AUWCL Alumnus Navigates the Challenges of Environmental Law in Sierra Leone
Daniel E. Johnson, a 2017 graduate of the International Legal Studies LL.M. Program, didn’t start out to be a lawyer. His early career was in journalism, where he covered many alarming stories stemming from environmental disasters in Sierra Leone. It was during this work that he learned about the critical connection between independent journalism and the rule of law. As a journalist, Daniel did not feel he had the platform necessary to tackle the complex issues he encountered; thus, he became a lawyer to defend the environment and human rights.
Environmental law has long been neglected in Sierra Leone. Most lawyers concentrate on general litigation, despite the worsening environmental conditions. So when Daniel had the opportunity to study at AUWCL, he decided to focus on environmental law. “I was quick to notice the way and manner the environment was misused by state actors and ordinary people in Sierra Leone. I knew that the consequences were going to be disastrous, especially when one takes into consideration the poverty level in the country.” Studying environmental law at AUWCL gave Daniel the credentials and expertise necessary to advance his career. Completing a second specialization in Trade and Investment also enhanced his education, strengthening his understanding of the critical connections between these areas of interest. Unique experiences during his year in the U.S., such as attending an annual meeting of Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), helped Daniel develop a new sense of purpose and commitment to act on behalf of his country. “I am now in the capacity to contribute confidently to these issues. Before this time, my country used to hire the service of other environmental lawyers from other parts of Africa to be resource persons, but I am now in a full capacity to provide such services when the need arises.”
In August 2017, Sierra Leone experienced devastating mudslides, killing approximately 1,000 and displacing tens of thousands more. Unfortunately, this event came as no surprise to Daniel. He knew the overuse of the environment and the changing climate conditions have been coming to a head in Sierra Leone, which is why he had rushed back home after his graduation from AUWCL to get to work. He was barely home a month when the disaster occurred. As one of only two environmental lawyers in the country, he has his work cut out for him.
Daniel recently founded the Forum for Environmental Advocates (FEA), an independent, non-governmental organization that aims to promote protection of Sierra Leone’s environment and human rights through education, research, advocacy, and the enforcement of laws. Following an internship at the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, DC, Daniel worked closely with AUWCL Professor David Hunter on developing FEA. Professor Hunter continues to serve as an adviser to the organization.
For students and young lawyers who want to practice environmental law in developing countries, Daniel’s advice is simple: “We need you! We need environmental lawyers from developing countries who will challenge authorities, corporations, or others threatening or destroying the environment. They can listen to us more than other activists. But we can only know the strength we are operating from if we are well grounded in environmental law. More needs to be done now – and to save future generations.”
“I feel lawyers have more power to challenge issues.”Daniel E. Johnson, LL.M. '17