Issues related to land are complicated by the legacy of evolving laws passed by different governments since the country gained independence in 1847. The situation regarding ‘forest tenure’ is unclear. For example, the current Public Land Law from 1973 (but originating from the 19th century) treats ‘unoccupied’ land as public land, whereas the Community Rights Law (CRL) 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands recognises rights to customary land whether or not the individual or group has a deed.
Long-standing issues over land tenure led to the Land Commission being established in 2009 and commencing its work in 2010. Its mandate is to propose, advocate and coordinate reforms of land policy, laws and programmes in Liberia with the goal of developing a comprehensive national land tenure and land use system that will provide equitable access to land and secure tenure. Following a series of national and regional consultations in 2011 and 2012 with different stakeholders, it is in its final stage of developing a policy on land rights covering public land, government land, protected land, customary land, and private land.. A nationwide consultation on the latest draft is planned for November 2012 to January 2013. The policy will then be submitted to the National Legislature for approval.
Since it began operating, the Land Commission has documented over a hundred land dispute cases in circuit and magisterial courts. There have been growing concerns over the allocation of large areas of land, included forested areas, to agricultural concessions, although at the conclusion of the pre-Joint Implementation Committee meeting in March 2012 for the Voluntary Partnership Agreement between Liberia and the European Union, the Government confirmed that "there is a moratorium on further allocation on forest land of concessions requiring large land areas, except where food security of concern” (1). Similarly, at the time of this assessment there was a moratorium on Private Use Permits following concerns over their agreement on community lands, including cases highlighted by where the title deeds were questionable (2).
(1) Aide Memoire First Meeting of the Pre-Joint Implementation Committee, March 2012. Available at http://vpaliberia.com/Aid%20Memoire%20%20Annexes%20pre-JIC%20%2830%20march%202012%291%20%282%29.pdf
(2) Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute, Signing Their Lives Away: Liberia’s Private Use Permits and the Destruction of Community-Owned Rainforest, 4 September 2012. Available at www.globalwitness.org/library/signing-their-lives-away-liberia%E2%80%99s-private-use-permits-and-destruction-community-owned