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Strengthening Environmental Law Enforcement in Ghana: Calls for an Environment Court

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Hen Mpoano, a non-governmental organization focused on the conservation of Ghana’s coastal and marine environment, has urged the establishment of an Environment Court to hear cases of environmental crimes. Speaking at a recent training for police prosecutors and other security agencies on forest and environmental laws in Takoradi, Mr. Justice Camilus Mensah, a Project Officer at Hen Mpoano, emphasized that an Environment Court would strengthen environmental law enforcement and help reduce the high incidence of environmental crimes, such as illegal mining (galamsey).

Mr. Mensah explained that forest reserves in the Takoradi Forest District, such as Cape Three Point and Subri Forest Reserves, were under threat from human activities. He noted that rubber plantations, admitted farms, illegal mining, logging, and hunting of wildlife were taking place unabated in the reserves. He added that 12,372 hectares of land had been converted to plantations in the Subri Forest Reserve alone.

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To combat such illegal activities in the forest, Hen Mpoano is implementing the “Strengthening Environmental Law Enforcement in Forestry Crime project” with funding support from the Global Forest Watch Small Grant Fund. The project aims to integrate criminal justice into the forest monitoring and enforcement of the Takoradi Forest District by building on an ongoing Global Forest Watch project, which has successfully built the forest monitoring capacity of communities and forest managers to reduce deforestation in the Takoradi Forest District through enhanced community-based monitoring.

For the most part, the criminal justice system has been sporadic, limited, and ineffective in combating illegal logging and mining in the two forest reserves due to limited law enforcement budgets, corruption, lack of political will, and inadequate knowledge of the actors. Most forest crimes that go to court are dismissed for lack of prosecution or poor preparation of cases. In the last two years, over 20 different people were arrested, but none of the cases were prosecuted because those along the prosecutorial chain, such as the Police, were not abreast of the environment and forest laws.

Participants at the training expressed concern that punitive measures for wildlife and forestry crimes were not deterrent enough and called for a review. In response, Mr. Kwabena Boakye of the Legal Unit of the Wildlife Division, who took participants through the Wildlife Conservation Regulation, mentioned that a new Wildlife Bill had been presented to parliament for consideration. The new bill would be punitive enough, but he encouraged the participants to read widely to become conversant with the laws to effectively enforce them.

In a nutshell, Hen Mpoano is calling for an environment court to hear cases of environmental crimes and strengthen environmental law enforcement. The organization is also collaborating with relevant agencies to protect forest reserves, such as the Cape Three Point and Subri Forest Reserves, designated as Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas, Important Bird Areas, and Key Biodiversity Areas. The integration of criminal justice into forest monitoring and enforcement in the Takoradi Forest District is necessary to deter environmental crimes and protect Ghana’s natural resources.

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