Monrovia – The Acting Chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), Rev. Bartholomew B. Colley has assured human rights defenders working across the country that the INCHR will protect and defend their rights at all time.
Rev. Colley disclosed that the national human rights institution will defend the rights of human rights advocates in “all situations and circumstances that require well organized networks that are proactive and crisis-responsive and not reactive and crisis-driven”.
He said national human rights institutions like the INCHR organized under the Paris Principles have broad mandate and competence to ensure states compliance to all treaties, conventions and protocols acceded to by those states.
Speaking at a multi stakeholders’ conference on ‘using voluntary principles and international grievance mechanism to protect, respect and remedy rights of affected communities impacted by the operation of extractive companies in Liberia’ at the YMCA in Monrovia, Rev. Colley assured that the INCHR will remain a partner, advocate and supporter of human rights defenders in meeting international human rights best standards and practices in Liberia.
The multi stakeholders’ conference attracted human rights campaigners from across the country, oil palm giant, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), representatives of civil society groups, government agencies including the Ministry of Justice, Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It was organized by Green Advocates International, the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) and the Natural Resources Women Platform,
Green Advocates International is an environmental rights group working to advance wide range of issues through the provision of legal aid, consultations and supports to local communities, whose rights are being violated, while the Alliance for Rural Democracy, is a consortium of community based organizations working across the country to resolve issues confronting rural communities, urban slums, squatter communities and independent labor unions in Liberia.
The Natural Resource Women Platform was setup in 2010 by a group of women from forest communities and urban slum communities across Liberia to amplify the voices of marginalized women.
The multi stakeholders’ conference follows a national experience sharing dialogue and four regional trainings funded by the Australian High Commission Direct Aid Program as part of a project labeled “using voluntary principles and international grievance mechanism to protect; respect and remedy rights of affected communities impacted by the operation of extractive companies in Liberia”.
The Direct Aid Program (DAP) is a flexible small grants program funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs through the High Commission in several countries including Ghana. DAP projects, reportedly have strong developmental focus and is aimed at contributing to poverty reduction and strengthening poor communities.
John Nimley Brownell, DAP Project Manager defined ‘Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights’ as a set of principles designed to guide companies in ensuring and maintaining the safety and security of their operations in a manner that encourages respect for human rights.
According to him, the Voluntary Principles was established in 2000 to guide Companies in maintaining safety measures and security within their operations that ensures respect for human rights and freedom as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A grievance mechanism, Brownell explained is a formal, legal or non-legal complaint process that can be used by individuals, workers, communities and civil society organizations that are not being positively affected by certain business activities and operations.
Participants at the conference lauded Green Advocates International for the initiative and said the project would help abort confrontations that have repeatedly disrupted works at several concessions across the country.
Jessica N. Teld, a representative of Liberia Timber Association praised Green Advocates International and her partners for the training they conducted on international grievance mechanism across the country.
Teld said the trainings have empowered local communities understand the importance of engaging concession companies in non-violence way.
Lawrence Broh, Head of Sinoe County Human and Natural Resources Rights Movement lauded the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs for providing grant to Green Advocates International to train rural rights campaigners across the country on Voluntary Principles and International Grievance Mechanism.
He said the training has positively impacted rural human rights defenders, who now know how to file complaint against companies operating in their area.
Broh pleaded with Green Advocates International to help them with equipment so that they can effectively work for communities whose rights are being violated.
For his part, Benedict Menwat praised the environmental rights group for standing by citizens of Butaw District against Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) and disclosed that the oil palm company has started executing recommendation contained in a recommendation from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).