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On International Human Rights Day, wars over natural resources must be addressed

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  December 10, 2012 03:41 PM

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Over the last four days, three activists in the Philippines have been murdered in killings apparently linked to their opposition to mining projects. Rolando Quijano, a farmer who had opposed mining and logging proposals, was shot on Friday; two anti-mining activists, Cheryl Ananayo and Randy Nabayay, were killed later the same day.

As the world observes International Human Rights Day on Monday, such stories are still distressingly common in the developing world, as the pursuit of natural resources fuels an ongoing campaign of violence against indigenous opponents.

The killings — in India, the Philippines, Ecuador, Mexico, and other countries — have been happening for years, often with little international outcry or response. This year, however, there is something the Securities and Exchange Commission can do to reduce such atrocities: the agency can fight to preserve a new disclosure requirement aimed at forcing companies that manufacture goods with “conflict minerals” from Africa to disclose their use.

Approved in August, the rule covers gold and tin, as well as tantalum and tungsten, rare minerals that are used in jewelry and in many personal electronics like computers and cameras. Proceeds from the minerals have helped finance warlords in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nearby countries, prolonging the country’s civil war.

The Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010 required the SEC to put such the disclosure rule in place, but it now faces intense opposition from business interests. The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the rule.

The rule doesn’t prohibit the use of conflict minerals from Congo, but by requiring greater disclosure could shame companies into switching to other sources. It could also serve as a model for other natural resources, and in other parts of the world. Without such pressure, too many companies will continue to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses linked to natural resources: as it is, killings continue to be ignored in countries that are viewed as emerging markets. Countries around the world are being eyed for their vast deposit of natural resources — oil, minerals, forests, rivers.

The violence against any indigenous opponents who stand in the way of exploiting those resources has been fierce. Sister Valsa John, a Catholic nun working among indigenous peoples in India, was hacked to death last year for actively opposing an open-pit coal mine. In the western state of Gujarat in India, which is being hailed by corporations for its business opportunities, Amit Jethwa was murdered by hired killers after he filed several court cases against a politician responsible for illegal mining in a protected forest area inhabited by lions.

Measures like the new SEC rule that require companies to disclosure where they get their resources would bring transparency to what is now a murky system, one that allows companies to avoid accountability for the materials they use. Defending and expanding those rules would be a good way to mark International Human Rights Day.

Priyanka Borpujari is the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow for 2012-2013.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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