LIBERIA: CSO Working Group On Land Rights catalogues Successes and Obstacles in Implementation of Law

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The Civil Society Working Group on the Land Rights Law has launched a policy brief document highlighting successes and obstacles encountered in the implementation of the Land Rights Law or LRL with three counts of recommendations for improvement.

Speaking at the launch of a policy brief document in Monrovia on Thursday, December 7, 2023 Community Rights Support Facility Lead Facilitator, Titus Zoeger, disclosed that CSOs, with support from the LLA and international partners, have helped more than 150 communities identify their customary land claims, harmonized common boundaries with neighbors, and established land management committees.

Of the approximately 150 communities, Mr. Zoegar explained that 75 have established governance structures, while 73 have begun to harmonize boundaries.

In addition, he furthered that more than 30 communities are waiting for the LLA to conduct confirmatory surveys and issue deeds. The communities collectively claim an estimated 1.5 million hectares of land.

But on the back of these success stories, the CSOs report that there is lack of a transparent framework for monitoring implementation, stressing that non-compliance and impunity are major challenges for customary land.

“There have been allegations of illegal land transfers and expropriations. Civil society organizations conducted assessments in December 2021 and June 2022, which found that customary titles were being transferred to private owners without adequate regulation and safeguards. Customary land titles have also been issued to some communities without transparency, particularly in Bomi, Nimba, Grand Cape Mount, and River Gee counties. The lack of public records of these land transfers raises questions of accountability and fairness, undermines community rights, and leads to land grabbing.”

It has also been established that the institutional capacity of the LLA is weak and that there is a lack of effective coordination between different sectors and stakeholders.

The working group also established that LLA’s activities, such as customary land validation, surveying, and adjudication, are often limited to headquarters staff, and local staff, where if not present, are unable to provide the necessary services to communities.

“County offices are understaffed and under-resourced, and the establishment of County Land Boards, as mandated by the LLA, has not yet been implemented, further centralizing power and resources at the headquarters in Monrovia. These issues have created gaps that hinder the LRL’s implementation and customary tenure security, especially for local communities and vulnerable groups.”

As part of the complex issues, the group outlined conflicting interests over land claims and land use activities, including legacy land concessions for mining, logging, agriculture, public land, private lands, and conservation projects, often overlap with customary lands.

“Although the LRL protects customary land tenure as a prerequisite for conservation or commercial projects, the government continues to create new conservation projects, such as national parks and commercial carbon credit projects. These transitions often lead to unintended consequences such as displacement and conflict between groups with different interests, posing significant challenges to community lands and resources. In addition, other government agencies such as the Forestry Development Agency, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs also exercise authority over customary resources and institutions, creating overlapping interests and authority over customary lands.”

Among other things, the working group stressed the need for capacity and support for CSOs, stating that while the number of civil society organizations involved in the land sector has increased significantly and continues to provide valuable perspectives, expertise, and advocacy on land issues, many are hampered by a lack of technical expertise.

Predicated on the numerous success stories and challenges, the group in its recommendations called on the government through the Liberia Land Authority or LLA to prioritize the registration of customary land and ensure that communities who have completed the requirements are issued validated customary land deeds.

Also, the working group pointed out that it requires clear procedures for surveying all issuing deeds to communities but challenges the LLA to establish clear regulations and guidelines to validate tribal certificates.

The group noted that tribal certificates are documents that allow individuals and communities to privatize public land.

The working group also called on the Land Authority to consider decentralizing services to local communities by setting up local offices and county land boards to implement the Land Rights Law effectively.

According to Mr. Zoegar, the role of civil society organizations or CSOs is crucial to the successful implementation of land rights legislation, nothing that it is to ensure that the law is effective and impartial, CSOs must work with government agencies, international partners, and private stakeholders to monitor implementation activities.

‘’Efforts should prioritize supporting communities in implementing the law and building the capacity of local leaders, particularly CLDMCs, to effectively manage their community land and resources. Larger and more established CSOs need to join forces to support smaller CSOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) in expanding the scope and scale of customary land protection, particularly the land rights of vulnerable groups such as women and youth. In addition, the CSO Working Group and other land rights coalitions need to work with networks such as the media and CBOs to strengthen coordination, monitoring, and advocacy efforts,’’ Mr. Zoegar added as he read the statement on behalf of the group.

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