Discussion: assembly and association rights in the context of natural resource exploitation

Nov 28 2014

US protest 500The need for natural resources such as land, water, timber, minerals, oil and gas is continually increasing worldwide. That increasing demand has naturally led to more competition – and often more social conflict.

In many cases, decisions concerning the exploitation of natural resources are made in an opaque manner. Governments cut backroom deals with corporations without the input of those affected. Official corruption often looms large. The ostensible owners of the property being exploited may not benefit at all from the project.

The systematic exclusion of key stakeholders in the context of natural resource exploitation is counterproductive and may, in some circumstances, amount to a deprivation of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. More to the point, this exclusion can lead to anger, divisions within society and long-term threats to the project in question.

For his upcoming report to the Human Rights Council in June 2015, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai plans to focus on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of the exploitation of natural resources.

The importance of assembly and association rights in the context of the exploitation of natural resources cannot be understated. Indeed in many countries, social protests and grassroots opposition movements may be the only option for affected communities to make their voices heard, particularly in States where judicial and law enforcement systems are corrupt or subservient to the executive.

Natural resource exploitation often involves big money – and equally big efforts to silence dissent. As a consequence, the space for individuals and civil society groups is limited, and is becoming even more constrained as the competition for resources increases.

In Latin America for example, numerous human rights defenders have been killed as a result of their activism on resource issues; indigenous peoples are arbitrarily deprived of their land and territories disrupting their livelihoods; communities have been displaced without access to basic services; organizations working on these issues are under constant threat of being shut down (and some have been shut down); and peaceful assemblies are violently dispersed.

What’s your experience?
The Special Rapporteur will be convening a consultation in mid-December to discuss the issue with selected experts. But he would also like to hear your views.

The three key actors in the exploitation of natural resources – the private entity or individual exploiting the resources, the States in which resources are located and the State in which the private entity or individual are domiciled – have obligations in respect to exploitation activities. The Special Rapporteur is concentrating on obligations that relate specifically to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

What are the gaps in both the legal framework and practice that enable restrictions on the assembly and association rights of people fighting for more just outcomes in the extraction of natural resources? How do these gaps skew outcomes? How can we surmount these challenges?

The Special Rapporteur is also seeking case studies to annex in the report – essentially first-hand accounts of the challenges that individuals and communities are facing in exercising their assembly and association rights in this context.

How to submit information for the report
For more details on the report, please see our concept note. For specific questions that the Special Rapporteur is looking to answer, please see the following documents:

Questionnaire for UN Member States

Questionnaire for businesses involved in natural resource exploitation

Questionnaire civil society

The questionnaires are also available in the following language (single documents with all three questionnaires)

Français • Español

If you are comfortable making a public comment, you may do so using the form below (log-in is via Facebook, Yahoo or Hotmail). If you prefer to make a non-public comment, or to submit answers to the questionnaire, you can e-mail us at info@freeassembly.net.

Please be sure to provide as much detail as possible and to specify which companies, countries and governments you are referring to.

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