Diapositive1In the framework of  the 3rd UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights, a  conference titled “Improving Access To Remedy In Extractive Industries”, was organized on December 2 by CCIG together with ACT Alliance, Al-Haq, CAFOD, Caritas Genève, CIDSE, Fastenopfer and Franciscans International. The event, moderated by Ms. Ana Maria Suarez Franco (FIAN International), brought together representatives from the affected  communities  of  Democratic  Republic  of  Congo  (DRC),  Zimbabwe, Colombia, Palestine and the Philippines, who shared  their  critical  perspectives  on  the  challenges  and  good  practices  for the implementation of the  Guiding  Principles  on  Business  and  Human rights and explored ways to improve access to remedy. The  panelists  emphasized  how the implementation  of  this  framework  has  been  very slow until now, as the States have paid limited attention to concrete actions to protect human rights, especially with regard to work, access to land,  livelihood,  health, and environmental issues.

First to take the floor, Mr. Henri Muhiya, the Secretary General  of the DRC Episcopal Commission for Natural Resources (CERN), denounced  concrete cases, such as the delocalization  of Durba’s  population  by the  multinational  corporation KIBALI  Gold  Mines  and  the  violent  police  responses to  peaceful  protests. Secondly, he presented the  harmful  practice  from  mining  companies,  such  as  the Compagnie Minière du Sud Katanga (CMSK), which has sternly polluted the Kafubu river in South Katanga. NGOs providing assistance to affected communities claim that compensation given by the verdict underestimated the cost of damage. Mr  Muhiya  concluded  by  urging assistance to the local population in order to prevent and punish human rights violations by multinational corporations as well as NGO advocacy actions in favor of a legally binding international instrument on the topic.

The  second  panelist,  Mr.  Mutuso  Dhiwayo,  Director  of  Zimbabwe  Environmental Law  Association  (ZELA),    ACT  Alliance partner,  illustrated a  litigation case that he undertook on behalf of Chiadzwa Community Development Trust. The community claimed to have been reallocated without any discussion or implementation of compensation measures. In fact, the communities were being removed from the Marange Diamond Fields to ARDA Transau to pave the way for proper diamond mining. Mr. Dhiwayo denounced the loss of grazing and agricultural land.

The third panelist Dr. Susan Power, from the International Legal Research and Advocacy Department of Al Haq, presented the legal framework applicable to belligerent occupation and the extension of this legal framework to gas resources in the sea. She showed how Israel has systematically prevented the development of Palestinian gas resources. For example the Israeli High Court of Justice constantly denying Palestinian access to an effective remedy. She highlighted how the implementation  of  the  Guiding Principles is even more difficult whether companies operate in conjunction with States. When  dealing  with  human  rights abuses on such a large scale,  the words of Jonathon Swift  sum  it  up  best:  “laws  are  like cobwebs, which may catch small flies but let wasps and hornets break through.”

11_IMG_2680The next panelist was Ms. Elisabeth Perez Fernandez, Representative of Tierra Digna (Colombia). Tierra Digna works with the community of El Boquerón providing legal assistance and advice on resettlement. Local mining activities have a negative impact on the environment, causing contamination of the  rivers,  damages to  public health  and  social disintegration. Due  to  related  health  risks  for inhabitants, a Ministerial Decree provides for the reallocation  of certain  communities,  including  El  Boquerón. However,  Ms.  Perez explained  that  such Decree  does not  provide an access to remedy, since companies do not recognize the negative impact of coal mining on the health of the population nor accept the role of local authorities in the negotiation. Furthermore, local communities fear  retaliation, due to the involvement of mining  companies with armed groups. Tierra Digna advocates for an institutional  reform to strengthen corporate responsibility  for human rights violations and, accordingly, supports the international process   towards  a legally binding instrument.

The last speaker, Mr. Pamplona, Advocacy Officer, Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, reported a series of human rights violations and extra judicial killings occurred in the Philippines. An INEF report, commissioned  by The Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and Misereor, shows that the concerned company and the Government have used coercive measures towards the Bla’ans tribe elders and leaders to get their consensus. Despite the extremely serious events occurring in the Philippines, Mr. Rene Pamplona believes that the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights open a window of opportunity for the conduct of Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) for the Tampakan Copper and Gold Project, but a legally binding instrument could do more: “the government has the obligation to protect, the company has to respect and, the victims have a right to access to remedy. But, in the case of Tampakan, as in many other cases that are environmentally and human rights critical, how can this be ensured? A guiding principle is just a mere principle and stays an option to be followed; it cannot stop several situations. What if the mining project is based on a contract between the Philippine government and the mining company? What if the mining company like Glencore-Xstrata is more powerful and wealthier than the government? What if Glencore-Xstrata corrupts government official and employees? Who will stand to protect and who will push for the respect? Who will acknowledge access to remedy?” -alleged emphatically Mr Pamplona.

16_IMG_2716These concerns expressed reflected main challenges faced by communities worldwide. The implementation  of the Guiding  Principles is currently insufficient and compensation  is  a  disproportionate  measure  against  damage  to local population and  to  the  environment. However, all the panelists reaffirmed the need to continue joint work, including advocacy actions, to ensure that human dignity is at the center of national and international process for the regulation of business conduct.

Related article: La CERN présente à Genève pour améliorer l’accès aux recours dans le secteur de l’industrie extractive