The steering committee of the Voluntary Principles Initiative is determined to support the efforts of government, companies, non-governmental organizations and communities in the implementation of voluntary principles.
At a security forum in Eket, Akwa Ibom State and multi-stakeholders round-table in Port Harcourt, the current chair of VPI, Mr. Ronald Roosdorp, Executive Director, Leadership Initiative for Transformation and Empowerment (LITE), Mr. Joel Bisina, representatives of oil companies, security experts and other stakeholders stressed on how the adoption and implementation of the VPI can benefit all stakeholders and Nigeria as a whole.
Specifically, they highlighted the role companies and civil society can play in supporting governments and multilateral institutions on security sector reform, development of institutional capacities and strengthening the rule of law.
Roosdorp called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to sign unto the Voluntary Principles on Security Human Rights.
“Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPs) are non-binding soft laws established in 2000 to offer guidance to extractive companies (oil, gas and mining companies) in maintaining the safety and security of the facilities and operations with respect for human rights” he said.
“Three elements of VPs are Risks Assessment; Interaction with Public Security; and Interaction with Private Security. The Risk Assessment component states that extractive companies should conduct risk assessment at the location/area they intend to carry out operations with a view to mitigating the risk factors. It further stated that companies on an ongoing basis should conduct risk assessment to ascertain security risks and likelihood of human rights abuses.”
In the Interaction with Public Security component, the VPs acknowledge that it is the duty of the government to provide security for the protection of lives of property, and ensure human rights are protected. The component explains that extractive companies have an interest to ensure that actions taken by security operatives are in line with the protection and promotion of human rights abuses and promote respect for human rights. The guidelines for this component are security arrangements which states that the extractive companies should consult the host government and communities about the impact of the security arrangements on the host communities; conduct and human rights policies, deployment and conduct; consultation and advice; and record of rights abuses.”
“In the third component which is interaction with private security, it is noted that since the host government cannot provide adequate security arrangement for the operations of the companies that it may be necessary for the companies to engage the services of private security providers to complement public security with a view that the private security personnel would adhere to the policies on ethical conduct and human rights of the companies.
The potential benefits of VPs according to Roosdorp are numerous.
“VPs promote the human rights by ensuring the security arrangement and actions of security personnel do not violate the human rights of the host communities; they encourage communities participation in security arrangement of companies operating in their environment; they contribute to bridging the gap in the relationship between members of the host community and security agents; VPs promote Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) through regular consultation of the host communities; they encourage proactive measures through risk assessments; and promote accountability and transparency in security arrangement in the extractive industry.”
“To the stakeholders, through regular consultations, VPs promote peace-building and good relationship among stakeholders in the extractive industry; they provide a good model for addressing security and human rights issues in the extractive industry; they reduce friction and promote conflict prevention among stakeholders in the extractive industry by reducing the risk of human rights violations or abuses; and they enhance better governance of the extractive sector from the security and human rights perspective.”
“Voluntary Principles provide guidelines to security forces operations in the extractive and mining sector to respect human rights while protecting company’s personnel and assets. The initiative is a platform for mutual learning, joint problem solving, and building best practices. The principles are practical guideline to help extractive companies and business manage risk effectively. It is framework to build capacity of key players to address issues in complex environment. The principles guide companies in conducting a comprehensive human rights risk assessment in their engagement of security providers” Bisina, said.
Bisina highlighted the role of government, companies and community leaders in the promotion and protection of human rights.
“All parties to a conflict are obliged to observe applicable international humanitarian law. The principles share the common goal of promoting respect for human rights, safeguarding the integrity of company personnel and property, contributing to the welfare of the local community, mitigating any potential for conflict where possible and sharing of best security practices and procedures.”
He advised private companies to provide only preventative and defensive services and stop engaging in activities exclusively the responsibility of military or enforcement authorities.
“Governments have the primary role of maintaining law and order, security and respect for human rights. However, Companies have an interest in ensuring that actions taken by governments, particularly the actions of public security providers are consistent with the protection and promotion of human rights. Private companies should not employ individuals credibly implicated in human rights abuses to provide services or violate the rights of individuals as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO.”
“Companies should consult regularly with host governments and local communities about the impact of their security arrangements on those communities. Companies should communicate their policies regarding ethical conduct and human rights to public security providers. Companies should encourage host communities to permit making security arrangements transparent and accessible to the public, subject to any overriding safety and security concerns. Individuals credibly implicated in human rights abuses should not provide security services for Companies. Force should be used only when strictly necessary and to an extent proportional to the threat. The rights of individuals should not be violated while exercising the right to exercise freedom of association and peaceful assembly. In cases where physical force is used by the public security, such incidents should be reported to the appropriate authorities and to the Company. Where force is used, medical aid should be provided to injured persons, including to offenders.”
He stated that the Nigerian Government participation at the VPs plenary meeting in Bogota was indication of better things to come.
“Government has set up an inter-ministerial committee to evaluate Nigeria’s membership to the VPI. LITE-Africa provides technical input to the committee. Nigeria has been listed as one of the VPs priority countries alongside Burma and Ghana by the Steering Committee. However, the Nigerian government is yet to sign on to the VPs.”
Established in 2000, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights is a multi-stakeholder initiative which espouses a set of principles designed to guide extractive companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within a framework that ensures respects for human rights.
Diligent implementation of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights holds numerous potential benefits for Nigeria including peace-building; conflict prevention; enhanced governance of the extractive sector, promotion and protection of human rights; improving dialogue, cordiality, collaboration and problem-solving amongst stakeholders in the extractive sector with respect to issues of security and human rights.
In addition, it has the potential to contribute to an extractive sector that is conducive to trade and investment; where extractive companies can operate maximally, which would in turn enable the Nigerian government optimally generate revenues which can be deployed towards promoting the welfare of the nation and actualizing other national objectives.
The VPI is also an immensely useful tool for attaining the objectives of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, specifically in the area of security and human rights.
Countries that are signatories to the VPI include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States of America.
Signatory extractive companies include: Seven Energy, Total, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Statoil, Shell, Hess Corporation, Tullow Oil, Rio Tinto, British Petroleum; Anglo American, PanAust, ConocoPhillips, Goldcorp, Hess Corporation, Repsol, Barrick Gold Corporation, Glencore and BHP Billiton.
NGO signatories to the VPI include Lite Africa, COMPPART, International Alert, Search for Common Ground, Pact and The Fund for Peace.
The international observers participating in the VPI include the International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Council on Mining and Metals; Colombian Mining and Energy Committee on Security and Human Rights; The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association; Institute for Human Rights and Business; International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA)
The visit of the delegation would also strengthen the work of the Nigerian In-Country Pilot Implementation Working Group (ICPWG) on the VPI, established in 2017 to promote its implementation in Nigeria, while also identifying and responding to local in-country challenge with a view to devising joint solutions to those challenges.