Global Witness (1) welcomes the findings and recommendations of a report by the Forest Concession Review Committee (FCRC) on Liberia’s forest industry. The report, published in early July 2005, documents extensive corruption and abuse in the industry and makes a series of strong recommendations. One of its main recommendations is that the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) cancels all existing forest concessions as “no individual concession holder was able to demonstrate sufficient level of legal compliance”(2).
The FCRC is a comprehensive forest concession review mandated by the NTGL as part of the requirement for lifting UN sanctions on the timber industry which have been in place since 2003 (3).
Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the NTGL, has yet to sign the report of the FCRC or begin to implement its recommendations.
The concession review provides the NTGL with a unique opportunity to re-establish the rule of law within an industry that has been intrinsically linked to national and regional conflict for more than a decade. “Not only has the timber industry fuelled one of the world’s most violent conflicts, it also systematically siphoned much needed funds away from the impoverished Liberian people and into the hands of warlords and arms-traffickers. It is vital that it is fundamentally reformed to ensure that it no longer promotes conflict,” says Natalie Ashworth of Global Witness. “Failure to implement the FCRC’s recommendations, or prolonged delays in doing so, could undermine the reform process and render the region’s fragile peace unsustainable.”
As documented in numerous UN Expert Panel (4) and Global Witness reports (5), the Liberian timber industry has promoted national and regional instability. Former president Charles Taylor, currently indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, hijacked the industry to generate revenue to fund the war and used its infrastructure to provide logistic, financial and material support for wide-scale human rights abuses in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire.
Global Witness urges the NTGL to implement the concession review recommendations, in particular to ensure that all companies and their principals that aided and abetted civil instability are formally barred from the industry. Furthermore, procedures should be put in place to monitor, investigate and remedy any human rights abuses or violations of labour laws as well as violations of forestry law.
Global Witness further supports the recommendation that the granting and allocations of future concessions should be suspended until the Liberian forest sector is adequately reformed in line with international standards, basic principles of accountability, transparency and sustainability. In addition, a competitive bidding system should be put in place. Failure to reform the industry to these standards would effectively condone past abuses and illegal activities by some logging companies and individuals and send a message to perpetrators that Liberia will be open for business as usual.
The concession review also found that the citizens of Liberia benefited little from the logging industry, with only 14% of taxes actually paid and few companies fulfilling their legal requirements to build schools and clinics. “The NTGL has an opportunity to reform the industry to ensure that it is used to benefit the Liberian people rather than a few individuals who would stand to gain from the industry through corruption,” says Ashworth. “If acted on promptly, this could be one of the most significant moves for positive change and would send a strong message to the international community that the NTGL is serious about ensuring peace for the future. On the other hand, failure to act on the recommendations would send an equally strong message that it is not committed to reforming the industry that victimised, and stole from, the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivorian people”.
For press inquiries on Liberia please contact Natalie Ashworth of Global Witness at +44 (0)207-561-6369 or 44 7968160377
(1) Global Witness is an investigative non-governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resources exploitation and conflict. Global Witness was awarded the prestigious Gleitsman Foundation Award for International Activism in 2005, and was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information on Liberia, see previous Global Witness reports at www.globalwitness.org.
(2) Report of the Forest Concession Review, Committee Forest Concession Review - Phase 3, 31 May 2005
(3) 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.
Diamond sanctions first came into effect through UN Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001), with timber sanctions first imposed through Resolution 1478 (2003). Both were re-established by Resolution 1521 (2003) and renewed through Resolution 1579 (2004), with the diamond embargo renewed for six months and the timber embargo for 12 months.
(4) See UN Panel of Experts reports on Sierra Leone, S/2000/1195, and UN Panel of Experts reports on Liberia, S/2004/955, S/2004/752, S/2004/396, S/2003/973, S/2003/779, S/2003/498, S/2002/470 S/2001/1015.
(5) For more information on Global Witness’s work on Liberia see: ‘A Time for Justice: Why the International Community, UN Security Council and Nigeria should help facilitate Charles Taylor’s immediate extradition to the Special Court for Sierra Leone’, June 2005; ‘Dangerous Liaisons: The ongoing relationship between Liberia’s natural resource industries, arms trafficking and regional insecurity’, December 2004; ‘Resource Curse or Cure?: Reforming Liberia’s governance and logging industry’, September 2004; ‘Liberia: Back to the future-What is the future of Liberia’s forests and its effect on regional peace?’ May 2004; 'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone', March 2003; ‘Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber Industry Fuels Liberia’s Humanitarian Disaster and Threatens Sierra Leone’, September 2002; ‘Taylor-made: The Pivotal Role of Liberia’s Forests and Flag of Convenience in Regional Conflict’, September 2001.
Press Release / July 29, 2005