Defenders’ work key to ensuring accountability of extractive companies in Africa

03.11.2015

Regardless of the severe risks they are exposed to, defenders working on corporate accountability in the extractive industry in Africa have been persistent in their endeavours to expose human rights violations in the sector and make sure community grievances are heard. However, they face enormous challenges establishing working relations with and getting the audience of the companies and governments involved in the extractive sector.  

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Geneva –​ By Clément Voulé, Programme Manager (States in Transition) and Head of African Advocacy, ISHR, and member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights 

Across the African continent, Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) working to promote the respect of human rights by extractive industries consistently face multiple risks and threats. Companies see them as trouble makers, who threaten their business and profits. On the other hand, governments often accuse them of working against national interests or disturbing their privileged relationship with business partners. All too often, the sole objective of multinational corporations is to maximise, profit, while governments’ main concern is to attract investment regardless of the negative consequences and impact on the fulfilment and enjoyment of basic human rights.

Since August 2014, the African Commission Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa has organised three major regional consultations[1] on the impact of extractive industries on the enjoyment of human rights on the African continent. One of the key themes emerging from these consultations is the need to ensure the protection of HRDs fighting to protect the rights of communities and individuals from the negative effects that result from natural resource extraction. It is clear that without the work of HRDs there would be a vacuum, as no one would hold corporates to account for the human rights abuses that they commit.

Regardless of the great risk that HRDs are exposed to, they have been persistent in their endeavour to expose human rights violations in the sector. They operate in extremely hostile environments making sure community grievances are heard. However, they face enormous challenges establishing working relations with and getting the audience of the companies and governments involved in the extractive sector.  Their work is often criminalised and their security is often at risk. It is therefore essential to highlight the important and credible work carried out by these activists and to advocate for their protection.

The submission received by the working group during the Central Africa consultation in Lubumbashi, DRC highlights the critical contribution made by HRDs working in the extractive sector. Firstly, there is little awareness about international human rights, especially among indigenous populations and those in rural areas where violations often take place. Secondly, there is no space for communities to voice their concerns during the value chain due to the failure to implement the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC policies). Lastly, communities and HRDs face barriers to adequately participate during policy formulation and decision making with regards to the natural resource sector.[2]

The ACHPR Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa takes the issue of the protection of HRDs very seriously as it is a core part of the implementation of its mandate. The resolution establishing the working group[3] clearly expresses the need to work closely with HRDs and other stakeholders operating in the extractive sector to promote the respect of human rights by holding extractive industries corporations to account. In line with this approach, in November 2015 during the 57th ordinary session of the African Commission the Working Group will organise a joint side event with the International Service for Human Rights focusing on the challenges faced by HRDs working for the respect of human rights by multinationals operating in the extractive sector.

The upcoming consultations and meetings of the Working Group will help increase the attention brought to this issue. The Working Group will also carry out consultations in the West Africa region in February 2016 and in North Africa in late 2016, where it hopes to receive submissions on the situation of defenders and their rights as a result of their work, which exposes the impact of the conduct of multinationals in the extractive sector.

The work and impact of HRDs in the extractive sector should not be underestimated. These HRDs hold multinationals accountable when they abuse the law and cut corners to enhance their profits. Ultimately, by protecting HRDs we seek justice for affected communities and hold corporations to account for malpractice.  

 

[1] Consultation for Southern region ( August 2014) , East Africa sub region ( January 2015) and Central Africa region ( July 2015)

[3] http://www.achpr.org/sessions/46th/resolutions/148/

 

In the weeks and days leading up to the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, ISHR will publish a series of articles by leading experts including human rights defenders, UN representatives, diplomats, businesses and international NGOs. Each article will include an analysis of the important role of human rights defenders and will be compiled in a special edition of ISHR’s Human Rights Monitor, to be launched in English, French and Spanish on November 9. The views expressed in the pieces are personal and do not necessarily represent the position of ISHR.