Press Release / July 8, 2002

Reports of the Independent Observer of Forest law enforcement in Cameroon

Global Witness has been working as the Independent Observer of the forestry sector in Cameroon since May 2001 and has carried out preparatory work in 2000. On May 23rd 2002 a new contract was signed between Global Witness and the Government of Cameroon to continue the work of Global Witness in the country as the Independent Observer. Global Witness is today releasing the first set of information from this project.

In the 23rd May contract, the government authorised the publication of Global Witness' old field mission reports, or other reports produced before the signing date. This was a considerable step forward in the transparency stakes for which the government should be applauded.

Other mission reports and the final report from the phase of the project from May to November 2001 should be published soon if approved this Wednesday.

The mission reports published today give a snapshot of the situation on the ground in identified logging operations in different parts of the country. Each time Global Witness undertakes an investigation, either in partnership with agents of the Ministry of Environment and Forests or independently, a field mission report is produced. These reports are sent to the government for their information and also to the international donors, including UK DFID, the EU and the World Bank. The reports pool information to help the government crack down on illegal logging operations through enforcement of the Cameroonian forestry law of 1994.

"Cameroon is the only country in the Congo basin with an Independent Observer of forest sector operations and this is a positive step, but there is no point in putting a project in place if the goals are not achieved. The time is now very close to seeing if we are making a difference or not. The chief indicator of progress will be for the government to impose meaningful sanctions on the companies which are known by all those concerned to be logging illegally," said Stuart Wilson of Global Witness.

There are a number of high profile cases of illegal logging documented in these reports detailing the operations of both European and Cameroonian based companies.

From a regional Perspective.
Global Witness in its position as Independent Observer in Cameroon has revealed large scale illegal logging. Concern has to be raised about what is happening in the rest of the Congo Basin. There are extensive logging operations in the Central African Republic, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, DRC and elsewhere. There is little public information about the nature of the logging in these countries. In fact a Cameroonian activist, Joseph Melloh, is currently in prison in Congo Brazzaville for economic espionage after investigating the operations of one logging operation in the North of the country. He has been held now for over 6 weeks.

The putting in place by the Cameroonian Government of an Independent Observer Project should be recognised as an important initiative, although the process has not been an easy one for any of the parties concerned. There are continuing problems with transparency and the reform process. Should the project bring results in Cameroon there is potential to adapt the model for other countries.