Posts Tagged ‘Mining’

Human Right Defender Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo

November 29, 2015

On 26 October 2015, the ISHR published a profile of human rights defender Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo. It was conducted on the margins of a meeting of the African Commission. ISHR-logo-colour-high

Jean-Pierre Okenda has taken his own route toward improving human rights impacts of extractives projects in his country. His role, as coordinator for a platform of civil society organisations in the mining sector, involves a great deal of immersion in books and texts, but also with people.

In the context of the DRC, it was absolutely critical that I redirect my work to make clear the connection between human rights and the extractive sector, and that meant research. It means understanding the global stakes of the issue. It meant explaining how bilateral relations and investment treaties really impact ordinary citizens and their rights.” Research for research’s sake is not Mr Okenda’s goal. He aims to develop networks, training, and tools to empower affected communities and other organisations to better document, understand, and evaluate the human rights impacts of a project.  He also emphasises the role of research in strengthening peoples’ understanding of the links between human rights, extractives industries, and taxation, incomes, and other ‘technical’ issues. He also urged legal reforms to help protects human rights at the local level.

Building relationships with the government and enterprises is a challenge – but it is possible, if one understands where they start from. I sent a questionnaire on human rights to local and national authorities, and you know what? There was, aside from a small amount of general familiarity at the central level, a total gap in terms of human rights knowledge. This made it clear that – sometimes – violations arise because of this lack of awareness or training. And yet, they are still responsible for protecting and realising these rights!” It is important,’ he added, ‘that they know what we are looking for when we come and ask for such and such a document’.

With corporations, it is the same. They limit themselves to two things: to the legal framework, and to the business’s internal priorities and policies. If they don’t have an internal policy, it’s likely that they don’t know a thing about human rights. To get them to think about human rights, it is critical to use another language they will understand, the language of professionalism.To further insist on empowering local communities and civil society to act, Mr Okenda noted the critical importance of having decentralized human rights institutions, so that even communities far from Kinshasa could seek resources and assistance to combat violations and abuses. ‘There is a growing global move toward more participation of civil society, in decisions related the politics and planning, in addition to the implementation. We need to see this apply in the area of extractives as well.’ The participation at the global level of local communities in the conversation about human rights and businesses is important. But the ability to participate is limited, says Mr Okenda, and so while human rights are central to the resolution of the issue, they will always be limited by governments’ hypocrisy, by neoliberalism, the financial crisis, and other geostrategic concerns.

Mr Okenda is clear: risks do exist, for all human rights defenders, including intimidation, violent attacks, denunciation, and abusive prosecutions. For those working on investment and extractives issues, the problem is that these might sometimes be the very same individuals or institutions (e.g., government agencies) that are meant to be protecting the people.So, according to Mr Okenda, defenders face every day a personal dilemma – to do what they think is right and defend a community’s interests, or to protect their property and the lives of themselves and their families.  In addition to overt risks, some defenders face pressure from their families themselves, who worry about the impact of rights defence work on safety and security. ‘When the family becomes vulnerable, you are really weakened, too.’ Nonetheless, concludes Mr Okenda: Even if there are risks, even if we human rights defenders face failure or lose patience, it is essential to keep speaking out. Silence is the biggest threat.Mr Okenda remains optimistic in his work. Efforts to encourage the government to recognize human rights defenders, and – along with corporate actors – see defenders as partners as opposed to adversaries, will be key.

Source: Defender Profile: Jean-Pierre Okenda, Democratic Republic of Congo | ISHR

Soraya Aziz Souleymane: a ‘business and human rights defender’ from the DRC

September 3, 2015

On 1 September 2015, the ISHR carried an interview with Soraya Aziz Souleymane, a business and human rights defender from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Soraya holds the role of Deputy Field Office Director in charge of The Carter Center’s Mining Governance Program in the DRC, part of a new generation of young activists and NGO workers dedicated to seeing their country reach its potential.

Soraya started managing grants to affected communities at a large mining company’s foundation. She described her frustrations with the limitations of working within the foundation; she had discovered that many of the decisions about where and how to disburse the funds had already been made as part of the initial negotiations with affected communities. She soon decided to move into the corporate structure itself.

[When I joined the corporation,] it was an exceptional time, because the company was just beginning work in a new area and there was a need for many people… so much so that I was able to create a whole community relations department from the ground up. 

Despite the positive experience of getting the first community relations department off the ground, Soraya said she still wasn’t satisfied. She described the realization of the limitations of working with projects, saying: My impact was limited just to this one small community. I couldn’t take those impacts and apply them to others. Also, all the policies had to be linked to production, to the generation of profit for stakeholders and investors. That’s how companies have always worked, and this was no different.

Feeling sidelined after production began at the mine, she joined The Carter Center’s office in 2014.

Soraya described her transition from private sector to civil society, highlighting both challenges and opportunities:

At the company, it was good – we had resources, support, the voice, we had almost immediate access to the ministries, no problem. A big challenge at The Carter Center is that we don’t have the same financial resources or the same level of influence. But other things are better, at least for me. My primary goal now at work is to change the situation of communities –  all communities – not simply to increase production or placate one group. 

Soraya also uses her new role to engage in direct advocacy with the DRC government.  As she said, the chance to influence the policies of the state is ultimately a great opportunity. She also emphasized the value of gaining perspective through exposure to different sectors, and dismissed the idea that working for a company was ‘treason’. Instead, she noted that this kind of movement back and forth, especially within a sector, can lead to a lot of evolution and changing perspectives. It can also lead to more cooperation. We’ve seen many times when civil society and companies have joined forced against the government to say, “No, that will not fly.” It’s a strategic alliance.

…….

And despite the challenges, Soraya has a passion to do this work, and an optimism about civil society. I think my background, the fact that I am Congolese and that I have worked in the sector means I have real interest in and capacity to influence what my country becomes – my children will grow up here. 

I am very optimistic because there are many young people who are innovators, who are open to new ideas, who are willing to sit down with a range of stakeholders. They are also willing to say to the international community, “No, we don’t need x, we need y.” 

And as for the government, the emphasis is also on frank discussion, even when there is a disagreement. As Soraya says, We must work with them for change – and we must be clear that this is not the same as working for them, as accepting the problem.

-See more at: Soraya Aziz Souleymane: Business and human rights defender from the DRC | ISHR

Filipino nun wins Weimar human rights award 2015 for fight against mining excesses

August 11, 2015

<p>Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in Manila in early August. (Photo by Leon Dulce)</p>

Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in early August (Photo by Leon Dulce)

A Benedictine nun, Stella Matutina, is the recipient of Germany’s “Weimar Award for Human Rights” 2015 for her anti-mining advocacy in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

Sister Stella Matutina has been recognized for “[engaging] herself extraordinarily for the rights of the native population, despite being exposed to permanent threats to her safety due to her engagements”. “This highlights the situation of Mindanao and the Philippines in general where the poor, the farmers, the indigenous peoples, the human rights activists and defenders of the environment endure harassment and face risks and death,” the 47-year-old nun told ucanews.com (Jefry Tupas, 7 August 2015) . More than a personal recognition, Matutina said the award acknowledges the “collective sacrifices” of freedom and environment defenders in the face of a “systematic effort to limit democratic space and security threats”.

Matutina has been a vocal opponent of attempts to convert the farmlands in Mindanao to plantation crops like palm oil, pineapples, and bananas. She has also led a campaign against the entry of large-scale mining companies in tribal communities in Mindanao. In 2012, the Philippine military labeled Matutina a “fake nun” and accused her of being a communist New People’s Army guerrilla. In 2009, soldiers detained Matutina and two other anti-mining activists in the town of Cateel in Mindanao for giving a lecture on environmental awareness to residents of an upland village. Early this year, authorities charged Matutina, other Church leaders and human rights activists with kidnapping, human trafficking, and illegal detention for taking care of displaced tribal people in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

These are proof that helping the oppressed, the poor, the abused comes with great risks,” said Matutina, chairwoman of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and secretary-general of the environment protection group Panalipdan.

Since 1995, the Weimar Award has honored individuals or groups engaged in the fight for freedom and equality, the prevention and condemnation of genocide, the right to free speech, and the respect and preservation of political, ethnic, cultural and religious rights of minorities, among others. The award comes with a 2500,00 Euro stipend.

The same Weimar Human Rights Award went in 2000 to Father Shay Cullen of the Peoples Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation for his work defending the rights of children and women, victims of human trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.

via Filipino nun wins German human rights award ucanews.com.

worth noticing also is the language of Radio Vatican used in its own announcement:

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/08/07/philippine_nun_honoured_with_german_human_rights_award/1163662

More on UN Process Toward Contentious Treaty on Business and Human Rights

July 11, 2014

The virtual ink on my post this morning is hardly dry when I see a case reported by Front Line on anti-mining protesters in Malaysia who were released on conditions that infringe their right to freedom of expression, while Mintpress of 10 July published a more detailed piece by Carey Biron on the intricacies of the new UN proposal to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations.

On 8 July 2014, six human rights defenders were released on condition a social media ban, as well as monthly reporting to the police station. Six members of the Malaysian environmentalist movement Himpunan Hijau (“Green Assembly”) were detained on charges of illegal assembly and rioting, following their participation in a protest on 22 June 2014 calling for the closure of Australian mining company, Lynas Corporation. The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant – a rare earth processing plant being set up in Kuantan – will potentially impose tonnes of toxic waste on the local community. On 22 June 2014, around 1000 activists and local residents gathered to protest Lynas Corporation’s activities at Jalan Bandaran in Gebeng. At around 4:30pm, while the demonstrators were sitting peacefully, the police moved in and reportedly started beating and arresting the protesters. Allegedly, the human rights defenders did not disperse when Kuantan police issued a directive to do so. ..The lawyer for the human rights defenders rejected the conditions, arguing that this injunction was an unconstitutional infringement of his clients’ right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the judge in Kuantan ordered an injunction (a ‘gag order’) against the six human rights defenders not to discuss their case on social media, and they must also report to the police station once per month.

The article in Mintpress entitled “Without the US and EU on board, what might become of a UN proposal to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations? is so relevant that I include the full text below:

 

In a landmark decision at the end of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

The move marked a key success for activists worldwide who have been working for decades to jumpstart such a process. Yet while the development is being lauded by many groups, others are cautioning that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad and could even divert attention from a nascent international mechanism already working toward similar goals.

That mechanism, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, was unanimously adopted only in 2011. Formal conformance to these principles has thus far seen only stuttering, initial success. And while the same session of the Human Rights Council approved a popular second resolution to now strengthen implementation of the Guiding Principles process, some worry the new treaty push will divert energy.

Indeed, this was the rationale offered by the U.S. delegation to the council, explaining why the United States voted against the start of treaty negotiations. The U.S. now says it will not take part in the intergovernmental working group that will initiate discussions around a binding agreement. It is also urging other countries to boycott the process.

“We have not given states adequate time and space to implement the Guiding Principles … this resolution is a threat to the Guiding Principles themselves,” Stephen Townley, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said on June 26.

“The proposed Intergovernmental Working Group will create a competing initiative, which will undermine efforts to implement the Guiding Principles. The focus will turn to the new instrument, and companies, states and others are unlikely to invest significant time and money in implementing the Guiding Principles if they see divisive discussions here in Geneva.”

The European Union also voted against the treaty process in June, and had initially suggested that it, too, would not take part in the intergovernmental negotiations process. Sources tell MintPress News, however, that the EU could now be rethinking this position.

Home-state skepticism

The treaty push has come primarily from countries in the Global South, spearheaded particularly by Ecuador and backed by South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. Ecuador floated the initial resolution in September, and others voting for the measure in June included China, India and Russia.

Perhaps reflecting this division, Townley warned in his speech that the treaty process would “unduly polarize these issues.” Certainly, any treaty on transnational corporate rights obligations would be largely meaningless if neither the U.S., nor the EU, takes part, given that the vast majority of the world’s major corporations are based in these countries.

“The development of a treaty on business and human rights is an important opportunity to strengthen corporate respect for human rights, the protection of human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability, and access to justice for victims of corporate human rights violations,” Phil Lynch, director of International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based advocacy group, told MintPress in an email.

“If a treaty is to be effective in fulfilling these purposes, however, it needs to be developed in close consultation with all relevant States, including those that headquarter many transnational corporations such as the US and EU States, together with other stakeholders such as human rights defenders and affected communities.”

Influential voices in the global business community, which have vociferously pushed against binding rights commitments for decades, have expressed broad concern over the idea of a treaty.

“While the business community continues to be fully engaged to effectively implement voluntary commitments for respecting human rights, no initiative or standard with regard to business and human rights can replace the primary role of the state and national laws in this area,” Viviane Schiavi, a senior policy manager with the International Chamber of Commerce, a prominent lobby group, said in astatement.

The chamber expressed its “deep concern” over the new treaty process. Like others, it is warning that the new aims will divert attention away from the Guiding Principles.

The U.S. delegation, meanwhile, has already laid down an important marker in this argument. Immediately following last month’s vote, Townley, the U.S. representative, noted that any treaty “would only be binding on the states that became party to it.”

Excuse for inaction

Among supporters of the new treaty process, response to the concerns and stances of the U.S. and EU has been highly critical. While nearly all such groups continue to support the Guiding Principles, their concern has always revolved around the voluntary nature of these principles. A binding treaty, on the other hand, would likely include enforcement mechanisms for recalcitrant corporations and governments alike.

“The U.S. position is misguided. The real threat to the U.N. Guiding Principles comes from the reluctance of governments to give effect to them,” Peter Frankental, director of the economic relations program at Amnesty International U.K., a watchdog group, told MintPress.

“Our main concern with the U.S. delegation’s stance on the Human Rights Council resolution is that it offers governments an excuse for inaction.”

Gauging progress on the Guiding Principles is complex, and it is undeniable that the global environment today around the idea of corporate rights obligations has seen a sea change from just a decade ago. Companies around the world have moved to conform their corporate policies with a variety of related concerns, though much more remains to be done.

At the same time, analysts have told MintPress that only around eight governments worldwide have come out with national action plans on how they will implement the Guiding Principles, as urged by the Human Rights Council in June. Despite its strong support for the Guiding Principles, the U.S. also has yet to release such a plan. (Last week, Danish and U.S. groups released a comprehensive report offering a roadmap for countries aiming to put together such a plan.)

“It has been clear from the outset that the U.N. Guiding Principles alone would not be enough,” Frankental said. “They must be complemented by effective regulatory measures, including with extra-territorial effect, to address the continuing human rights protection gaps relating to the adverse impacts of business.”

Parallel processes

Advocates say that these two processes can now proceed alongside one another — implementing the voluntary Guiding Principles while simultaneously pursuing a binding treaty, which would likely take a decade or more to complete.

“There is no reason why countries and businesses should not continue working on implementing the [Guiding Principles]. It has taken civil society, governments and companies years to agree on a set of criteria that businesses need to uphold when operating at an international level,” Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, a watchdog group, told MintPress.

“They should continue to work on this, but now there is a parallel process that ensures that if companies do not abide by international human rights obligations … they can be hold responsible.”

Global civil society groups are also preparing parallel pressure campaigns. Van Schaik says her office will begin pushing governments to step up their drafting of national action plans on implementation of the Guiding Principles, while simultaneously trying to convince countries that voted against the recent treaty resolution to honor it.

“We think this threat is another example of how the Western countries are trying to bully NGOs and other countries in order to weaken support for the Ecuador resolution,” she said.

“We have built in very short time a coalition that consists of more than 610 organizations … That shows there is huge support for this idea, and that people, organizations as well as 95 countries are fed up with transnational corporations’ cowboy style [of] producing where and how they want to. Enough is enough, and that was shown in Geneva last month.”

Overly ambitious?

Even among some of the most forceful proponents of stronger accountability around corporate rights abuses, however, there remains significant concern about the current scope and potential impact of the treaty process.

As it stands today, for instance, the language of the Ecuador resolution appears to focus solely on multinational corporations, leaving national companies accountable solely to domestic legislation and regulation.

As John Ruggie, the Harvard professor who led the drafting of the Guiding Principles as a U.N. rapporteur, wrote in a nuanced analysis published Tuesday, this would hold foreign companies involved in last year’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh solely responsible for the catastrophe. The treaty would place no liability on the garment factory’s local owners for the fire and building collapse, which killed more than 1,100 workers.

Ruggie, who remains a widely admired figure, also expressed concern that the treaty’s scope, as currently envisioned, is unworkably broad, warning that “neither the international political or legal order is capable of achieving [such an agreement] in practice.” Speaking also of a “resurgent polarization” seen over the past year around the issue, Ruggie warns that proponents on both sides are becoming increasingly, and unhelpfully, dogmatic.

Ultimately, observers say the ideas behind the Guiding Principles are now increasingly entrenched across the globe. But implementation remains up in the air, and it is here that the treaty’s impact is uncertain.

“What is at issue today is not whether we will have a treaty or not. What matters today are the effects of a treaty process on the politics of the corporate accountability movement and the effects of a treaty process on the likelihood of regulation by governments,” Mark Taylor, a senior researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, a Norwegian think tank, told MintPress.

“The challenge for activists — no matter where they sit with respect to a treaty — is to identify an advocacy strategy that can pressure states to deliver actual protection and accountability. Making sure any treaty process is narrowly focused, for example, on judicial remedies, would be a step in the right direction.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s new intergovernmental working group on a treaty around business and human rights is expected to begin talks next year.

Contentious Start For UN Process Toward Business And Human Rights Treaty.

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/news-un-human-rights-council-agrees-to-start-negotiating-about-a-binding-treaty-against-human-rights-abuses-by-corporations/

Guatemala: Human rights defender Telma Yolanda Oquelí goes free because ‘woman cannot carry machete’

July 8, 2014

Interesting illustration in Guatemala of how macho notions can get a woman human rights defender off the hook:  On 27 May 2014, charges of “false imprisonment”, “coercion” and “threats” (including brandishing a machete) against human rights defender Ms Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid were dismissed by a Court of First Instance. However, the trial against four other community members, who face the same accusations, is set to continue. The decision of the judge to dismiss the proceedings against Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid was partly on the basis that, as a woman, she would not be able to carry a machete. The decision regarding Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid can be appealed by the complainants within three days. Judge Adrian Rolando Rodríguez Arana stated that additional evidence to support the charges against the four other community leaders must be presented by the Prosecutor’s Office on 30 June 2014. The four men are under house arrest and must present themselves to the Justice of the Peace of San José Del Golfo every month. Read the rest of this entry »

Business and Human Rights Defenders in Side Event on Friday 13 June

May 27, 2014

Under the title “From threats to opportunities: Business and Human Rights Defenders” the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] organises a side event on Friday 13 June 2014, 12h15 – 13h45 in Room IX of Palais des Nations, Geneva. Note that it will be the first public appearance of the new Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michael Forst. (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/finally-it-is-final-michel-forst-the-new-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders/). For those unable to attend, a live webcast will be available at www.ishr.ch/webcast. You may also follow the event on Twitter @ISHRGlobal, using the hashtag #HRDs.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Read the rest of this entry »

Guatemala: suppression and intimidation of human rights defenders is the norm

May 11, 2014

For the weekend a longer read: On 22 April 2014, human rights defender Dr Yuri Melini in Guatemala discovered that intimidating text had been painted on his front gate. The text names the member of the police provided as personal security to the human rights defender since an assassination attempt was made against him. Yuri Melini is the Director of the Centro de Acción Legal, Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (CALAS) – Legal, Environmental and Social Action Centre of Guatemala. CALAS is an organisation working for the strengthening of environmental issues, community participation and respect for the collective rights of indigenous communities in relation to environmental concerns. The human rights defender was awarded the Front Line Defenders Award in 2009. The human rights defender has previously faced harassment, intimidation, defamation and an attempt on his life as a result of his human rights work, see: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/23190  [Last year eighteen human rights defenders were assassinated, a 72-percent increase over 2012, even as the country’s general murder rate has decreased.]

To place this incident in context one should read the report by Patricia DAVIS published in Eurasia Review of 28 April 2014:  “GUATEMALA: SUPPRESSING DISSENT AT HOME AND ABROAD – ANALYSIS”

After a lengthy introduction concerning the ad personam attack by Guatemalan President Molina on Tim Rieser, majority clerk on the Senate State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee (for blocking military aid), the article dives into the numerous human rights problems in the country.  Read the rest of this entry »

Environment deadly for human rights defenders says Global Witness

April 16, 2014

The Wisconsin Gazette of 15 April 2014 carries a good summary of a major report by Global Witness that shows that killings of human rights defenders  protecting environmental and land rights increased sharply in the last decade due to the intensification of  competition for natural resources. The report  “Deadly Environment” highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of the problem.

It has never been more important to protect the environment, and it has never been more deadly,” said Oliver Courtney of Global Witness. “There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their land or environment. Yet this rapidly worsening problem is going largely unnoticed, and those responsible almost always get away with it. We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need.”

Key findings in “Deadly Environment”:

• At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries protecting rights to land and the environment between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising in the last four years to an average of two activists a week. Read the rest of this entry »

Lolita Chávez about land and life in peril in Guatemala

January 29, 2014

This time just a short presentation of Guatemalan human rights defender Lolita Chávez who spoke in Ottawa, Canada, for a group of supporters some time ago (March 2013): Lolita Chávez says it is love of life that motivates her to risk her own as an outspoken Maya Kiche activist against racism, mining, and hydroelectric project developments in the highlands of Guatemala. As a result of her leadership in Guatemala’s Indigenous movement, she is a frequent target of threats, accusations and attempts to label her as working against the national interest, as some sort of enemy of the state. Read the rest of this entry »

Human rights defender and indigenous leader Justo Sorto killed in Honduras

January 24, 2014

On 21 January 2014, the indigenous Lenca leader and human rights defender, Mr Justo Sorto, was found dead in Jesús de Otoro, Western Honduras. Justo Sorto was an active member for twenty years of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares – COPINH (Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organisations). The human rights defender was killed by several gunshots from a high-calibre weapon. [ COPINH is an organisation that works for the defence of the land and the environment, and for improving the living conditions of communities and indigenous peoples in Honduras.] The indigenous Lenca community works for the defence of its forests and against the execution of mining projects in the region.  Read the rest of this entry »