Report on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of natural resource exploitation (A/HRC/29/25)


Published:28 April 2015
Author:Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
Presented:To the Human Rights Council twenty-ninth session. 15 June to 3 July 2015

Background

The global economy relies heavily on the availability and exploitation of natural resources. With the industrialization of emerging economies and the ever-increasing needs of older market-economy countries, the demand for natural resources has increased dramatically. With that demand has come a plethora of concerns relating to the sustainability of economic growth and its impact on the climate, the environment and, more generally, on human rights.

Increased demand for resources has resulted in the opening up of more areas for exploration and exploitation, especially in populated areas, leading to conflict between competing interests. Moreover, many resource-rich countries suffer from low levels of development, particularly human development, endemic corruption and economic and political instability — the "resource curse". Citizen engagement in the natural resources sector is notoriously difficult, with some sectors, such as oil, gas and mining, presenting heightened risks of human rights abuses because they are especially lucrative.

A complex web of binding international law and voluntary standards and principles regulate and inform the human rights obligations of States and companies in the field of natural resource exploitation. In general, States are bound by international human rights law, while companies adhere on a voluntary basis to standards and principles drawn up by Governments, multi-stakeholder platforms or business forums. Those laws and standards cover a broad range of interests, many of which have implications for the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Summary

In this report, the Special Rapporteur aims to address legislation and practices in the context of natural resource exploitation that violate the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. He identifies key actors in the natural resource exploitation field, including States that are obligated to ensure that business interests do not violate these rights, and create a legal environment that promotes transparency and fairness to prevent conflict. The report also highlights the central role of corporations in natural resource exploitation, which means that they can potentially wield enormous power and influence over host States, rendering authorities unwilling to intervene in their interests.

The Special Rapporteur examines challenges to both the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in this report. It is of great concern that, of the numerous cases of violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association reported, comparatively few have been fully investigated, with the perpetrators brought to account. By contrast, the number of arrests and prosecutions for alleged offences committed in the course of the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association continues to rise.

The Special Rapporteur believes that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association play a key role in opening up spaces and opportunities for genuine and effective engagement by civil society in decision-making processes across the spectrum of natural resource exploitation activities. Having citizen engagement is, therefore, imperative throughout the decision chain right from the initial stages of the process when exploration potential is determined, through to exploitation activities and investment of revenue. The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association provide the necessary avenues for this engagement.

The report concludes that States bear the primary responsibility for promoting and protecting peaceful assembly and association rights. They must implement and strengthen mechanisms that enable them to fulfil this duty. A major problem with States' current legal frameworks, however, is a lack of proper enforcement mechanisms at both the domestic and international levels. Without such mechanisms, accountability will be, at best, sporadic and irregular.

The report further concludes, that a significant gap in ensuring that assembly and association rights are guaranteed in the context of natural resource extraction is created by the lack of binding norms for corporations, which are key actors in natural resource exploitation. A growing number of large businesses wield far more power, resources and influence than many States. A shrinking number of corporations dominate vast sectors of the global economy. Despite this, the primary responsibility for ensuring the exercise of human rights remains with States. Domestic and international law should impose binding obligations upon corporations to guarantee that their activities, including resource exploitation, comply with internationally accepted human rights standards.

It is in the interest of both States and corporations to recognize actions by civil society groups both in support of and against the entire decision-making chain in natural resource governance, as a legitimate exercise by these individuals and groups of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Consultations

To prepare the present report, the Special Rapporteur convened a series of consultations including expert consultation in Bangkok (15 and 16 December 2014), expert consultation in Istanbul (27 and 28 June 2014), and regional consultation with civil society activists from South and South-East Asia in Kathmandu and academic visit to Dhaka (18–22 September 2014). The Special Rapporteur is most grateful to all who contributed to his report with responses.

Inputs received


States

Civil Society Organizations

Additional reports by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are available on the Thematic Annual Reports page.