Improving forest law across national borders

Sheila Abed, founder and Executive President of the Paraguayan Environmental Law and Economics Institute (IDEA) and Chair of IUCN’s Commission on Environmental Law, talks about her work on strengthening transboundary forest law.

Sheila Abed Photo: IUCN

Could you tell us how your work on transboundary forest issues started?

This work began with the discovery of a network of wood trafficking from Paraguay to Brazil. Once we began to look into the network, we found that the wood trafficking was also going on from Bolivia to Brazil. When we investigated the underlying causes, we discovered that it was due to a leakage issue. Brazil had begun to apply heavy fines and clamp down more strongly on timber trafficking (particularly on timber supplied to the steel industry), so the problem was simply transported to neighbouring countries, where environmental law enforcement and compliance is much weaker.

Since IDEA is supporting the work of environmental prosecutors in the region, we decided that it was a good opportunity to involve the judiciary as well as the administrative offices of the three countries involved. We wanted to create a transboundary case that analyzes the problem from start to finish. We then took action and contacted the relevant institutions, organized meetings in all three countries and agreed on a workplan with specific activities for each sector.

What are the main challenges in working on, and applying, transboundary forest law?

One of the main challenges involves matching all the different legal regimes, since each of the countries involved has its own set of rules that are very different from the others. Another challenge is that this sort of offence cannot be dealt with merely from an environmental law standpoint; we need to also look at customs law, tax law and the norms of the countries’ different levels of government. In addition, we need to address the institutional weakness and corruption that exist in these countries.

How does such work on forest law relate to the work of other environmental lawyers, in your experience?

Working with forest-related legal matters is a challenge to environmental lawyers because for forestry cases you have to take into account the production side. This can present a conflict when it comes to finding all the answers for forest issues, since environmental lawyers are very focused on conservation and tend to want to ignore the production side.

How has forest-related legal work changed since you started your career?

Working on forest legislation issues has changed a great deal. As a more educated, informed, and aware market develops, the work must take into account all the related opportunities, such as forest certification, REDD—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation etc. Lawyers working in this field today need to keep themselves informed and up-to-date so that they can continually explore new opportunities and incentives, as well as new challenges.

Contact: Sheila Abed,

This interview appears in the latest issue of arborvitae, the newsletter of IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme.

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