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Modalities for the establishment of public interest lawyers to handle human rights and environment cases in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Bloc are being considered by civil society groups.

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The move is to assist communalities within the sub-region where extractive activities are taking place to properly and effectively litigate their cases in the ECOWAS Court.

Mr Augustine Niber, Executive Director of the Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), disclosed this to Public Agenda recently after a meeting of West Africa Human Rights and Environmental Lawyers in Accra.

Mr Niber told Public Agenda, ?What was significant in the meeting was that we are looking at setting up a network of public interest lawyers in West Africa. Something of that nature is in the pipeline and we are going to look around and see how we are going to bring it into fruition.?

The meeting, according to him, concluded much on it because a lot of work needed to be done before it could be pushed through.

He explained that the modalities in terms of time lines would be crafted in their next meeting. However , in this particular respect, ?We are looking at issues that are very common across the sub region. These will be based on issues that are common within the sub region particularly related to extractive, Because it is a common issue that runs across Liberia, Nigeria Ghana, sierra Leone and all those other countries that participated in the meeting.?

The workshop which was attended by participant from ECOWAS countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, C?te d’Ivoire and Guinea, was meant to develop mechanisms that could assist strong civil society advocates who work primarily at the domestic level to unite to confront challenges together as well as take advantage of opportunities that exist at the Economic Community of West Africa States and international level to protect human rights and the environment.

It sought to further build connections across the West African sub- region between lawyers and legal advocates; share information about the use of international law and innovative techniques in human rights and environmental litigation as well as identify opportunities for West African lawyers to collaborate intra-regionally and internationally on issues related to the extractive industries.

The workshop discussed among other things technical and doctrinal issues relevant to the work of human rights and environmental lawyers, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) among others.
? It was a very useful meeting , Mr Niber said, adding, we actually developed the meeting around live cases, this means individual countries that have cases in their countries brought them and through the workshop we designed a way and strategies on how we can help to rectify those cases.?

Mr Jonathan Kaufman, A Legal Advocacy Coordinator, EarthRights International USA, expressed delight about the manner the programme was conducted.

Mr Kaufman said the problems in the extractive sector in the ECOWAS Bloc was similar , hence, the idea was to bring the lawyers together to deliberate on common issues to be able to support each other with knowledge, resources and ideas so that each community that was facing such problem did not have to re-invent the wheel .

He said participants had training mostly on Environment Impact Assessment and how lawyers could read and use them during litigation at the regional level and the ECOWAS court of justice.

Source : Public Agenda

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