Hen Mpoano advocates for creation of environment court

Despite their ecological importance, the ecological integrity of Cape Three Points and Subri Forest Reserves is increasingly threatened by human activities

Hen Mpoano (Our Coast), a non-governmental organisation, has advocated for the institution of an environment court, where cases of environmental crimes such as illegal mining (galamsey) will be heard.

Justice Camilus Mensah, a project officer at Hen Mpoano, who made the call stressed that such a move will go a long way to strengthen environmental law enforcement and reduce the high incidence of environmental crimes.

He was speaking at a two-day training for police prosecutors and other security agencies in Takoradi on forest and environmental laws.

The training was aimed at strengthening the capacity of enforcement actors for effective forest law compliance and enforcement. Participants at the training include police prosecutors, the Attorney General, the wildlife division of the Forestry Commission and other civil society organisations.

Mensah stated that the Cape Three Points and Subri Forest Reserves are two forest reserves in the Takoradi Forest District.

Despite their ecological importance, he said the ecological integrity of the two reserves is increasingly threatened by human activities.

In Cape Three Points, for instance, he noted that rubber plantations are encroaching on the boundaries of the forest reserve. He said farms are expanding and taking over the forest, while illegal mining activities, logging and hunting for wildlife are becoming rampant in the forest reserve.

Mensah bemoaned that about 12,372 hectares of land has been converted to plantations in the Subri Forest Reserve.

He said as part of efforts to combat such illegal activities in the forest, Hen Mpoano with funding support from the Global Forest Watch Small Grant Fund is implementing the “Strengthening Environmental Law Enforcement in Forestry Crime” project.

The project, with the overall goal of integrating criminal justice into the forest monitoring and enforcement of the Takoradi Forest District, will build on an ongoing Global Forest Watch project which had successfully built the forest monitoring capacity of communities and forest managers to reduce deforestation in the Takoradi Forest District through enhanced community-based monitoring.

He mentioned that although the criminal justice system had been used to combat illegal logging and mining in the two forest reserves, it had been sporadic, limited and ineffective due to limited law enforcement budgets, corruption, lack of political will and inadequate knowledge of the actors.

He said most forest crimes that went to the courts were dismissed for lack of prosecution or poor preparation of cases.

He stated that in the last two years, over 20 different people had been arrested but none of the cases were prosecuted because the responsible people along the prosecutorial chain such as the police were not abreast of the environment and the forest laws.

Mensah said, “Sometimes, people who are supposed to write or produce a docket do not have the right language to convince a judge that the case is important and that the case should be handled with priority.

“So, most of the cases go but they do not get any punitive punishment to deter others from doing the same.”

Therefore, he said it was expedient that enforcement of the forest laws ensured that all actors in the enforcement chain have adequate knowledge of the laws of the environment.

The training participants expressed concern that punitive measures for wildlife and forestry crimes are not deterrent enough and called for a review.

However, Kwabena Boakye of the legal unit of the Wildlife Division, who trained participants on the Wildlife Conservation Regulation, mentioned that a new Wildlife Bill had been presented to parliament for consideration.

The new bill, he stressed, will be punitive enough but encouraged the participants to read widely to become conversant with the laws to be able to effectively enforce them.

Balletey Gomey, a senior programme officer at Hen Mpoano, said the organization will collaborate with all relevant agencies in the protection of the forest reserve, while admitting that there might be obstacles in the management of natural resources.

The Cape Three Points Forest Reserve has been designated as a Globally Significant Biodiversity Area (GSBA); an Important Bird Area and a Key Biodiversity Area, while the Subri Forest which is the biggest forest reserve in the country has about 160 square kilometres designated as a GSBA.



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