Challenging corruption: Iron Ore Case

In 2004, the Liberian transitional government began shipping the country’s 800,000 metric ton stockpile of iron ore to China, estimated to be worth more than USD$10 million. The export contract was never made public, violating the Accra Peace Agreement and continuing a legacy of corruption. Green Advocates is leading a network of civil society organizations challenging decades of government corruption by taking its first case against the government to the case the Supreme Court. This test case seeks to stop the illegal shipment of Liberia’s stockpile of iron ore.

Using Liberian laws, the constitution, and international precedents of the Accra Peace Agreement, Green Advocates sought to have the export contract made public so the government would have to account for the revenue from the iron ore export. Green Advocates argued its case in front of the Supreme Court and the court ordered the government to cease shipments of the iron ore.

The government ignored the court’s order, continued shipping from the Port of Buchanan, and challenged Green Advocates right to sue, or “standing.” Green Advocate attorneys appeared before Liberia’s Supreme Court in October 2004 Term of Court and made their case for standing. Green Advocates will have to wait until the court reconvenes in 2005 to see if Green Advocates will have standing to continue its challenge.

Pressuring Firestone to Clean up its Act!

Firestone Company was awarded its first rubber plantation concession in 1926. Today, Firestone’s concession is the biggest rubber plantation in the world.

Firestone reaps millions from its export of raw rubber, but does not invest in value-added processing or in environmentally clean operations. Firestone’s operations have polluted the nearby Farmington River with its effluents to the point where the river is virtually dead.

In February, 2005, Green Advocates attorneys visited the communities living along the river who were complaining about the pollution. By boat, they investigated Firestone’s industrial operations and were stunned by what they saw. Green Advocates attorney Alfred Brownell said: “Local fisherman have lost all source of livelihood, herdsmen cannot raise their cattle because animals drinking the water from the river die mysteriously, groundwater on the mainland is contaminated, and the locals have abandoned all of the wells along the river bank.”

A week later, Green Advocates invited the press, law makers, government officials, and UN officials to an event along the river bank. Community members gave visiting dignitaries a tour of the community and the river. The event was a terrific success! The event was featured in the next day’s newspapers, radio, and television shows. Green Advocates members were in demand for interviews. Firestone quickly arranged its own press and declared 2005 to 2006 its “Environmentally Friendly Year!”

Fighting for Tribal Communities’ Land Title

Ninety-three Bassa County residents were arrested in January 2005 for protesting a rubber company’s plans to expand the operation and take over the Bassa County residents’ traditional lands where their people had lived for more than 100 years. With loans from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) has plans to turn more than 150,000 acres of forest into a rubber plantation.

In the 1950s, the Liberian government granted LAC a forest concession, without input or consent of the tribal communities that lived there. LAC wants the government to make good on its agreement. The tribal communities want Green Advocates to protect their land title.

The Bassa County residents protested when they received eviction notices. They were arrested and called on Green Advocates for help. Green Advocates challenged the detention and the protesters were released unconditionally. Green Advocates is now working to protect communities’ land title, claims damages, and seeks to halt LAC expansion.

Liberia’s Framework Environmental Laws

Liberia is richly endowed with tropical rainforests, iron ore, diamonds, and gold. The abusive exploitation of these natural resources has helped fuel Liberia’s continuing conflict. Strong environmental laws and communities that participate in environment decision making hold the promise of helping to bring peace to Liberia, while protecting the nation’s valuable natural resources.

Green Advocates drew support from environmental attorneys around the world who participate in the E-LAW network to draft Liberia’s first framework environmental law. E-LAW partners reviewed and commented on the draft and Green Advocates help workshops to help communities participate in the drafting process. In 2002, Liberia passed National Environmental Policy of Liberia, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Environment Protection and Management Law.

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