The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) adopted a Resolution on a Human-Based Approach to Natural Resources Governance at its 51st Ordinary Session held from 18 April to 2 May 2012, in Banjul, the Gambia. This resolution was adopted in the context of the Rio+20 Conference and calls on State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right (African Charter) to respect human rights in all matters relating to natural resources governance.
The Resolution highlights the interdependence of human rights and development recalling articles 20, 21 and 24 of the African Charter which protect, respectively: peoples’ right to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen; their right to freely dispose of their natural resources; and their right to a satisfactory environment. Noting the recent and rapid progress in the definition of minimum international standards with respect to natural resources, the African Commission emphasizes how current natural resources governance is gravely hampered by ill-planned development, misappropriation of land, corruption, bad governance, and prevailing insecurities and how communities in Africa continue to suffer disproportionally from human rights abuses in their struggle to assert their customary rights to access and control various resources, including land, minerals, forestry and fishing. The Resolution calls upon States to adopt a human rights-based approach to natural resources governance, including through the establishment of a clear legal framework that recognises how the respect of human rights is a condition for sustainability. States must ensure that communities benefit from any development on their land or resources and ensure independent social and human rights impact assessments that guarantee communities’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), effective remedies, fair compensation and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples as well as the rights of women. The express recognition by the African Commission of the need to respect women’s rights in natural resources governance is welcome. Despite the pivotal role of women in land and resources management and their vast knowledge with respect to conservation and sustainable use, women are most often neglected and sidelined from decision-making processes that crucially affect them, their families and communities. While the Resolution reaffirms State sovereignty over national resources in accordance with the Rio Declaration and the African Charter “principle of State sovereignty over natural resources”, it provides that the State is responsible “for ensuring natural resources stewardship with and for the interest of, the population” and “in conformity with international human rights law and standards”. Notably, for indigenous peoples, this means the recognition by States of their right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired, and to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess through traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired, as provided for by the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other instruments of international law.