A group under Women for Land Rights in Liberia yesterday presented a petition to Lofa County Senator George T. Tengbeh, to use his influence and prevail on his colleagues to pass the 2014 version of the Draft Land Rights Bill into law.
Led by Mrs. Betty K. Sharpe, the group said the version of the bill, passed by the House in August 2017, would undermine the land rights of ordinary Liberians, most especially communities in rural parts of the country that depend on land to grow food and generate income for their livelihood.
“Without communities having access to their land, it will be difficult for the government to achieve its ‘pro-poor agenda,’” the women told Senator Tengbeh.
The group drew attention to five areas of concern, including tribal certificates, 30 percent of public lands, protect the rights of communities to informed consent; protected and proposed protected area declared as government land and women land rights.
They said the 2017 version recognizes tribal certificates and other property documents without taking into account measures that would protect communities’ land rights. This recognition, the women said, will open the door to large-scale land grab by private individuals and companies.
30 percent of Public Land
They said the 2017 version states that 30 percent of the customary land will automatically leave communities’ ownership and go to the government to be used for Public Land without due process, FPIC or payment to communities that own the land, which is likely to violate the constitution.
Protect the rights of communities to informed consent.
They said the 2017 draft bill does not define the role of communities in negotiating concessions on their land and does not define benefit rights of communities in the event where they are denied enjoyment to their customary land rights. “The current bill needs to include a provision that protects the rights of communities to free, prior, and informed (FPIC) to all concessions and investments on their land,” they said.
Protected and proposed protected area declared as Government Land
They said the current draft bill contains provisions that function to remove protected lands, both designated and proposed, from customary landowners. The changes, they said, create confusion about the status of protected areas and amount to a forceful taking of Customary Land without due process and measures to safeguard the rights of communities.
Women Land Rights
They told Sen. Tengbeh that the current draft bill does not adequately address the rights of women to access, own and transfer land.
“We are of the view that if the current draft Land Rights Bill is passed into law in its current form and shape, it will lead to a law that will not protect the interests of families in the rural parts of Liberia that depend on the land for their survival.
“We also believe that if the bill is passed in its current form, it will undermine peace, national reconciliation, and create more poverty among community members that depend on the land for income,” they said.
Therefore, they called on Tengbeh to consult with members of the Senate and House of Representatives and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to see the need to pass a “pro-poor” Land Rights Bill that will protect the Customary Land Rights and interests of the greater portion of the population.
Responding, Sen. Tengbeh, who met the group outside the entrance to the compound, expressed appreciation for the women’s decision and assured them that he would carry their message to his colleagues and would consider their recommendations.
He told them that the importance of the Land Rights Bill demands that all sectors of the Liberian society are listened to, in order to make the right decision for the people.