Cases of Documented Violations
Numerous reports of land rights and environmental defenders being attacked, tortured, and unjustly imprisoned have emerged from Liberia. Community members protesting the acquisition of their lands have been directly attacked by armed forces or private guards employed by companies seeking to acquire their lands, as well as unjustly accused of crimes and imprisoned without evidence. According to advocates, the cycle of criminalization and violence is designed to quash protests to development projects planned on community lands without their consent. Even lawyers and advocates supporting community rights have faced violence and legal charges. Alfred Brownell, founder of Green Advocates International, and several Green Advocates staff members faced repeated harassment from police. After numerous charges were levied against Brownell and Green Advocates’ staff—charges that civil society maintain were politically motivated and designed to discredit protest against illegal land acquisition—Brownell went into hiding and eventually fled the country. He and his family are in exile in the US.
Much of the violence against Indigenous Peoples and local communities occurs because companies seek to use their lands for oil palm plantations. A complaint brought to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Complaints Panel resulted in the panel finding the palm oil producer Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) to have been non-compliant. The panel ordered GVL to address a number of issues raised by affected communities, including allegations of human rights abuses and violations of affected communities’ rights to free, prior, and informed consent. After the decision, GVL withdrew from the RSPO, alleging that they needed time to improve their performance on sustainability. However civil society groups have cast doubt on that claim, arguing instead that the withdrawal represents an attempt by GVL to avoid accounting for alleged human rights abuses and to preclude the need to work with communities to redress alleged illegal land acquisitions.
Although the country has legislation on the table that would recognize the rights of its Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the form of the Land Rights Act, the Act has remained stalled in Congress for years.