Friday, April 11, 2014

Ghana Takes Vital Step to Ensure Protection of Human Rights in Extractive Industries


For the past 18 months, we and our partner organizations in Ghana have been relentlessly advocating the Ghanaian government to adopt a set of international guidelines designed to foster respect for human rights in the security arrangements of oil, mining and gas companies.

Last Wednesday, our hard work bore fruit.

At the annual conference of the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights, which took place in Switzerland from March 26-27, Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Ms. Barbara Serwaa Asamoah, stated Ghana’s intention to sign the internationally-recognized principles. The meeting was attended by more than 130 representatives from various governments, extractive companies and civil society organizations. After the Ghanaian parliament approves the move, Ghana will become the first African country to sign the Voluntary Principles. 

A workshop Global Rights organized in August to address security and human rights issues in the extractive sector. Attendees included representatives from Ghanaian civil society, multinational companies, and the Ghanaian government.

The importance of Ghana's adopting the Voluntary Principles cannot be overstated. Like many countries in Africa, Ghana depends heavily on its natural resources to fortify its economy. Twenty-eight percent of Ghana’s export revenue comes from gold, 19 percent from crude oil. Ghana, however, does not have the means to extract its own resources, so the country awards contracts to multinational oil and gas companies to do the work. To make sure that there is no interference with operations, security personnel are hired to secure the area. Sometimes, these security personnel overstep their bounds and violate the human rights of people.

As Ghana continues to develop its extractive industry, it is imperative that the government and the companies that operate in the country adhere to the Voluntary Principles. The internationally-endorsed set of principles provides a necessary framework that ensures businesses and host community members coexist amicably and that the human rights of people are respected.

The Voluntary Principles were established in 2000 when civil society organizations, extractive companies and governments recognized the need for a framework to address human rights concerns related to the security arrangements of extractive companies. As of today, eight governments, 10 non-governmental organizations, and 24 companies in the extractive industries have signed the Principles, including the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Colombia, Australia, Canada, and four companies that operate in Ghana. The Principles are also implemented in several other countries around the world where companies that have signed the Principles operate.

Some companies in Ghana and elsewhere in the world have begun to address human rights issue in relation to their security arrangements by aligning their policies with the guidelines outlined in the Voluntary Principles. They have organized trainings for their staff and security managers; communicated their human rights policies to security personnel assigned to guard their operations; and have included language on the Voluntary Principles and Security and Human rights in contracts with security providers. The Voluntary Principles also outline ways in which extractive companies can address allegations of human right violations against security personnel, including obtaining evidence to aid prosecution, monitoring the progress of cases, and pressing for resolution.

However, for this to succeed, the Ghanaian government, civil society organizations and companies have to cooperate. Ghanaians whose rights have been violated need a mechanism through which they can air and have addressed their grievances. Without such an outlet, as we have seen, clashes can ensue between frustrated townspeople near mining areas and the security personnel who guard the mines.The resulting volatility not only upends the lives of the Ghanaian people, but it also deters multinational companies from investing in Ghana, significantly impeding the progress of the Ghanaian economy. 

For these reasons and more, I commend the Government of Ghana for taking a step in the right direction. The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini and the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ghana, Lauretta Lamptey, have worked tirelessly to ensure that the human rights is respected in security arrangements in Ghana’s extractive industry. We also applaud the extractive companies that have adopted the Voluntary Principles, such as Tullow Oil, Anglo-Gold Ashanti, Hess Corporation and Newmont.

Much work remains to be done as far as the implementation of the Principles. It is one thing to sign a document; it is another to enforce the principles for which the document stands. Global Rights will continue to bring together civil society organizations, companies and government officials to make sure all sides play a role in ensuring the fundamental human rights and safety of the Ghanaian people are protected in extractive companies’ security arrangements.

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