Land & Biodiversity Projects

Click on the links below to explore ELI’s projects on Land & Biodiversity in Africa.

Creating a Sustainable Legal Framework for Forestry in Liberia

Liberia has emerged from years of civil war that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed its economy. The use of “blood timber” to fuel local and regional conflict under the Charles Taylor regime resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council that barred the export of Liberian timber. One of the major early challenges facing the fragile Liberian democracy was lifting these sanctions, allowing it to depend on the sustainable use of one of its greatest natural resources. Since 2004, ELI has provided legal analysis and drafting guidance to Liberians as a core member of the Liberia Forest Initiative (LFI), a collaborative effort by government agencies, NGOs, and other international organizations to reform Liberia’s forest sector.

ELI has coordinated development and implementation of the legal component of this broad reform effort, based on a three-phase approach. First, ELI has been instrumental in assisting Liberians to draft and revise the legal instruments necessary to ensure a transparent, participatory framework for Liberian forestry:in October 2006, the landmark National Forestry Reform Law was signed into law by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Soon thereafter, the U.N. Security Council lifted timber sanctions. In addition to its work on this law, ELI has also assisted in drafting a core set of implementing regulations for Liberia’s forestry agency, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

Second, ELI and its partners coordinated the public review and comment period for these regulations, which was the first such effort and remains an example of how to involve the public in the development of regulations. Third, ELI has partnered with the FDA and other organizations to build the capacity of Liberians to successfully implement the new legal regime. In July 2007, ELI undertook two training programs for FDA staff on the new forestry law and related legal tools. As part of this mission, ELI worked closely with a group of ten employees from FDA staff headquarters to empower them to carry out future trainings without direct ELI participation. In October 2007, the FDA team held its first-ever independent training on the new legal regime. ELI returned to Liberia in April 2008 to work with FDA to implement a fourth training, this time for field-based staff, and to lay the groundwork for a possible judicial training on the new forestry law. In addition, ELI has provided comments to FDA on preliminary drafts of a new law on wildlife conservation called for under the 2006 Forestry law. Through all of these efforts, ELI and its LFI partners seek to help Liberia establish sustainable forestry, promote community empowerment, and work toward long-term economic recovery.

Assessing the Legal, Scientific, and Institutional Framework for Biodiversity Protection in Liberia

Liberia is notable for its extensive biodiversity, including the largest remaining tract of Upper Guinean Forest in West Africa and a stunningly diverse range of wildlife and plant species. In 1999, the West African Conservation Priority-Setting Exercise for the Upper Guinean Ecosystem identified Liberia as the top priority country for conservation efforts in humid West Africa. However, the nation’s biodiversity faces serious threats from a wide range of activities, including logging, fuelwood and charcoal production, subsistence agriculture, hunting, mining, and rubber plantations. These threats are compounded by the struggles of one of the most impoverished populations in the world. Thus, Liberia poses unique challenges for the conservation of biodiversity.

With funding from the United Nations Environment Programme, ELI examined the current legal, scientific, and institutional framework for protecting biodiversity in Liberia. ELI worked in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences and with Liberian lawyer Paul Jarvan, who, under the auspices of Liberia’s Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), spent two weeks at ELI assisting with legal and institutional research. The resulting report focuses on the laws and regulations that directly address biodiversity, and is meant to assist Liberia in identifying opportunities to further conserve and sustainably manage its biological resources. The assessment was conducted against the backdrop of the broad legal reform effort in the forest sector, driven by the Liberia Forest Initiative.

Providing Legal Analysis of a Liberian Mining Agreement

In late 2005, in response to a request from ELI’s Liberian NGO partner Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), ELI prepared an informal review and analysis of a mineral development agreement entered into by the Government of Liberia and a major international mining company. ELI highlighted for SDI’s consideration issues raised by the agreement with respect to the protection of indigenous rights; opportunities for public participation; the protection of human health and the environment; the safeguarding of human rights; andpotential limitations on the Government’s ability to enforce existing and future laws in connection with the contemplated mining activities.

Strengthening the Capacity of Institutions in the Albertine Rift to Protect Biological Diversity

Straddling the five nations of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Tanzania, the Albertine Rift is world-renowned for its biodiversity. However, deforestation, armed conflict, and an array of other threats jeopardize this rich legacy. Through a new, three-year program, ELI and its in-country partners are working closely with the Makerere University Faculty of Law in Uganda to build local institutional capacity and strengthen legal frameworks for regional conservation.

By virtue of its expertise, reputation, and location in the heart of the Albertine Rift, the Makerere University Faculty of Law can play an essential role in current and future efforts to conserve species in the Rift region. ELI has assisted the Law Faculty in building institutional capacity in two ways. First, ELI participated in the review and further development of the University’s environmental law curriculum. Second, ELI collaborated with law professors, judges, and lawyers in launching the new Makerere Environmental Law Centre for research and training within the Makerere Law Faculty.

Additionally, ELI and its partners have completed a broad research and capacity-building program to strengthen laws and the capacity of institutions in Albertine Rift countries to protect biological resources through effective systems governing access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. To assist the Rift countries in assessing priority areas for regulation, identifying gaps in existing laws and institutional structures, and to begin to build their capacity to address the variety of areas relevant to regulating genetic resources, ELI worked with partners in each of the five countries to undertake detailed research and analysis of the relevant national level legal and institutional frameworks. The research methodology for these studies was adapted from a larger study undertaken by ELI throughout Africa (see Developing Legal Frameworks Governing Access to Genetic Resources in Africa). To share the experiences gained in the national level studies, as well as to provide targeted capacity building and an opportunity for establishing a regional network among stakeholders, in May 2005 ELI and the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team convened a regional workshop in Arusha, Tanzania.

Addressing the Environmental Consequences of Armed Conflict in Africa

Throughout Africa, international conflicts, civil wars, and internal unrest devastate the environment. Land mines seriously injure and often kill innocent civilians and wildlife. Belligerents and refugees alike regularly invade national parks, the home of rare and endangered species and dwindling wilderness. Lack of law enforcement often leads to rampant poaching, illegal timber harvesting, and mining both within and outside protected areas. In fact, extraction of natural resources such as diamonds, ivory, and tropical hardwoods frequently supports belligerents, prolonging the conflict. Drawing upon its substantial experience in analyzing ways to prevent, minimize, redress, and punish environmental consequences of war, ELI spoke on “Legal Mechanisms for Addressing Environmental Consequences of War” at the GLOBE-Southern Africa Conference on Environmental Security in Africa, held September 21-22, 2000 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Internal armed conflicts and civil strife present a particularly vexing problem for environmental advocates in Africa. Such conflicts tend to be persistent and widespread across the continent, yet there are few meaningful mechanisms for holding people accountable for their actions in these conflicts. This breeds a culture of immunity and impunity, frequently leading to increasingly egregious environmental and human rights violations. To stimulate debate on the topic, ELI researched and published a 2001 report entitled “All is Not Fair in (Civil) War: Criminal Liability for Environmental Damage during Internal Armed Conflicts.”

From April 22-25, 2001, ELI participated in a workshop in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on “Conservation in Conflict: Strategies for Mitigating the Impacts of Armed Conflict on the African Environment,” sponsored by the Biodiversity Support Program (BSP) and ZimTrust. The workshop focused on the impacts of armed conflict on conservation and natural resource extraction in countries such as Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Liberia and Sierra Leone. BSP used the workshop to develop a set of general principles and guidelines for effective conservation in areas affected by armed conflict. ELI participated in a core group that advised BSP on the guidelines and distributed copies of an ELI paper on “Legal Mechanisms for Addressing Wartime Damage to Tropical Forests,” which was published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry and as a chapter of War and Tropical Forests: Conservation in Areas of Armed Conflict (2003) edited by Stephen V. Price.

Developing Legal Frameworks Governing Access to Genetic Resources in Africa

In partnership with African scholars, activists, and officials, ELI developed a comparative analysis of legal, policy, and institutional systems that govern access to genetic resources and benefit sharing in Africa. Through this project, ELI and its partners profiled twelve countries that represent different legal, biological, and cultural climates throughout Africa. These countries include Angola, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, the Seychelles, South Africa, and Uganda. The profiles emphasize lessons learned from ongoing implementation, as well as past laws and practices.

The comparative analysis formed the core of a book published in partnership with the African Union: “African Perspectives on Genetic Resources: A Handbook on Laws, Policies and Institutions Governing Access and Benefit Sharing.” Drawing from the various countries’ experiences, this book analyzes different mechanisms for guaranteeing effective access to genetic resources while protecting indigenous communities and their knowledge and ensuring that they receive an equitable share of the benefits. The book also examines the relevance of these lessons to current and emerging international regimes governing access to genetic resources, including those of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Protecting Biodiversity through Islamic Law

In much of Western and Northern Africa, Islamic law significantly influences public perception, and thus offers an opportunity to raise awareness of biodiversity issues facing those regions. Along with Ali Ahmad, an ELI visiting scholar and environmental law professor at Bayero University Kano (Nigeria), ELI conducted a review of Islamic literature for relevant norms that could be invoked in protecting biodiversity. This research became an Environmental Law Reporter article entitled “Maintaining Mizan: Protecting Biodiversity in Muslim Communities in Africa. ”Relevant norms include injunctions against actions that unnecessarily harm the environment or cause damage to particular resources, as well as provisions that seek harmony with nature. Building on these and other norms and institutions, the article considers how national laws could be developed and modified to better reflect Islamic principles so that more people follow them and the laws more effectively protect biodiversity.

Improving the Legal Regime for Managing Uganda’s Forests

For over fifty years, Uganda’s forests have faced growing demand from timber companies, urban and agricultural expansion, and people seeking new sources of charcoal for cooking. Until recently, the primary legal authority governing forests was a colonial relic, a law that emphasized exploitation over conservation. To address the new opportunities presented by Uganda’s decentralization and promotion of community-based natural resource management, as well as the challenges posed by modern timber technology and increasing demand, the government of Uganda drafted a new law to manage its forests. The Ugandan government requested that ELI, together with the American Bar Association, review and comment on its 2001 draft Forestry Act. For this work, ELI drew upon its network of U.S. and African environmental lawyers to assess both the technical and legal merits of the proposed law and the likelihood that it will be successful in Uganda’s social and economic climate. ELI submitted its final analysis of the draft Forestry Act in July 2001.

Developing Regulations on Access to Genetic Resources in Uganda

Africa’s biological diversity provides opportunities for commercial development that increasingly are being exploited locally, nationally, and internationally. Expanding research and business applications require laws and institutions that protect the intellectual property rights of local users of these resources and ensure equitable distribution of the benefits derived from their use and development.

In 2000, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda (together the East African Community) began to discuss possible legal systems for governing access to genetic resources. An opportunity for developing East African norms arose, particularly for shared biological resources. Uganda was at the vanguard of protecting and managing genetic resources in East Africa and had even developed draft regulations on access to genetic resources. In May of that year, the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and Uganda’s National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) organized a consultative stakeholder workshop on Access to Genetic Resources in Kampala, Uganda. With the Uganda Wildlife Society and the World Resources Institute, ELI developed a background paper that was distributed to participants prior to the workshop. This paper examined the strengths and weaknesses of the draft regulations and identified legal alternatives and other policy options.