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12 Dec 2023

Voluntary Principles Initiative launches guidance on respecting the rights of defenders

The Voluntary Principles Initiative is a membership-based global multi-stakeholder platform supporting the implementation of the Voluntary Principles, which are guidelines for extractive companies on how to keep their operations safe and secure while operating within a framework that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms.

On 10 December 2023, the Voluntary Principles Initiative on Security & Human Rights launched two publications focused on human rights defenders: 1) “Guidance on Respecting the Rights of Human Rights Defenders” and 2) “Understanding the Unique Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa”.

The guidance supports and informs the elevated priority that the VPI now places on human rights defenders and safe and enabling environments for their vital work. It includes several recommendations for company implementers of the Voluntary Principles, including:

  • Develop, disclose and implement a zero-tolerance policy for threats and attacks against defenders;
  • Ensure operational clarity about who human rights defenders are and identify defenders for consultation and dialogue;
  • Integrate human rights defenders into VPs risk assessment and human rights due diligence;
  • Consult with human rights defenders as part of stakeholder dialogue;
  • Integrate findings of risk assessments and non-tolerance for threats and attacks into security arrangements;
  • Respond when threats or attacks occur; and
  • Ensure that grievance mechanisms are safe and accessible for defenders.

This publication also provides guidance on how to identify and reduce risks to defenders, integrate findings of risk assessments and non-tolerance for attacks into security arrangements, respond when threats and attacks occur, and ensure that grievance mechanisms are safe for defenders, among other topics.

The report explores the challenges of defenders in Africa related to extractive and agri-business projects and finds that defenders' rights to be protected are seriously abused in a complex web of business relations with states and other non-state actors. The report states that defenders hardly enjoy their right to peaceful assembly as they increasingly suffer arrest, detention, ex-judicial killings and administrative harassment and that excessive use of force by security providers against defenders is commonplace.