Strengthening the rule of law in Liberia, Ghana, and Uganda

tapping rubber, Liberia
 Tapping rubber. PHOTO: James Johnston

LIBERIA: Advancing Sustainable Forestry Policies

Exploitation of Liberia’s tropical rainforests helped fuel 15 years of civil war.  As part of the recovery effort, the government of Liberia has pledged to manage its natural resources more equitably.  ELAW has worked with partners at Green Advocates, based in Monrovia, for years to strengthen the rule of law and ensure that Liberia’s citizens have a voice in decisions about their nation’s natural resources.

In July, ELAW sent two environmental advocates with expertise in sustainable logging practices and forest policy to Liberia, to work one-on-one with staff at Green Advocates.  These ELAW Fellows were James Johnston, a Faculty Research Assistant at Oregon State University Institute for Natural Resources, and Daniel Kruse, the Legal Director for Cascadia Wildlands.

Dan and James joined our Liberian partners to meet with staff of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency and Forestry Development Authority to explore ways to strengthen and enforce laws protecting forests.  They also attended a multi-stakeholder dialogue on pit sawing with leaders from the Liberia Chainsaw and Timber Dealers Union, and visited Kparnyah Town and Owensgrove to talk to community leaders affected by a large, latex rubber processing facility operated by Firestone Liberia.  They also met with small-scale rubber farmers concerned about a proposed biomass power plant proposed by Buchanan Renewable Energy.

James wrote this report about his visit to the Firestone Plantation:

Rubber is Liberia’s biggest product, by some accounts amounting to almost 90% of Liberia’s official revenue from exports.  By far, the largest producer is Firestone Liberia, which leases one million acres of Liberia as a rubber plantation, equal to 4% of the country’s territory or nearly 10% of the arable land.  Since the plantation was established in the 1920s, there have been widespread allegations of forced labor, pollution and other human rights abuses.

 PHOTO: James Johnston

Dan Kruse and I, accompanied by our hosts, Alfred Brownell and Francis Colee from ELAW partner Green Advocates, visited several sites around Firestone Liberia, 30 miles southeast of the capital of Monrovia.  Local residents told us that Firestone has been dumping raw waste from rubber manufacturing directly into the Farmington River that locals depend on for water.  Many complain of rashes and birth defects as a result of using water from the river.

Green Advocates has played a leading role in calling attention to pollution by Firestone.  In 2005, Green Advocates invited the press, lawmakers, government officials, and UN officials to an event along the riverbank.  Community members gave visiting dignitaries a tour of the community and the river.  In response, Firestone quickly arranged its own press event and declared 2005 to 2006 its “Environmentally Friendly Year!” Green Advocates is currently planning a class action lawsuit on behalf of local citizens to force Firestone to clean up its act.  Alfred and Green Advocates see this sort of citizen legal action both as a way to protect people from pollution and strengthen Liberia’s civil society.

GHANA: Sustainable Mining

 CEPIL attorneys and villagers in Ghana
Patrick Freeze (in red tie) with CEPIL attorneys and villagers whose farms were taken over by a mining facility.

Gold has been mined in Ghana for 100 years, but villagers reap few benefits.  ELAW has been working with partners at the Accra-based Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) since 2007 to protect communities and the environment from toxic mines.

In July, ELAW sent two environmental advocates with expertise in sustainable mining to work with partners at CEPIL. These ELAW Fellows were Patrick Freeze, a Technical and Policy Intern at Great Basin Research Watch, and Mary Marrow, a Staff Attorney with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.  Patrick and Mary helped review environmental impact assessments for proposed mining projects and provided critical information on best management practices and ways to minimize or prevent contamination of local waterways.

Patrick describes the challenges faced by local farmers when mining companies move in:

Most of the mining projects in these impacted regions are in heavily forested and agriculturally rich areas.  Cocoa, rubber trees, palm trees, and even coconuts are grown on vast tracts.  When the mining companies compensate for the loss of a crop (at the lowest compensation amount possible) for only one year, is that fair when the life of a cocoa tree can produce from 50 to 60 years?  It’s not only a violation of basic human rights but can also be seen as a death sentence, as farming is a way of life here.  It forces you to think about what the word “value” means.  Gold is valuable and agriculture is valuable.  But only one will keep you alive.

Find Patrick’s web log of his trip to Ghana at:

UGANDA: Oil Development in Parks

Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Uganda’s national parks and protected areas are not off-limits in the search for Big Oil.  Current and proposed test wells are located inside Murchison Falls National Park – Uganda’s largest national park.  These sites are in oil blocks owned by U.K.-based Tullow Oil.

Murchison Falls National Park is teeming with wildlife, including lions, African buffaloes, elephants, leopards, and giraffes.  The famous Murchison Falls is where the Nile River explodes through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment, plunging into Lake Albert.

“Transparency is critical.  Citizens need to know what agreements are being made with the oil companies,” says ELAW partner Kenneth Kakuru, Executive Director of Greenwatch.  “The law only permits activities in national parks that benefit wildlife management. Therefore, Tullow Oil activities are illegal.  Greenwatch is also in court over similar activity by Hima Cement, a subsidiary of a French company LaFarge that is mining limestone in Queen Elizabeth National Park.”

ELAW is working with Kenneth to review the environmental impact assessments of proposed oil activities, to ensure that Uganda does not fall victim to the oil curse.

Tullow’s operations in Uganda focus on the Albertine Graben in the west of the country, which is recognised as one of Africa’s most important sites for the conservation of biodiversity.  It is believed that the Albertine Graben contains more vertebrate species than any other region on the continent, as well as a large percentage of Africa’s birds, mammals, reptiles and plant species. From:


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