Liberia: An Act to Establish the Community Rights Law of 2009 with respect to Forest Lands (CRL) was finally published, one month after it was enacted by the National Legislature on 23rd September 2009.
The Law is a product of protracted discussions, multiple versions, and significant controversy. The 2006 National Forest Reform Law stated that a community rights law should be presented to the legislature by September 2007. The final product, shrouded in secrecy for most of the last year, has some progressive provisions as well as some problematic ones.
The original remit, in the 2006 forest law, to "grant to local communities user and management rights [and] transfer to them control of forest use" is open to question. What the CRL does do give members of the legislature unprecedented powers to:
1. sit on the Executive Committee and Community Assemblies and dictate to other members of the community forest management bodies;
2. have a direct say and possible control over community funds; and
3. cut deals with logging companies for up to 50,000ha without those companies going through a competitive process.
Civil society actors feel they are between a rock and a hard place: endorsement might send a signal suggesting people tolerate violations of other laws, such as those controlling the allocation of logging permits, if it benefits them. But rejecting the law in its entirety may be seen as a step backwards. An international tenure expert concluded, "it may take a decade to produce the necessary grit of customary rights".
One local commentator on the new law did not mince his words: "it goes totally against the essence of the concept of community involvement in forest management". The law reinforces the current situation in which 'in theory' community rights are recognised but in practice even documented entitlements have to await the will of the State to deign to acknowledge their existence in concrete terms.