Approximately seventeen Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have called on members of the Legislature to fast track the passage of the Draft Land Rights Act (LRA) into law before the Easter break.
They believe that any further delay would run into the campaign period for the upcoming elections, when the passage of the Act could be of secondary interest.
The CSOs and Working Group on Land Reform plea to the lawmakers was contained in an eight-count position statement they presented to members of that august body at the Capitol Building on Tuesday.
Florence M. Dorley-Konneh, who read the statement, said the views of the CSOs and respective communities they work with revealed that protecting Customary Land is perhaps the most important component in the draft LRA.
Mrs. Konneh said the LRA provides the legal framework for the mitigation of land conflicts in Liberia and is an instrument for the equitable distribution of land in the country.
She, however, said customary land was something new and therefore remains vulnerable to commercial interests, state expropriation, and land grabs by the elites.
The group said government has the legal authority to acquire land for public use, including roads, the construction of schools and other public infrastructure as long as they inform and compensate affected landholders in all of the counties.
“Any attempt to designate areas as public and without the consultation and informed consent of communities will likely undermine the core values, principles and legal protection on customary land entrenched in the Land Rights Policy,” they said.
On the issue of women’s land rights, they said the LRA needs to be gender responsive in all provisions where applicable, noting that an important step in this direction is adding phrases like “irrespective of gender”; “marital status”; “inclusive of women, youth, and minorities” on relevant provisions or articles.
The CSOs’ position highlighted several other issues, including Customary Land and Public Land, Sale of Customary Land, Definition of Forest Land, Women Land Rights, Land Authority or Management, Role of Civil Society Organizations, Public Land and Protected Areas.
Nimba County District #9 Representative R. Matenokay Tingban, who received the statement on behalf of his colleagues, lauded the group for their partnership with lawmakers to resolve potential land disputes.