In the wake of the process reforming land ownership and putting into place some legal documentation under the auspices of the Liberian Government, through its Land Commission, a bill seeking for a Land Reform Act has forwarded to the plenary of the Liberian Senate for a possible passage.
According to a communication addressed to the Senate, public hearings will be conducted though the Lands, Mines, Energy and National Resources and Environment Committee of the Senate – lead committee, while the Committees in the Judiciary, Claims, Human Rights and Petitions, as well as other relevant Committees of the House of Representatives will participate in the exercise.
The draft Land Reform Act or LRA already sets out wide range protections for customary land rights. The bill also ensures that communities are empowered to self-identity and defines the area of their customary land in keeping with custom, history and norms.
“A community may thus define itself to be single village, town, clan or chiefdom or a group of villages or towns and clans,” the draft act indicated.
Meanwhile, a group civil society groups, yesterday, called for the full adherence of the draft act to be followed by both members of the Legislature and Executive Branches of the Government.
The civil groups – comprising women representations, indicated that customary rights of communities to their land and resources – which include forests, sacred sites and wetlands, as well as houses and farms – must be as strong and as protected by national laws as private land rights, regardless of whether communities have a deed or not.
“It must be for communities to decide for themselves whether they would like to seek a deed to formalize their customary rights or not. Procedures for doing this must be affordable and simple. Proposals that would impact customary land and resources must only proceed with the affected communities’ free, prior and informed consent,” Ali Weah of the group said.
According to their custom, land owned by communities can be used, left fallow, and lent to a ‘stranger’, but it must not be alienated from the community. Government land and development policy and law should support communities only through existing customary governance structures and systems, in accordance with the communities’ own development priorities, and in a way that strengthens customary structures will be transparent, inclusive and democratic.
The existing concession contract between the government and Sime Darby in Grand Cape Mount and Golden Veroluem- Liberia in Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties are not consistent with the communities’ human rights, and needs to be renegotiated to respect and protect their fundamental rights to decide the future of their land and resources and access redress for previous and future breaches of their rights. By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor – Editing by George Barpeen