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Liberia – Land Rights Concern

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Analysts suggest that the decision not to uphold the Land Rights Act could spark a return to civil war in the country.

The draft Land Rights Act, which had been proposed in 2014, was intended to uphold customary rights to land for rural communities. Since its submission people have been concerned about the lack of progress and it is likely to be delayed further according to the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) Working Group on Land Rights in Liberia.

Over two million people in Liberia, more than half of the population, live on customary land, without legal recognition. It was largely disputes over land under customary tenure that catalysed 14 years of civil wars and led to many deaths.

An estimated 90 percent of Liberia’s civil court cases are related to land and as many as 63 percent of violent conflicts in Liberia are rooted in land rights issues, reported Reuters.

In 2003, following a second civil war, the government pushed on with policies for leasing lands to foreign companies, with oil palm plantations identified as a central strategy by the World Bank, to turn the country into a desirable investment destination.

The group of CSOs, however, stated that concessions to mining, logging and agriculture, that cover around 40% of the country, pay little consideration to local people. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), of 237 mining and agricultural concessions in the country, all had established communities living within them.

“If its (Liberia’s) leaders try to fuel development by selling off community lands to the highest bidder, the price will once again be instability and conflict,” said Solange Bandiaky-Badji, Director for Africa at the RRI, reported Reuters.

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The coalition of 18 CSOs issued a statement which read, “if the legislature does not pass the 2014 version of the Land Rights Act before its recess in August, it will likely be delayed until after the elections; a new government takes office in 2018, leaving the legislation in limbo indefinitely.”

They added that the Act has not been made public leading to suspicions that key provisions have been removed, in a subversion of hopes for a peaceful future. “Liberia has been hailed as West Africa’s leader in land rights, but time is running out for the legislature to take this crucial step and make good on years of promises to the Liberian people. I fear that if the Act fails to pass, or passes without the key principles safeguarding the rights of communities, the country will slide backwards,” said Bandiaky-Badji, reported the CSO Working Group.

The CSO group also commented that Liberia has the opportunity to lead the way in securing its peoples’ land and forest rights, as well as contributing to sustainable development and climate change mitigation, two goals the leaders of the country have repeatedly pledged to work towards. The CSO Working Group stated that four tenets needed to be included in the Land Rights Act:

1. The formalisation of customary ownership with legal protection the same as individual private ownership.

2. Communities are able to self-define and self-identify their lands and boundaries.

3. Communities are directly responsible for the management of their land and natural resources, and there must be free, prior and informed consent before external investments are made.

4. Customary land rights take precedence over all other proposed uses of land.

Meanwhile on June 30th the United Nations (UN) mission in Liberia, (UNMIL) came to an end, 15 years after 15,000 troops were deployed. Analysts claim that a number of troops will remain and the move is hoped to encourage the ruling party to focus on internal domestic politics, although others have expressed doubt about the ability and willingness of the authorities to deal with the issues, reported the Daily Observer.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

LIBERIA: Security Concerns
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.20935C–20936A

Liberia – Chinese Military Cooperation
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.1, Pp.20439B

LIBERIA: Corruption Charges
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.5, Pp.21278A–21278C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

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