that while indirect victims were allowed to bring claims for human rights violation, especially where the direct victims are dead or could not bring claims, the indirect victims must provide evidence of their family or other close relationship to the direct victim(s).

Justice Asante added:  “No marriage certificates, birth or adoption certificates, testamentary documents, or even sworn affidavits or statutory declarations were submitted to the Court to establish Applicants’ relationships to the crash victims, and therefore, their statuses as indirect victims for admissibility purposes.”

The Court had earlier dismissed an application by the State of Sierra Leone to dismiss the case as status barred on the ground that action for human rights should be brought within three years.

But citing Article 9(4) of its Protocol and its rich jurisprudence, the Court ruled that it had jurisdiction to determine cases of human rights violations, for which no statute of limitations is provided.

In suit ECW/CCJ/APP/13/20, the Applicants claimed that the State of Sierra Leone was negligent and therefore responsible for the  crash of the M18 helicopter registered under number 9L LBT in which 22 of the 23 passengers died, including 13 Togolese citizens. The latter were members of an official delegation which had officiated a qualifying match for the Africa Cup of Nations competition involving Togo’s  national football team.

Among the victims were four Gabonese, two French and a Senegalese.

The Applicants relied on the report prepared by a civil aviation expert commissioned by the Sierra Leone for their claim, a report that was officially transmitted to the Togolese authorities and showed that aircraft was not airworthy

According to them, the investigator asserted the shared responsibility of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Paramount Airlines and the Autonomous Airport of Sierra Leone in his report. The applicants contended that the airline did not comply with either ICAO standards and recommendations or Sierra Leone’s civil aviation regulations, which explains the condition of the aircraft.

They claimed that the Ministry of Transport and Communications should not have allowed the helicopter to fly because it had not met at least ten of the critical conditions identified  during  a recent technical audit carried out by the Organization of the International Civil Aviation (ICAO). Furthermore, they quoted the report as having claimed that none of the three member crew for the flight-captain, co-pilot and flight engineer, were licenced or possess a valid medical certificate.

Moreover, the Applicants said that the delay in rescue and the malfunctioning of emergency equipment caused the death of many passengers.

According to them, Sierra Leone violated the passengers’ right to life, in particular the rights recognized in Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 27 June 1981, Article 6 paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 16 December, 1966 and Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December, 1948.

The Applicants argued that the families of the victims, who have been enduring difficult living conditions, did not benefit from a fair trial to assert their rights and that a dedicated court should have been set up to hear the case and decide on compensation.

Finally, they expressed disappointment at the State of Sierra Leone, which had committed to paying the sum of 100,000 US dollars to the families since 2013 but has not till date kept its promise.

They are praying the Court to declare Sierra Leone responsible for the violation of the rights as mentioned above and to order it to pay the sum of two hundred million (200,000,000) CFA francs, i.e. a total of four billion (4,000,000,000) of FCFA for compensation as well as the sum of (100,000,000) FCFA to the beneficiaries of each victim, i.e. the total sum of Two Billion (2,000,000,000) FCFA for damages suffered.

In its response, the State of Sierra Leone argued that Paramount Airlines was a private company and that it could not be held responsible for its actions.

The Respondent also submitted that the report on which the applicants relied for its claims was not signed and was, therefore not original. The State therefore urged the Court not to rely on accusations based on an unauthentic report and to ignore the accusations and dismiss the case.

The panel also comprised Justices Dupe Atoki and Ricardo Cláudio Monteiro Gonçalves.