On 14th November at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, Ms. Michael Clements, on behalf of FIDH South Africa-based member organisation Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), participated on a discussion panel on “Lessons from the field when implementing human rights impact assessments (HRIA)”. The session was an opportunity to discuss different approaches to improving HRIA as well as for peer-learning on processes driven by community leaders to identify, prevent, mitigate and remedy corporate human rights abuses.
After presenting a short documentary that collected the voices of the members of the affected community, Ms. Clemens discussed her work on a community-based human rights impact assessment (“HRIA”) considering the impact of the liquidation of a major gold mining operation on the surrounding village.
In her speech Ms. Clements explained that the community-based HRIA was initiated in collaboration with FIDH to assist residents who felt that the community should not have to collapse because the company did. The HRIA is nearing completion today, with a number of benefits:
- Providing a voice to the community, the HRIA, through the broad-based interview process employed, allows residents to tell their stories to a wide audience;
- Building capacity within the community in terms of arming residents with access to language and information to encourage more robust engagement with government and private actors, and the community’s articulation of its grievances and expectations in terms of its human rights;
- Allowing community to have access to its own evidence-based analysis, including wide community surveys and environmental studies. This is a powerful body of data that can back claims of violations and demands for change;
- Connecting residents with relevant government bodies and civil society organizations that may be able to assist on discrete issues, including for example facilitating access to food parcels for the community’s most destitute residents; and
- Given that the report will ultimately be published in January 2017 with recommendations for the particular case and more broadly for the industry and country, the community, together with LHR, FIDH or other supporting organizations, will be able to use these materials in future advocacy and calls for change.
Finally Ms. Clemens underlined that “Although the HRIA process has not been without challenges to date – including the significant time and resources the process consumes – LHR, FIDH and the community look forward to using the HRIA as an important starting point in advocacy efforts for this case and mining-affected communities in general.”
Community-based human rights impact assessments help promote transparency and access to information. In a global economy, where investments have the potential to contribute to but often jeopardize the enjoyment of human rights, it becomes crucial to provide local affected communities the appropriate tools to assess the risk and impacts of investment projects in order to prevent abuses as well as obtain justice and remedy.