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Liberia has sold quarter of its land to logging companies, Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent, The Guardian, 4 September 2012

04 Sep

One quarter of Liberian land has been sold to logging companies in just two years, threatening the country with widespread devastation, according to a report.

A new spate of logging contracts in Liberia – the most heavily forested country in west Africa – means that 40% of its forests are under private ownership and risk being flattened by logging companies, says the report. Companies have used what campaigners describe as a legal loophole to buy unlimited swaths of private land with the intention of logging and clearing forests through the use of Private Use Permits (PUPs).

“Private Use Permits are great news for logging companies. They are very bad news for pretty much everybody else in Liberia,” said Robert Nyahn of Save My Future Foundation. “Some communities will receive less than 1% of their timber’s value, while very little revenue will reach state coffers.”

The report, by environmental watchdogs Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and the Sustainable Development Institute, claimed PUPs had been given to private companies without consulting local groups and in some cases using forged documents.

“People being defrauded out of their forest rights at this speed and scale is worrying in itself. When you look at who the forests have been given to, it gets even more alarming,” said Jonathan Gant, of Global Witness. “Giving your forests to companies like that is not a sustainable investment.”

The contracts allow landowners to enter into agreements directly with logging companies, bypassing strict laws on sustainability and size limits. The groups behind the report also claim that land owned on behalf of communities has been given away with little or no consent, prompting suggestions that land deeds had been forged.

Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has announced she has suspended the head of the Forestry Development Authority, Moses Wogbeh, and launched an investigation.

“President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has commissioned an independent body to conduct a comprehensive review of the policies and procedures regarding the issuance of PUPs,” said a statement from the office of the president last week.

Johnson Sirleaf – a former World Bank economist and Nobel prize laureate – has faced mounting allegations of corruption among senior officials in recent months. Last month, she suspended her son Charles Sirleaf from his position as deputy central bank governor after he failed to declare his assets to the country’s anti-corruption commission. Two of Johnson Sirleaf’s other sons continue to hold positions in government.

The new findings about the extent of PUPs will come as a further blow to Johnson Sirleaf’s leadership, campaign groups say, and undermine the reform to Liberia’s forestry sector since the end of the country’s 14-year resource-fuelled civil war in 2003, which was characterised by the use of timber exports by then-Liberian president Charles Taylor to finance arms.

Experts estimate that $30m (£18m) has been spent by donors to ensure a legal process for granting logging concessions since the end of Liberia’s war, and to help communities better manage their forest reserves.

A UN ban on Liberian logging was lifted in 2006, and the country resumed exports of timber in 2010 under new forestry regulation that drew praise from the international community.

However, land reform – one of the issues identified by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report as a cause of the war – has not yet happened, and is regarded as a threat to peace in the country.

Liberians said that the reaction to news of the PUPs by Johnson Sirleaf and the Liberian Timber Association – a local trade association that has filed complaints with both the Liberian senate and supreme court – did not go far enough.

“Recent statements by President Johnson Sirleaf are promising, but the response of the Liberian Timber Association is a major concern,” said Silas Siakor, of the Sustainable Development Institute. “Too frequently, those who abuse Liberia’s natural resources have not been held to account. If Liberia’s forests and the people who depend upon them are not to be swallowed whole by Private Use Permits then the suspension of logging operations must stand this time and a comprehensive independent investigation must be undertaken.”

Global Witness said: “Since the end of Liberia’s war we have worked with the government and international partners like the United States, the EU and the World Bank to ensure the Liberian people get sustainable benefits from their forests. These Private Use Permits severely undermine these reform efforts.”

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

One response to “Liberia has sold quarter of its land to logging companies, Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent, The Guardian, 4 September 2012

  1. Izak Khomo

    September 22, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Taylor’s arrest heralds a new era to all those who are responsible for atrocities and human rights abuses, albeit, there is a frightening and worrying situation that has come out of this whole saga.
    Charles Taylor is the first person who has been indicted for sponsoring, as it is said, of a terrorist group namely Foday Sanko’s RUF. The RUF is responsible for all types of atrocities which are unforgivable ranging from murder, rape, mutilation, etc all these going against the Geneva Convention.
    Foday Sanko received arms from Charles Taylor in exchange for diamonds and this is what has made Charles Taylor liable for indictment in the Sierra Leone war crimes hearings.
    It should first and foremost be stated that Charles Taylor as a rebel leader led a coalition of Liberian rebel groups to fight a brutal dictator, Samuel Doe, whose atrocities against civilians are long forgotten. Amongst Charles Taylor’s compatriots were people like Allhaji Koroma and Prince Johnson. From the out set of the rebellion, Charles Taylor was mention as a wanted person in the USA where it was claimed that he jumped bail following charges of drug dealing. He was also linked to Libya’s Colonel Ghaddafi.
    Charles Taylor and his group were successful in fighting against the Doe army, only that when victory was in sight the group splintered.
    Alhaji Koroma received support from the military government in Sierra Leone that was the first instance of the Liberian war becoming trans national war. Secondly Prince Johnson broke out and formed his rebel group which managed to capture, torture and kill Samuel Doe. However, that was possible only after very suspicious circumstances of they finding a cache of arms after US marines landing in Monrovia to evacuate their embassy. The ware house where the arms were found was near the said embassy.
    This war became regional in that neighboring countries started to support Liberian factions fighting Charles Taylor. Sierra Leone was no exception it financed and armed ULIMO fighters of both Roosevelt Johnson and Alhaji Koroma. Charles Taylor soon supported the ill famed group in Sierra Leone, namely the RUF this being done to frustrate the Sierra Leone support for his enemies. This was further motivated by the lucrative trade in diamonds.
    In a situation where there was fighting amongst Liberian rebel groups Charles Taylor was branded a war lord. That was a time when he had his sight on the capital Monrovia, the capture of which would have certainly put him in power. There were than concerted efforts by the regional bodies to frustrate that occurrence. First Prince Johnson attempt to fight Taylor in Monrovia failed and he was saved by the intervention of US Marines who sent a helicopter borne force to evacuate Prince Johnson after he was surrounded by Taylor’s forces. This is strong evidence of Johnson being a US Proxy in the whole war. Secondly, the regional body ECOWAS intervened and sent a peace keeping force, ECOMOG, which occupied the capital Monrovia, unfortunately, it has been recorded beyond any shadow of doubt that the neutrality of this force was faulted. The force aligned its self with the anti Taylor forces. Further, ECOWAS forced a non all inclusive interim government that was led by Amos Sawyer. This government was not accepted by Charles Taylor who saw it as an attempt to frustrate his ascendance to power in Monrovia.
    However, an ECOWAS sponsored solution was reached between all warring factions that saw the instillation of an interim government that had all warring parties involved. This was followed by the UN taking over peace keeping responsibilities and holding of UN sponsored elections. These elections were declared peaceful, open, fair and democratic by the UN and saw, by popular vote, the instillation of Charles as president of the country. Immediately, armed rebellion broke out against Taylor’s government that was democratically and legally installed. These rebels formed LURD which was based in neighboring countries. Arms Sanctions were imposed on Taylor on grounds of assisting Sierra Leone rebels, Liberian rebels openly got support of neighboring countries namely Guinea the rest is history
    This is just a brief lay out of facts and events surrounding Charles Taylor’s arraignment.
    One worrying question is that the Sierra Leone UN commission is headed by an American prosecutor who formerly worked for the American security organisation namely the FBI. Given American position with regards to Charles Taylor (with all due respect to the victims of atrocities) his neutrality is doubtful. International institutions are hailing The indictment of Charles Taylor as an example of bringing to book all culprits who contributed to suffering of innocent civilians, perpetrated war crimes, are guilty of human rights abuses and more importantly assisted materially and morally people who are guilty of undertaking atrocities.
    Under the same arguments, of bringing Charles Taylor to book, those organisation that hail Charles Taylor’s indictment, and your good self too, are morally bound to fight for the indictment of all the American and European businessmen, American Government officials who together connived (by commission and omission) and directly supplied Saddam Hussein with ingredients for Nerve Gas and other non nuclear means of mass destruction which were used in the genocide against the Kurds in Northern Iraq, against Iranian soldiers in the Iraq-Iran war and against Shiites rebels. Saddam Hussein should be joined by those villains, who played a similar role as Taylor and supplied Saddam Hussein with the means of undertaking the atrocities and his continued undemocratic misrule.
    Secondly just like the RUF of Foday Sankoh, the RENAMO rebel group that fought against the then Marxist inclined Mozambican government performed many recorded cases of atrocities, of mutilation murder, raping, etc. This group was formed by the former illegal Rhodesian government of Ian Smith but later was taken over and directly by the US. (The American Government was directly involved). Cases of Crime of human right abuse should be opened against the RENAMO leaders and all South Africans and Americans involved. The danger is that in the single superpower situation it is easy for a leader unacceptable to the Superpower to be demonized beyond any reality and there after to be indicted. If Charles Taylor has to face a court that court should be held in Liberia against crimes committed against Liberians.

    Lastly it should be informed that Charles Taylor fell off with the Americans after he refused to grant Exxon oil exploration licenses saying Liberia is not for sale after which there was a statement for the USA Charles Taylor has to go

     

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