13 Sep 2018

Vanuatu NGO urges prosecution over conservation breach

4:37 pm on 13 September 2018

Vanuatu authorities are being urged to prosecute parties involved in illegal logging on a conservation area.

Campaign for Justice has completed weeks of undercover operations probing logging activities in the Vatthe Conservation Area in Big Bay, Santo. This area was established under 2002's Environmental Protection & Conservation Act.

Main street in Luganville on Santo, Vanuatu

Main street in Luganville on Santo, Vanuatu Photo: wikicommons / Simon Sees

The group has given its report on the activities to the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation, which mandated the NGO to investigate.

Ten suspects have been identified and cautioned, with statements obtained from them, and up to 20 witnesses lined up to testify if the case proceeds to court.

Campaign for Justice's director Russel Nari said if the department decided to prosecute, it will be the first case brought under the Act.

"It is now up to the Director of Environmental Protection and Conservation and the Office of the Public Prosecutor to ensure that such violations are appropriately dealt with under the law," he said.

"Community conservation areas that have been registered under this law have been very hard to enforce. But if this actually goes through, then that will set precedence for other conservation areas."

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Photo: Supplied

Mr Nari said because Vanuatu's various provinces and islands were so spread apart, it was not easy enforcing law. Also, the money on offer from logging was an enticement for local communities to get involved.

"The industry was so lucrative that people felt that they had to make money, and then some of them had to move on to the conservation area to log rosewood to sell both locally and internationally," he explained.

However, Vanuatu's Ministry of Agriculture banned the export of rosewood in February this year, in response to concern about unregulated sales of the timber in various parts of Santo.