Logging & the Abuse of Human Rights

Brothers from the Society of St Francis in the Solomon Islands are making a stand against illegal, unregistered and unsustainable logging in their country, via petitions to the United Nations. SSF Minister General Br Christopher John, writes about this important mission.

Solomon Islands, Logging

The forests of the Solomon Islands have sustained life in all its forms over countless generations. But now trees are being felled, dragged down from the mountain areas, and exported as unprocessed round logs. The logging companies, mostly Malaysian, often bribe politicians and local representatives to obtain logging licenses. Customary landowners receive some payment for their logs, but after the logging company has left there is nothing but bare earth. The work of the loggers is not monitored by government and often the terms of the logging licence are not respected. The effects are widespread. Destruction of environment, pollution of waterways, flash flooding which sweeps debris downstream where it blocks culverts and bridges, causing them to be washed away, and muddy water which pollutes fishing areas and damages the reefs which have a vital role in absorbing the energy of incoming waves.  The damage is also social, cultural and spiritual. There are recorded incidents of prostitution associated with loggers, including trafficking in underage females. An excess of cash can also lead to increased alcohol consumption and gender-based violence. Such logging destroys the traditional reliance on forests to provide shelter for food crops, a place to hunt wild animals, a source of timber, vines and leaves for building houses and canoes, as well as the environment for plants used for medicinal purposes. 

The Society of St Francis is one of the four Anglican religious communities in Solomon Islands. Our Brothers there know well the destructive effects of logging. They see it in the villages and when they are travelling out on mission. On our own we are too small to do much, but through our membership of Franciscans International (the voice of Franciscans at the United Nations) we are taking part in the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights being held in Geneva and online. Solomon Islands is one of the nations whose recognition of human rights is being examined at the UN Human Rights Council. On March 25 at the “Pre-Sessions” Br Lent gave the following address;

STATEMENT FOR UPR PRE-SESSION SOLOMON ISLANDS

Thank you to UPR Info for providing me the opportunity to speak. My name is Lent Fugui, a Franciscan Anglican brother from Solomon Islands.

I present this statement on behalf of a coalition of Franciscans and Dominican NGOs.

In the previous UPR cycle, several states made statements and recommendations on the issue of natural resources exploitation as well as climate change. 

Our focus for this presentation is the impact of logging activities in Solomon Islands on human rights.

In the activities of natural resources exploitation in my country, in particular logging activities in the customary land, there is a lack of participation and consent of local communities affected by logging plans and operations. In some cases, the environmental and human rights issue we raised during Timber Rights Hearings in the process are not taken into consideration by the Provincial Government.

In Laovavasa, Guadalcanal Island, we observed that logging activities have left behind great devastation. When the loggers harvest largest trees, they end-up destroying other small trees. The consequences of the destruction of forest and land are considered very severe by the community, as soils are now eroding; water sources dry up; rainfall is not dispersed efficiently, flash floods happen more regularly, as well as more droughts and landslides.

The diversion of the economy towards logging has impacted the traditional ways of life. In my country, fishery is a key source of livelihood. However, fish resources have declined because of sedimentation of rivers and reefs. This is a result of runoff from upstream cutting areas, and log-pond and wharf construction.

In February-March 2020, major floods in the Guadalcanal Province impacted our school, the Selwyn College of the Church of Melanesia, located in a coastal area surrounded by forest. The flood affected access to safe drinking water, sanitary facilities, food gardens of the school, as well as the rural health centre next to the school. As the septic tanks were flooded, there were serious concerns regarding the health impacts. Floods are believed to be exacerbated by logging activities in the upstream area around the school compound.

There have been several allegations of sexual violence related to the presence of logging companies and their foreign workers.  A report on the gendered effects of corporate logging in Malaita Islands found that women in the region experienced sexual exploitation.

Women are also disproportionately affected by logging and mining activities, in particular in the cases where women have a limited role in negotiations on land. Women have often been neglected in decision-making process.

In 2018, five environmental activists, known as Nende Five, were imprisoned for opposing the logging activities in the primary forest on Nende in Santo-Cruz Island in Temotu Province. While three of the activists were acquitted, one activist, is facing life imprisonment for arson and another was convicted of larceny and unlawful damage; their lawyer stated that their confessions were given under duress.

We are very much concerned on the impact of logging activities on climate change. Despite its commitment to mitigate climate change, the Government of Solomon Islands has not submitted its revised Nationally Determined Contribution. The forest in Solomon Islands has been contributing to the world’s carbon sink. However, if the deforestation continues, the impact of logging activities will be very significant for the environment, not only for Solomon Islands but also the global efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

We would like to propose the following recommendations to the Government of Solomon Islands.

The government should protect human rights against abuses and environmental degradation by logging companies and ensure effective remedies when abuses occured. It should also take appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure that the use and exploitation of natural resources do not adversely affect the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights as well as to ensure that, through all stages of the logging process, the rights to participation and information of affected communities are fully respected, in accordance with international standards.

The government should undertake awareness-raising programs on the environmental, social and human rights impacts of logging and on the rights and protections people shall enjoy, including programs targeting women and youths and take appropriate legislative and administrative measures to ensure that the use of exploitation of natural resources do not infringe the rights of local communities to dispose freely of their lands, territory, and natural resources, in accordance with international standards.

It is important to guarantee the effective protection of people at risk because they defend their rights or the rights of communities, the land or the environment in the context of logging projects. The government should ensure that all violations committed against defenders are thoroughly and impartially investigated and that victims are provided with effective remedies.

The government should ensure effective protection against violence against women and children, including sexual abuse and exploitation and domestic violence, with a focus on communities affected by logging activities.

Finally, the government should ensure access to sufficient safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for the entire population, including those who are affected by, or even active in, logging activities, as well as to adopt a coherent and comprehensive mitigation and adaptation climate policy and actions based on human rights norms and principles.

Thank you. Br Lent

Solomon Islands, Logging

Highlighting this concern at the UN is just the beginning of what is planned to be a campaign calling on different organisations to work in different ways according to their capacity. At an international level, tracking where the finished timber products are sold; regionally, finding allies and sources of information in small nations which have successfully stood up to the pressure of logging interests; nationally and provincially within the Solomons, finding effective ways of lobbying politicians and helping them find solutions to the problems of logging; and at village level, the members of religious orders and others working to educate people and give them strategies to resist the pressure of logging interests.

SSF Minister General Br Christopher John