Alfred Brownell, Liberian Lawyer wins Goldman Environmental Award

By: Flomo Yarkpawolo

Alfred Lahai Brownell, a US-based Liberian lawyer and an environmentalist is among six other activists to be honored win the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award.  Brownell, 51-year-old, is the founder and lead campaigner of Green Advocates International head of environment law campaigners Green Advocates.

Nicknamed the Green Nobel Prize, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from around the world, inspiring all of us to take action to protect our planet.

Brownell is also a research associate professor in the School of Law at Northeastern University in Boston. He was forced to flee Liberia for the U.S. with his family because of death threats. At Northeastern University School of Law, Brownell has designed and is teaching a course syllabus from scratch based on his more than 15 years of field experiences and the experiences of other public interest environmental and human rights lawyers across the globe focusing on human rights, the environment, development and community resilience.

About twenty-two years ago, Brownell had a problem with the way the Liberian government awarded contracts for the exploitation of natural resources without consulting local communities; forest and mineral resources were being taken away with no questions asked. According to Brownell, “It was at a time when a very notorious company called OTC and many other companies were cutting down the forest for timber and no benefit was going back to the people.”

Then a law student in the capital, Monrovia, Brownell challenged President Charles Taylor and his government on the operations of OTC – the Oriental Timber Company. The company was later found to be involved in arms smuggling, Taylor is in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity – and Alfred Brownell has just been awarded the African Goldman Environmental Prize for 2019 at a ceremony in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the exploitation of the Liberia’s natural resources appeared to have gotten worst since the discovery of crude oil. Under the leadership of President Trump’s former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, oil giant Exxon Mobil signed a $120 million deal for an oil block in Liberia that the company officials knew was rife with corruption, according to Global Witness. The deal between Exxon and Liberian company Broadway Consolidated/Peppercoast (BCP) was signed in 2013 despite Exxon’s concerns that the deal could violate U.S. anti-corruption laws. The investigation by Global Witness showed that Exxon executives were aware that the oil block they purchased was partly owned by former politicians who had taken ownership of the block through illegal means. “Exxon knew its purchase might enrich these former politicians. The company also knew the oil block had originally been awarded to BCP after Liberia’s oil agency paid bribes,” the report said.

Audits by Liberia’s own auditor general have found that most of the concessions awarded by the government since 2009 were compromised by bribery and influence peddling and have not been compliant with the law.

According to the World Bank, half of Liberians live in abject poverty which means they are severely deprived of basic needs like food, clean water, shelter, sanitation and health care access.

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