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CSOs Call for human rights principles and norms in Africa

 African Civil Society Organisations are calling on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to develop Africa-wide human rights set of principles and norms to guide and regulate the behaviour and practices of extractive companies operating in Africa. The call was made at an NGO Forum held from April 25-27th, 2011 in Karaiba Beach Hotel in Banjul, The Gambia.

The NGO Forum which precedes the 49th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights was put up by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) and brought together about two hundred African Civil Society Organisations and their partners from the global north and south.

The forum provides a platform for developing and arriving at a collective NGO position on human rights for submission to the African Commission for action. This collective position is arrived at through debate, dialogue, sharing, learning and critical review and analysis of the human situation on the continent from a variety of angles including extractive industries and the environment, prisons and conditions of detention, refugees and asylum seekers, indigenous populations and communities, children, women, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV/AIDS, persons with disability, and freedom of expression.

In a report submitted by Third World Network-Africa, Centre for Public Interest Law, and Open Society Justice Initiative and adopted by the Forum, the NGOs called on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to develop Africa-wide human rights set of principles and norms to guide and regulate the behaviour and practices of extractive companies operating in Africa. The report also indicated that a similar set of principles and norms is required for the promotion of transparency and accountability of extractive companies and public institutions on the continent.

The reported noted that while freedom of expression, recognition of independence of the judiciary, smooth transfer of power through elections,  the presence of vibrant social movement and human rights institutions in some African countries signal progress in the promotion and protection of human rights there are fundamental obstacles to the promotion and protection of human rights especially for peoples and communities affected by extractive projects, in particular mining and oil. It noted some of the fundamental obstacles as:

Political patronage which allows even elected officials to priorities the interest of extractive companies above the interest of their constituents. “Rather than promoting, protecting and defending the rights of their constituents, elected officials sometimes prefer to assist state institutions and extractive companies to violate the rights of citizens”

Delay and costly nature of the justice system creates lack of confidence on the part of ordinary citizens who often do not submit complaints for redress. In some countries, the judicial system is independent only in theory, and in some countries suffers from political manipulation.

Over-reliance on foreign direct investment as a development model makes some African governments to priorities investor interest far above the social and economic rights of peoples and communities affected by extractive projects in Africa. “Such over-reliance makes African governments to undermine the rights of their own citizens in favour of transnational companies investing in extractives.”

·         Weak institutions and or democratic institutions which are very undemocratic in their practices and response to concerns and complaints by citizens. The report indicated that a “regulatory institution in the extractive sector is more likely to run to the defence of extractive companies than that of citizens who may give legitimate complain about water pollution, blasting effect, lack of access to land, or unfair treatment”.

·         The narrow space for citizens in public policy choices and decision-making. In the extractive sector in particular, lack of transparency in contract negotiations, contract terms, and general decision-making narrows the space for independent oversight and therefore any determination of how community rights are violated. The report also cite repressive response of extractive companies and state institutions “to complaints and civil society actions or attempted actions to  hinder independent oversight and community awareness of extractive projects policy and decision-making”.

For these reasons among others, the report argued, the situation of human rights violation with respect to extractive industries and the environment r4emains poor on the continent. There is evidence of widespread violations of human rights of individual members of communities and the collective rights of communities in areas where extractive industries such as mining and oil projects are located. Reports and complaints of violations of rights and fundamental freedoms of people living in communities affected by extractive projects, in particular mining include; violent, illegal arrest and detention of community members; torture of persons illegally arrested and detained; assault and battery (sometimes involving the use of firearms and other deadly weapons) of youth accused of trespassing on mine property and illegal mining; interference (often violent, involving the use firearms) against citizens engaged in public protests against activities of mining companies; harassment of critics of mining company practices and defenders of communities; pollution of water and atmospheres; displacement from homes, access to land and general livelihoods; failure to pay adequate and fair compensation to people who lost their property to extractive projects; lack of access to extractive resource wealth and benefits; and destruction of cultural and social sites.

It is against the backdrop of these reported cases of human rights violation that the report called on the African Commission to develop principles and norms for the regulation of extractive companies in Africa as well as the accountability of public institutions. It noted that the African Union led continental mining policy reform initiative provides opportunity for the African Commission to deliver on the call and also deepen collaboration with experts on mining in particular. The report concluded by calling for continued mobilisation of critical mass of citizens voices and building the culture of citizenship as a fundamental approach to promoting and defending human rights in Africa.


 


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