27 November 2013
By Chairperson Lourence Mushwana, Commissioner responsible for Migration & Equality
I am honoured to address the opening gathering of the conference on business and human rights convened by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI). I acknowledge with appreciation our host country Ghana for welcoming us to Accra and to the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice for their invaluable contribution to the planning and support of this conference.
I also acknowledge the support received from our partners: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Development Programme, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
I will take a few moments to speak briefly about the work of the ICC in the area of business and human rights, which is the main theme of this Conference, the importance of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) as key partners in the promotion and protection of human rights within the context of business and also reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities for national human rights institutions that this thematic area presents.
The ICC’s Activities in Business and Human Rights
Promoting and protecting human rights within the business context is at the heart of NANHRI’s work and is also an area of priority engagement and action for the ICC which is the global association of national human rights institutions. The ICC created its working group on business and human rights precisely because it recognised that national human rights institutions operating in accordance with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (or the Paris Principles) have a distinct role to play in promoting and protecting human rights globally, regionally and nationally.
I commend the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and all the current and previous members of the ICC’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights for their commendable accomplishment in not only highlighting the role of NHRIs in the promotion and protection of human rights but in capacitating NHRIs through the development of materials for information, advocacy and training to enhance institutions’ capacities to address the promotion and protection of human rights.
Allow me to also take this moment to recognise the former ICC Chairperson Jennifer Lynch, who recently passed on, and who laid the foundation for the work of the ICC in the area of business and human rights. (May her Soul Rest In Peace).
Over the years, the ICC’s role in promoting and protecting human rights has evolved positively. NHRIs agreed in 2008 as reflected in the Edinburgh Declaration to prioritise business and human rights in their activities. The African region adopted a plan of action on business and human rights in 2010 in Yaoundé, Cameroon (emanating from the Edinburgh Declaration) which in essence underpins NHRIs’ work in the area of business and human rights.
These documents together with the Paris Principles and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights serve as the guide for our efforts as NHRIs in ensuring that human rights are promoted and protected by states, business actors and that communities are aware of their rights.
Challenges and Opportunities
There are many challenges flowing from the actions of business enterprises taking place around the World, including Africa, which threaten communities in many ways. The impact of business activities on indigenous communities for instance is worrisome with many facing a future without access to land and inability to farm and produce crop for sustenance. Some business actives result in damage to environment; air pollution which in some cases result in drastic consequences such as harmful climate change.
Human rights norms and standards provide a minimum; namely; that any activity, whether for development or extraction of resources should not compromise any human right that a person or people have. Where violations of rights occur as a result of any business activity, access to appropriate remedies must be provided, thus accountability for such violations must ensue as a matter of law.
In order to be effective in the dealing with human rights violations emanating from the activities of businesses, NHRIs need to build their capacity, strengthen partnerships with other similar rights institutions including NGOs and work with States so that the effective monitoring and implementation of human rights norms and standards within the context of business can effectively take place.
However, bearing in mind that NHRIs are created by States their effectiveness therefore, depends to some extent on the behaviour of States. Across the world and indeed in Africa it has happened and continues to happen that NHRIs that are fully compliant with the Paris Principles have had their mandates drastically changed or have experienced negative State interference with the institutions’ discharge and execution of their legitimate mandate in terms of their constitutive statute.
These actions have affected the workings of some NHRIs to the extent that these NHRIs are no longer in a position to become effective partners in the promotion and protection of human rights within the context of preventing violations of human rights emanating from business activities wherever it occur.
Opportunities presented for instance by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) in particular its Working Group on Extractive Industries and the Environment must be explored in full. African NHRIs should identify ways to strengthen their partnership with the African Commission and its Commissioners. In addition; enhanced engagement with NGOs and other civil society organisations; UN structures such as the OHCHR, UNDP and the Commonwealth Secretariat all of whom are represented here will go a long way in helping NHRIs in implementing, inter alia the Yaoundé Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and monitor the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, it is my humble belief that the call to action for national human rights institutions will be renewed during and after this meeting and my hope is that radical change will begin to happen within the continent. The perennial conflicts affecting numerous states in our continent; Africa, are indeed of grave concern because of their threat to human rights of the citizens in the Continent.True; numerous challenges exist, but there are also some glimmer of hope and opportunities for us to work with key actors in the pursuit of accountability, transparency and justice.
I am certain that the deliberations over the next three days will be fruitful and will result in concrete steps for action with concise monitoring and implementation goals.
I thank you.
ADV M L Mushwana.