Report | Sept. 4, 2012

Signing Their Lives Away

Liberia is the most heavily forested country in West Africa and contains the last large areas of relatively intact rainforest in the region. Most of Liberia’s rural communities are also dependent on the forest for food, energy and other basic needs. During the country’s long conflict, timber exports were used to finance arms sales and logging companies committed human rights abuses against those living in the forests. In the nine years since the war, the Liberian Government and its international partners have spent considerable time and money reforming the sector – drafting new laws and negotiating a timber trade agreement with the European Union. However, in the span of only two years, companies have used a legal loophole to secretively parcel out dozens of logging contracts covering a quarter of the country’s land area – roughly 26,000 km2 – once again threatening Liberia’s forests and the people who depend upon them.

These new licenses – termed Private Use Permits – contain no sustainability requirements and therefore would essentially allow companies to clear 40 percent of Liberia’s forests, including almost half of Liberia’s primary intact forests. Private Use Permits provide much less revenue to the Government than other types of logging licenses. Frequently allocated on land owned collectively by the local communities, the Permits provide little benefit to these communities and violate Liberia’s new laws designed to ensure that communities can control their forests. Investigations by Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute have also uncovered evidence of Permits awarded in violation of the country’s Community Rights Law, suspected forged documents and systematic neglect for due process in the allocation of Private Use Permits. 

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