Global Witness welcomes President Sirleaf’s decision to cancel all forest concession agreements.

9th February 2006

Global Witness welcomes President Sirleaf’s decision to cancel all forest concession agreements.

9 February 2006

Global Witness (1) welcomes the decision by newly elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to adopt the recommendations and report of the Forest Concession Review Committee (2) which recommend the cancellation of all logging concessions. This decision marks a positive step in the critical reform process to break the historical link between the Liberian logging industry, conflict and regional instability (3), and to ensure that the forests are managed for the benefit of the Liberian people (4).

"Given the links between some of the logging companies and the recent conflict, and broader problems associated with concession systems, the significance of this step cannot be overestimated," said Natalie Ashworth, Global Witness campaigner. (5)

The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberian timber in 2003 because of the role of the industry in fuelling conflict. Sanctions were renewed most recently in December 2005.

Global Witness investigations in September 2005 showed that despite the improved security situation, the government of Liberia has not yet gained control over Liberia’s forest territory and border regions, as required under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1521.

"If UN sanctions are to be lifted, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) must provide greater support to the Forestry Development Authority - the agency in charge of the management of Liberia’s forests - to ensure that it is able to operate in a secure environment, " says Ashworth.

Research by Global Witness has shown that the concession system has been thoroughly discredited, not only in Liberia but in other countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Forestry Reform Monitoring Committee should now undertake a comprehensive assessment of the full range of values of Liberia’s forests and consider all available management options. To proceed on the unquestioning assumption that industrial logging concessions are required to kick-start the economy would cast aside an opportunity to avoid the mistakes made in other post-conflict tropical countries.

"President Sirleaf’s decision has shown a welcome resolve to break from the past," says Natalie Ashworth. “Mechanisms now need to be put in place to ensure lasting security and to prevent timber exploitation from contributing to conflict again in the future.”

For press inquiries on Liberia please contact Natalie Ashworth of Global Witness at +44 (0)20 7561 6369, nashworth@globalwitness.org

(1) Global Witness is an investigative non-governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict and was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information on Liberia, see Global Witness reports and briefing documents, available at www.globalwitness.org

(2) On 7 February 2006 the President adopted the recommendations of the "Report of the Forest Concession Review, Committee Forest Concession Review - Phase 3, 31 May 2005". The Forest Concession Review Committee comprised members of Liberian civil society, government agencies, the United States government, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the European Commission. The objective of the review was to determine which logging concessionaires had operated within the rule of the law and to make recommendations for reforms.

(3) Liberia’s timber industry fuelled conflict, widespread human rights abuses and destabilisation in West Africa, through supporting former President Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front for Liberia (NPFL) rebellion in the 1990s and rebel groups in Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire.

(4) This is a requirement of the 1986 Constitution.

(5) None of the companies passed the first threshold of the concession review. The companies had either no legal identity, were not in possession of a valid concession contract, had been involved in the conflict, or a combination of the above.