It is with alarm that we – international NGOs with longstanding interests in Liberia – have learned of recent attempts by Liberia’s Courts to arrest key staff in the country’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA), who were carrying out their jobs verifying that timber exported from the country is legally sourced. This means it meets the requirements laid down in Liberia’s legal framework, ensuring that revenues are paid, and benefits shared with local communities. At 9.00am on Monday, 16 January one FDA employee is due to appear in court.
Under Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) trade deal with the EU, Liberia is only allowed to export legally sourced timber. That is timber registered in and verified through Liberia’s timber export scheme (LiberTrace).
Illegal logging is, however, rife.
One of the largest recent cases includes illegal logging of the valuable tree species Ekki in Grand Bassa County, six kilometres outside concession TSC-A2. In this case, at least 14,000 m3 of timber, worth an estimated US$ 3.9 million, was illegally logged by Renaissance Group Incorporated (RGI) and Freedom Group Liberia (FGL). The Ministry of Justice has investigated the case. This case is summarized in this NGO briefing.
9,000 m3 of timber had been exported already in 2019. RGI now wants to export the remaining logs and some new timber, cut from around that time or since. Despite the clear illegality of these logs, somehow, RGI managed to get the Court to instruct the FDA to authorise exporting these logs, followed by an order of the Supreme Court.
After the FDA refused to allow these illegal logs to be exported, on Friday 12 January 2023 the Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County, enforcing a final judgment of the Supreme Court, ordered the arrests of the FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen, FDA Deputy Manager for Operations Joseph Tally, FDA Board Chair Harrison Karnwea, Technical Manager of FDA’s Legality Verification Department Getrude Korvahyan Nyaley, Head of FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance Benjamin T. Plewon, and FDA lawyer Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, for contempt of court. It appears the court seems intent on directing FDA staff to carry out illegal activities.
It should be noted that community members in the area, who signed agreements with the company, state that RGI has failed to honour the commitments they made in them. They would like RGI to meet its commitments in full before the pending shipment of the logs.
We are encouraged by the FDA taking action to stop illegally sourced timber being exported, and strongly support its staffs actions.
We are extremely disturbed that the Liberian courts, instigated by logging company Renaissance, seems intent to punish FDA staff for doing their duty.
We call upon the international community to demand that the President of Liberia shows the world that Liberia is serious in addressing illegal logging, protecting Liberia’s forests, and ensuring communities benefit from legal logging.
We call upon the Government of Liberia to follow the law, publish the official investigation report by the Ministry of Justice into the Renaissance case, and use the evidence provided in this report, to guide their decisions.
We call on China, the US and EU Member States to check that all imports from Liberia are legally sourced, noting the high risk of illegal logging, and to ensure imports are compliant with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and the US Lacey Act.
We call on the Government of Norway and other donors and private companies to not start any carbon financing programmes or projects until the Liberian Government can provide full transparency as required by law and can prove Liberia’s forests are well governed and logging is taking place with full community consent.
The international community will judge the seriousness of Liberia’s stated aim of maintaining forest cover, eliminating illegal timber, and making use of the LiberTrace traceability system on how this case develops.
Biofuelwatch UK/US – Almuth Ernsting
Blue Dalian, China – Sun Li
Both Ends, the Netherlands – Paul Wolvekamp
Client Earth, UK – Caroline Haywood
Dogwood Alliance, US – Scot Quaranda
Earthsight, UK – Sam Lawson
Environmental Investigation Agency, UK – Faith Doherty
Environmental Investigation Agency, US – Susanne Breitkopf
Fern Brussel – Alexandra Benjamin
Friends of the Earth Finland – Noora Ojala
Friends of the Earth Netherlands – Danielle van Oijen
Leefmilieu, the Netherlands – Maarten Visschers
Scholar Tree Alliance, China – Zeng Shengwei
Snow Alliance, China – Mao Jing