Washington International Law Journal


Illegal logging in the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea is one of the greatest threats to the forests and indigenous people of this island nation. Increasing pressure from the commercial logging industry, legislation that restrains customary ownership, and an unclear legal basis for this ownership subjects the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea to unscrupulous, unsustainable, and illegal logging practices. As a region central to the preservation of global ecological and cultural diversity, the devastating consequences of illegal logging in Papua New Guinea have become nationally and internationally significant. Customary ownership of the forests by the indigenous clans of Papua New Guinea is one of the best mechanisms for indigenous peoples to curtail these illegal activities. Because indigenous peoples are the most dependent upon and familiar with forest resources, they have the most incentive to protect them. Indigenous Papua New Guineans can claim constitutional customary ownership over ninety-seven percent of the forested land in their country. Their claim is further strengthened by international law, which calls for empowerment of indigenous peoples and recognition of their customary laws. The indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea, however, cannot use their customary law to the fullest extent possible in protecting their forests until the Forestry Act of 1991 is revised and customary ownership is given a clear, legal basis through further development in the land courts.

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