By Mercy Maina ACI AFRICA
As the fifth session of the Open-Ended Inter-Governmental Working Group (OEIGWG) on Transnational Corporations gets underway in Geneva, Switzerland with the aim of developing an international protocol to guide the operations of Trans-National Companies (TNCs), Catholic Bishops in the world’s second largest continent are calling on governments and the international community to ensure that TNCs respect human rights.
This call is contained in a statement signed by the Chairman of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) under the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Bishop John Oballa Owaa, and adopted by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
The statement was given to the Secretary General of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA), Fr. Joseph Aka, tasked to bring its contents to the delegates of the Geneva meeting.
“I was invited by CIDSE with whom I have been working for the past years on land grabbing issues,” Fr. Aka told ACI Africa Wednesday about his being in Geneva having been invited by the umbrella body of various Catholic development agencies based in Europe and North America and added, “I was asked by Fr. Jesus of SECAM to also represent him.”
Regarding KCCB’s document adopted by SECAM for the ongoing Geneva meeting, Fr. Aka said, “There was no opportunity given to read the paper but we shared the paper with the EU MPs, and most of the African diplomats present here.”
He continued, “We sought a rendezvous with the Kenyan delegation at the UN and shared the (contents of the) paper with the members (sic). This is due to the fact that only States and NGOs are given (an opportunity to) speak.”
In the statement, Catholic Bishops in Africa decry the illegitimate means used by Multi-National Companies (MNCs) to extract mineral resources thereby damaging the environment and denying natives the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of creation.
While the Church leaders on the African continent appreciate the “tremendous” economic growth and development courtesy of governments and private corporations, the have noted that “at the heart of this (economic growth and development) is the real need to realize development that enhances and promotes important values such as human dignity, wellbeing, sustenance, self-esteem and above that which promote the human person’s abilities to become a moral agent through human rights.”
“As good stewards of God’s natural environment, we (Catholic Bishops in Africa) have a responsibility to respond and work with public sector actors as the Church to remedy the vagaries that the market exposes the most vulnerable members of society to,” the Bishops have expressed in the statement given to Fr. Aka and availed to ACI Africa.
“Many MNCs work in concert with senior actors in government to collude on extracting natural resources from communities while degrading the environment thus robbing local communities of their vital abilities for utilization of the God given resources,” the Prelates have decried.
According to the Bishops, while the business sector fulfills the rights expressed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which include employment and economic development, “trends from the global trade demonstrate that business activities can also adversely and irreparably affect the substantial enjoyment of the said rights.”
In light of these issues, the Prelates in Africa want governments and TNCs to ensure that their activities “do not impede the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.”
“We also draw attention to General Comment 24 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the recommendation to address the specific impacts of business activities on… indigenous women and girls, and incorporate a gender perspective into all measures to regulate business activities that may adversely affect economic, social and cultural rights,” the Prelates have stated.
In the Bishops’ considered view, “a treaty should have a strong gender analysis and be cognizant of the rights of women and indigenous communities, and pay particular attention to the experiences of women human rights defenders.”
In view of their grievances, the Bishops have called on the international community to support a “strong treaty that will ensure prevention of human rights abuses by transnational corporations.”
Fr. Aka described the ongoing Geneva sessions as a context “where the voice of the conferences (of Catholic Bishops) must be heard.”
He added in his interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, “The African states have a working group for a common stand. This common stand must however be sustained by individual States. This is what we have been pushing for.”
“The bishops of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) thank the Africa Working Group headed by Angola for its position on the binding treaty. They encourage each African State to press and work in support of this treaty so that it is not devoid of its substance which is the protection of the victims and their rights,” Fr. Aka concluded.
The fifth Geneva OEIGWG session started on Monday, October 14. It is expected to conclude on Friday, October 18.