African Commission: Conduct study on threats against HRDs in the extractive sector

01.11.2015

Banjul, The Gambia - On the margins of the 57th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Commission), a panel of Experts of the African Commission and human rights defenders recommended a comprehensive research to document the challenges, threats and attacks faced by human rights defenders working in the context of natural resource exploitation.

Banjul, The Gambia - On the margins of the 57th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Commission), a panel of Experts of the African Commission and human rights defenders recommended a comprehensive research to document the challenges, threats and attacks faced by human rights defenders working in the context of natural resource exploitation.

The panel was composed of Ms Reine Alapini-Gansou, the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders; Mr Erick Kassango, an expert member of the African Commission’s Working Group on extractive industries, environment and human rights violations; Mr Pafing Giurki, a human rights defender (HRD) from Chad, member of the Monitoring Committee of the Government investment on oil revenue; and Ms Nora Bowier, a HRD from Liberia who works for the Sustainable Development Institute. Tafadzwa Kuvheya, an extractive policy officer from the International Alliance on Natural Resources in Africa (IANRA), South Africa also joined the panel. The panelists analysed the difficulties faced by defenders, the role of business in protecting them, and the next steps the African Commission and States need to take.

'The stories shared by the defenders on this panel show a need of further documentation of the pressure, intimidation and reprisals they experience in Africa.  They are first and foremost calling on the Commission to demand policy change from States', said Michael Ineichen, ISHR's Corporate Accountability Programme Manager. 'But the call for action on States is clear: in the absence of protective policy and legislation, business and corrupt governmental elites will continue to ignore communities' concern and repress dissent', Mr Ineichen underlined.

‘Human rights defenders in Chad continuously experience pressure from Government officials and multi-national corporations to abandon their advocacy efforts in the country,’ said Mr Giurki. He explained that defenders have been arbitrarily arrested, threatened and lost their jobs in the extractive sector for expressing dissent. ‘These are the lengths the Government and companies go to, to silence us,’ said Mr Giurki.

Ms Bowier expressed concern that ‘the Government responds in a militaristic manner when civil society organisations protest against misconduct by multi-national corporations in Liberia.’ Recalling the traumatic experiences in Liberia, Ms Bowier stressed that the African Commission must urge States to stop militarising the extractive sector in the country and elsewhere on the continent. She added that as a woman human rights defender, the lack of protection when she wants to go in the field, poses a particular risk for women who want to advocate for justice in the extractive sector.

In exploring the role of business in speaking out in favour of defenders, panelists identified significant differences between the home countries of companies active in the extractive sector. 'While some countries are seeking to ensure their work has minimal impact on the livelihood of the population and are open to our input, others - particularly Chinese companies - clearly do not care about their human rights obligations', Mr Giurki said.

Lawyer and activist Mr Erick Kassango said there was little to no awareness of the legal instruments that civil society organisations and human rights defenders can turn to. ‘There needs to be more awareness especially at the community level with regards to the existing regional instruments and laws that protect and promote them,’ he said.

IANRA's policy officer Ms Kuvheya urged civil society and community-based organisations to push for legal reforms and compliance to ensure that big business respect human rights defenders' rights. 

Mr Kassango called for free, prior and informed consent policies to be harmonised in Africa so as to adequately protect communities and defenders at an earlier stage of the extractive value-chain.  The Working Group on extractive industries and human rights is currently in the process of drafting a document with guidelines in that regard.

Madame Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou expressed concern at the rapidly increasing cases of human rights violations in the extractive sector in Africa. She declared being 'working closely with the Working Group where necessary and (being) saddened by the lack of adequate protection and promotion of human rights defenders working in this area.’ Ending on an affirmative note she encouraged panelists and participants ‘to be more audacious and persistent until human rights defenders in the extractive sector get the attention and protection they deserve.’__

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Corporate accountability
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights