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MRG’s statement during the dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, on exploitation of natural resources

17 June 2015

Speaker: Mr. Glenn Payot

Human Rights Council – 29th Regular Session

Thank you Mr. President,

Minority Rights Group (MRG) would like to thank Mr. Maina Kiai for his report.

Minorities and indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to risks of eviction from their lands and other violations of their rights caused by development and extractive projects, such as mining, oil and gas, logging activities, coastal tourism or conservation parks projects.

For them, the land that will be developed is an integral part of their lives and culture; the forests, mountains, plains and water resources are not only crucial to the sustenance of their communities, they also have cultural and religious meaning. The negative impacts of development projects – loss of land and livelihoods, environmental and labour issues, and security implications – sometimes far outweigh positive benefits, such as employment opportunities or new roads.

Against this backdrop, freedom of peaceful assembly and association is key to the safeguard of minorities’ and indigenous peoples rights in the context of natural resources exploitation, in at least two respects:

Firstly, freedom of peaceful assembly and association is a condition for the fulfilment the fundamental principle of free, prior and informed consent. Communities need to be able to gather and organize themselves freely in order to discuss, internally and with other stakeholders, what future they want for themselves.

Secondly, freedom of peaceful assembly and association is a condition for the peaceful expression of dissent and opposition against a project. MRG argues that not allowing a peaceful expression of dissent is not only a violation of human rights law. It can also be counter-productive, as it will prevent companies from obtaining concerned communities’ support, that is, a ‘social licence’ for the company to operate.

Experience shows that poor community relations at any point in the life of an extractive or development project can lead to demonstrations, road blockages and other acts by the community that are expressions of its frustration about unaddressed concerns, such as the effects of the project on the natural environment or on their access to land.

Companies’ continual disregard of such concerns can even result in the suspension of their projects, as has occurred with, for example, Vedanta’s planned bauxite mine project in Odisha, India, China Power Investment Corporation’s Myitsone hydroelectric dam in Burma-Myanmar and Newmont Mining’s Conga gold mine operation in Peru.

I thank you.