Gbarnga – Lawyers for the just concluded three-day Annual General Assembly (AG) meeting of the National Union of Community Forest Management Bodies (NUCFMB) in Gbarnga, Bong County, told the community representatives that they had no obligation to select the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) or any of its officials as arbiter to help resolve disputes. The lawyers made the statement during a presentation on dispute resolution at the DEN-L resource center in central Liberia.
The purpose of the Annual General Meeting was to reflect, share information and give feedback to union members on the operations and programs of the national secretariat and the communities. About 50 community representatives from seven forest regions attended the General Assembly, sponsored by the European Union delegation to Liberia and co-sponsored by ClientEarth.
Lawyers for law firm Heritage Partners said Chapter 8 of the Community Rights Act clearly spelled out the methods and procedures for resolving disputes, adding that FDA screening is optional, but not binding on communities. . “Disputes that arise in communities can be resolved through the customary process, not by inviting the FDA to act as arbiter, as the community rights law does not mention the FDA as the arbiter,” said Cllr. J. Awia Vankan.
Lack of knowledge about dispute resolution has often forced communities to invite the FDA to intervene in conflicts arising from forest contracts. In most cases, participants said, the FDA, as a regulator, does not show up on time when requested by communities and often cites financial and logistical constraints as obstacles. But lawyers who attended the annual community meeting in central Liberia clarified that community members do not have to wait for the FDA before resolving the dispute through arbitration, unless the contract does not stipulate it, which, according to the lawyers, is not binding.
The dispute resolution section of the Community Forest Land Rights Act (CRL) 2009 does not designate the FDA as an arbitrator, nor does it require communities to include the FDA as an arbitrator in their contracts with companies. logging. Chapter 8 of the LCR says: “Any dispute that arises between two or more communities and the Authority, communities and third parties regarding access to or management of community forest resources may be resolved through the customary dispute resolution mechanism or through the application of the arbitration laws of Liberia as set out in Chapter 64 of the Civil Procedure Law ”.
The HPA lawyer reminded communities of the possible types of disputes between communities and other parties during a logging contract, but encouraged them to take preventive measures when drafting or conclusion of contracts, noting that there are also many methods by which disputes can be settled without going to court.
Cllr. Vankan said disputes can be handled through mutual settlement, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and litigation, and alternative dispute resolution may take less time. , promote harmony and peace within the community and produce a win-win solution for all. It can be a simple process that the community can easily understand.