Participation key in forestry legal reforms, Brazzaville conference hears

Participation and political will have been highlighted as key for reforming laws around forest governance, a forum in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo, has heard.

ClientEarth legal experts were invited to chair a discussion panel on legal reforms at this year’s Forest Governance Forum, which included 300 participants from across the world.

The panel brought together government and civil society representatives from Ivory Coast and the Republic of Congo as well as experts from the World Bank and the Commission of Central African Forests (COMIFAC).

Drawing on her experience supporting civil society organisations and public interest lawyers in the Ivory Coast, the Republic of Congo, Liberia and Ghana, ClientEarth law and policy advisor Tanja Venisnik chaired the panel, where speakers shared their experiences in identifying key elements of effective forest law reform.

All panelists underlined the importance of participatory processes and involving all stakeholders – such as local communities and indigenous peoples – in creating effective laws. Panelists also agreed that legal reforms required political will and commitment from politicians, as well as collaboration and coordination between different government ministries.

Ines Gady Mvoukani, a representative from Congolese civil society and ClientEarth’s in-country associate, said participation was necessary in order to ensure stakeholder buy-in and for them to take ownership of the process. The end result of reform has to reflect the contributions of stakeholders in order for it to be deemed credible, she said.

Aurelie Rossignol, an environmental and natural resources specialist from the World Bank, said that since threats to forests are multiple and often interdependent, it was imperative to adopt a coordinated multi-sectoral approach to combat them.

Samuel Assembe Mvondo, a forest governance expert from COMIFAC, underlined the importance of a bottom-up and iterative approach to legal reform, where laws are designed, tested and refined to ensure what works best on the ground.

Another panellist Elvire Joelle Zouzou, the Director General of Forest and Fauna from the Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Forests reiterated the importance of stakeholder participation.

Following a lively discussion, several other elements came to light, including how the law played an important role in ecologically sustainable development. To ensure this, the panel agreed that countries should adopt robust regulatory regimes and institutional frameworks.

Tanja Venisnik said: “It should be noted that legal reform is a complex process that needs careful planning, and must include preliminary contextual analysis of social, historical and policy factors.

“There should be analysis of legal gaps as well as developing a vision for the reform and policy. A balance also needs to be found between ensuring full participation and consultation of all stakeholders and completing the reform in reasonable time.

“Legal reform is a long-term process that goes beyond mere drafting of legal texts. The reform process is a real opportunity for strengthening legal capacity for all segments of society, particularly communities and indigenous peoples, who are often disfranchised from these processes.

“In that sense, it can be an important legal empowerment tool contributing to forest protection and enhanced respect of the rights of forest-dependent communities.”

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