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Lawyers Decry Wanton Forest Exploitation 

By Chris Mbunwe

Over 50 Cameroonian lawyers during a two-day workshop recently in Bamenda expressed worry over the wanton exploitation of the country’s forests on environmental laws. They said they were irked by the manner in which some highly placed officials exploit the forest without corresponding replacement. Speaking during the capacity-building workshop, one of the lawyers told his colleagues to ensure that the population is protected with the legal instruments to fight environmental hazards like pollution and the wanton destruction of forests.

He paid tribute to the World Resource Institute for their financial support for the organisation of the workshop and the British High Commission that produced the laws distributed at the workshop under The Access Initiative, TAI. The Executive Director of the Foundation for Environment and Development, FEDEV, Barrister Justice Nchunu Sama, expressed satisfaction that lawyers have started showing interest in enhancing environmental justice in the country.

He said FEDEV is a national civil society organisation, which is promoting sustainable development, sound natural resource management, environmental protection, good governance and human rights protection. The workshop aimed at enabling lawyers share knowledge and skills in environmental law, raising awareness on environmental problems and the legal framework for environmental governance and acquainting lawyers with the concepts and intricacies of environmental law etc. 

According to Justice Nchunu, the series of workshops will create a pool of environmental lawyers, armed with knowledge on environmental issues and practices. The FEDEV Director said the evolution of multilateral environmental agreements, national constitutions and status concerning the protection of the environment requires the courts to interpret and apply new legal instruments in keeping with the principles of sustainable development.

"However, magistrates cannot descend to the streets to request aggrieved persons to bring cases to court. Lawyers have to take their responsibilities.  Given the glaring shortcomings identified during the workshops, it is very important to leverage the capacities of lawyers in the area of environmental law so as to ensure effective access to environmental justice," Nchunu said.

He believes that the fragile state of our environment, coupled with the irreversible nature of environmental hazards, require lawyers to implement and promote the development of environmental laws. Apart from taking part in international environmental negotiations, Nchunu said for sustainability, the Cameroon Bar Council should have an environmental commission similar to what exists in other counties. He regretted that despite the existence of national and international environmental laws, enforcement is still a major problem.

Going by him, the world is plagued with increasing and complex environmental problems like water scarcity, desertification and land degradation, pollution, ecosystem disruption, natural resource depletion, global warming, ozone depletion, disease prevalence and hunger etc, which must be addressed. "TAI country research shows that the bulk of Cameroonian lawyers are not aware of basic environmental issues, and that they lack knowledge of the existing environmental laws and policies, reasons for the workshop," the FEDEV Director explained.

The lawyers were drilled on the legal framework for water resource management, the role of the Cameroon Bar Association in promoting the enforcement and development of environmental law, the role of the courts in enforcing environmental justice and the role of media in promoting environmental compliance and access to environmental justice. They also treated issues such as Public Interest Litigation, human rights and Environmental justice, climate change laws and policies and Wildlife Justice in Cameroon.

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