For immediate release
Monrovia, Liberia, August 2nd, 2017 – The Civil Society Working Group on Land Rights Reforms (the Working Group), in collaboration with the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), has been actively advocating land reform in particular the protection of customary land rights since 2009. Through mutual understanding and collective efforts, the Working Group has provided meaningful inputs into the various land reform policy documents, including participating in two public hearings organized as support to the national legislature. The Working Group has also serves as a medium to raise awareness around land reforms and the Land Rights Act (LRA), organizing forums between communities and relevant stakeholders, policy makers, traditional chiefs, community based organizations, etc.
However, since the last Public Hearing on May 22nd, 2017, and with the establishment of a legislative consultative forum between the Liberia Land Authority, lawmakers, and an unknown number of stakeholders, at the exclusion of CSOs and citizens; the Civil Society Working Group has observed with dismay the lack of transparency and this may raise ethical issues, such as conflicts of interest, and exclusion of citizens' participation in these final revisions. If the work of the legislation is shrouded in secrecy and hidden from the public, it erodes the confidence of the public in the law
Importantly, the CSOs Working Group wants to inform the public that whilst it continues to support the passage of the LRA, there are provisions within the LRA if tampered with will defeat not only the fundamental purpose of land reform in Liberia but it will also undermine peace, reconciliation, and development for years to come. To avoid this, the working group calls on the 53rd national legislature to protect the integrity of the Land Rights Act, particularly to guide against the following conflict prone intrusions:
- Tribal Certificate: The CSO Working Group strongly protests any blanket legitimization of tribal certificates. While we realize that the issue of tribal certificate deserves more dialogues and consultations with stakeholders, particularly local community, we would suggest adding more opportunity for communities to self-identify and set up a land management committee before we start formalizing tribal certificates. This will help establish a transparent and participatory decision-making process. A vetting process for tribal certificate needs to be clearly outlined or the Act could authorize the Liberia, Land Authority (LLA), working along with Civil Society Organizations, to outline a vetting process by which tribal certificate can be processed and formalized, taking into account other factors within a community, e. g. the size, demarcation, and length of time that land can be undeveloped, etc. Otherwise, The Working Group is afraid if all tribal certificates are automatically recognized as legal documentation for land, this will severely undermine private tenure rights and customary land rights of communities. This is because currently there are no inventory of how many tribal certificates exist and how much land are under tribal certificates. In this light, if tribal certificates are all recognized as legal documentation of land ownership, it’s very possible that there may be little to no land left that could be granted as customary land to rural communities.
- Management of Customary Land: Similarly, any attempt to place customary land under the central government management will be undermining not only the rights of communities, but the principles of the land rights policy and the land reform process in general. Communities throughout Liberia will strongly resist any attempts to place customary land under the management of law makers or other national government actors. Evidence have shown that customary lands are better managed by local communities than by centralized governmental structures. And in the case of Liberia, we are now in the process of decentralizing the Government, and as such any laws within the land sector must be able to support the decentralized initiatives.
- Customary Land and Protected Area: By formally recognizing customary land rights as equal in law to private land rights, any attempt to make protected areas a category of land rights or as a part of government land, would fundamentally undermine the spirit and intent of the Land Rights Policy and hence the Land Rights Act. It also goes against global best practices. However, it is possible, and within the reach of government to designate protected areas or classify an area forested on any particular category of land – albeit if such decision is based on an unbiased instrument and through the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the affected party or parties.
Based on the above, the Working Group believes that if the above provisions are not properly addressed to ensure the protection of the customary rights of citizens, this could lead to an increase in the rate of contentious relations between different actors within the society; especially within and between communities and other land users. It is important to remind the Liberian people that while widespread violence has been kept in check, reports of small-scale violence over land continues, and dissatisfaction with government land policy have and continues to exacerbate land tension, as a result the potential for larger-scale violence remains a serious potential threat.
While the CSOs Working Group will continue to participate in land reforms in the country, and supports the passage of the LRA. We remain vigilant with regard to these provisions and maintain the right to insist that no changes being made in the current draft law should undermine the customary land rights of Liberians. Civil Society Organizations will continue to support an inclusive and transparent land law, and work to assure the accountability of the government to its people.
Note: Members of the CSO working group include the following organizations: Rights and Rice Foundation (RRI), Sustainable development Institute (SDI), National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSCL), National Charcoal Union of Liberia (NACUL), Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU), Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI), Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Women NGO secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), Association of Liberia Community Radio (ALICOR), Natural Resource Women Platform (NRWP), Alliance for Rural Development (ARD), Rural Human Rights Activists Program (RHRAP), Farmers Union Network (FUN) of Liberia, Voice of the Voiceless (VOV), Liberia Reform Movement (LRM), Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL), Organization for Women Empowerment (OWE), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Sharpe Home Care Services (SHOCAS), Sustainable Organization Initiation in Liberia (SOIL), Virtuous Women, Concern Women