The Neighbourhood Environment Watch (NEW) Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) has organised a one-day stakeholders dialogue and capacity building on business and human rights in the solid minerals sector.
The event which was held on Thursday in Abakaliki highlighted the need for socioeconomic justice and the elimination of all of barriers that hinder justice in the solid mineral sector. Dr Kelechi Okezie, the executive director of NEW Foundation in his welcome address noted that the workshop was premised on the fact that business and human rights had gained significant attention in recent years.
He explained that most business operators focused mainly on economic and financial profits while paying little attention to the human rights dimensions. The director stated that the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) on Business and Human Rights provided the obligation of the actors in the business environment to not only look towards profits but also the human rights dimensions.
He emphasised that the UNGP on business and human rights was predicated on three pillars which were; to protect, to respect and to access remedies. He explained that the current rise in the global demands for solid minerals had led to an increase in solid mineral explorations and exploitations in most communities in Nigeria with attendant ugly effects.
“As global demands for minerals continue to rise, as minerals are exploited and many communities become mining host communities, it becomes imperative to look at the ethical implications and human rights issues associated with their extraction, processing, and trade.
“Ebonyi is one of the states endowed with various solid minerals which are being exploited in large quantities. “Cases of human rights abuses abound in the sector such as land, air and water pollution that manifests in land grabbing; environmental degradation, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and fiscal injustice, to mention but a few. “Often, the mining host communities are exploited, dehumanised and their means of livelihood forcefully taken away.
“Cases abound where the state which by the covenant of the UNGP on Business and Human Rights and the provisions of the Nigeria Constitution is obligated to protect the rights of host communities looks the other way and in essence only protect the interest of the investors. “The mining operators who are required to respect the rights of host communities, apply ethical diligence and leave the community even better than they met to do the contrary.
“The use force of the state and their economic powers to oppress and suppress mining host communities. “In the face of these neglects and violations, the host community has no place to turn to to seek redress.
“The foundation as an advocate for the respect for mining host communities rights and the need to do mining rights, organised the workshop to raise concerns about human rights violations and introduce to host communities mechanisms for human rights accountability in the sector.” Okezie said that the Nigerian government recently approved the National Action Plan (NAP) on Business and Human Rights (BHR) and this action plan detailed the obligations of the government, the business sector, and the citizens.
He enjoined the mining host communities to leverage the instrument to seek redress whenever their rights were infringed on rather than resort to self-help. “We need to avail ourselves of copies of the National Action Plan and go through them and become informed.
“There is a compliance mechanism for resolving disputes rather than recourse to self-help as a first line of action,” he added. Earlier, Dr Francis Orji, former Commissioner for Solid Minerals Development in Ebonyi who delivered a keynote address titled, ‘Business and Human Rights:
The Burden of Inequities’ said that communities where minerals were exploited deserved to benefit maximally. The event was attended by stakeholders from various mining host communities, traditional rulers, Commissioner for Solid Mineral and Community Development, Mr Chidi Onyia and Mr Christopher Okorie, director, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Ebonyi among others.