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Land rights focus of panel discussion

Land rights focus of panel discussion

(l to r) Fraser Murray, Rev. Dr Paul Mpongo, Prof. Dr Bila Isia Inogwabini, Sister Stella Matutina, Mr Félicien Malanda participated in panel discussions focusing on land rights. © Semegnish Asfaw/WCC

17 November 2015

During the 4th United Nations (UN) Forum on Business and Human Rights, the World Council of Churches, in collaboration with the ACT Alliance and Lutheran World Federation, organized a side-event on “Faith-based organizations’ contribution to the protection of communities’ land rights: lessons learnt and good practices from Africa, Asia and Latin America” at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on 16 November.

The first panel focused on experiences from the ground. Stories from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Zambia and the Philippines illustrated that the social and ecological costs of mining and other resource extractive industries far outweigh the benefits.

In many cases, large-scale exploitation of resources is accompanied by militarization and attendant human rights abuses. Many human rights and ecological defenders are criminalized, facing threats to their lives, intimidation and harassment. Sister Stella Matutina, from the Philippines, highlighted the systematic killing of Lumad (indigenous peoples) in Mindanao opposing large-scale mining projects and plantations.

At the same time, she pointed out that faith-based organizations are integral parts of grassroots communities that carry out local struggles in defense of land resources. “It is the people’s spirituality that motivates communities and support groups to make a synergy of action -– developed into a social movement –- to assert people’s rights to land and resources,” she said.

Prof. Bila Inogwabini noted that extraction of resources from the DRC has been taking place since colonial times. “There is a need to translate international treaties on human rights into national policies and laws,” he said.

“Ensuring communities’ right to land and other resources is the focus of the working group on the management of natural resources which has been meeting since the International Conference on Peace and Security in the DRC held in Geneva on 27-29 May 2015”, explained Semegnish Asfaw, WCC programme executive for international affairs.

A second panel discussed policy coherence and implementation with reflections from Colombia, Guatemala, Tanzania, Zambia and Denmark.

Despite national and international frameworks aimed at protecting the rights of communities such as the principle of free, prior and informed consent, as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, often implementation in local settings is weak.

Anabella Sibrian from Guatemala pointed out that many national laws and policies are “captured” by business interests, reflecting growing corporate influence and even collusion between investors and governments. In such contexts, she asked two key questions: How can we ensure policy coherence? How do we hold businesses and governments accountable?

In response to these challenges, participants called for the need to build alliances between international, national and local actors including through venues such as the Alternative Mining Indaba; and to provide legal and other forms of support to human rights defenders.

“Accompanying the struggles of communities for food, water, land and life is an important way for churches and ecumenical organizations to live out the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” said Athena Peralta, WCC consultant for economic and ecological justice.

Churches speak against negative impact of mining at World Social Forum

WCC conference invites churches and partners to renew initiatives for just peace in the DRC (WCC news release of 1 June 2015)

WCC programme for human rights

WCC member churches in Democratic Republic of Congo