From Hansard, 2 December 2010
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer said:
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for drawing attention to the Conservative Human Rights Commission. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield, I was particularly interested in its report, Supporting Women Human Rights Defenders. If human rights defenders are front-line people in the fight against the kind of abuses that noble Lords have referred to today, then women human rights defenders are doubly under threat. If people are recognised as human rights defenders they are already pledged to be non-violent, and yet they face violence, torture and death for trying to defend the rights of their communities. Of course men face those issues, too, but, as the right reverend Prelate said, women also face the challenge of rape. They are often the primary carers of their children and, as such, have to worry about them at the same time as standing up for rights. That all occurs in a society whose status quo means that women are not heard, and sometimes not seen, too. Therefore, it is very hard to be a female human rights defender in such a society.
I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Latin America Group, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bolivia. I shall concentrate my remarks on that region of the world. In doing so, I pay particular tribute to four organisations that have acted as my ears and eyes on the ground in Central and South America in between my visits there. Peace Brigades International is a network of international observers of the work of human rights defenders, thereby ensuring—it hopes—that they survive another day to carry out their work. It is an incredible organisation and I know that it talks to other parliamentarians about what is happening on the ground. Without that organisation, it would be much harder to know what is going on.
The Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme is a small charity dedicated to supporting Latin American women and their communities in their campaigns for human rights. It is particularly involved, as is the London Mining Network, in what the right reverend Prelate referred to as the rape of resources—that is, mining. Mining so often constitutes the front-line abuse of human rights—the right to land, to your home and to being able to grow food for your family. The Central America Women’s Network gathers together women from countries across that region to share effective measures, best practice and their stories and passes on that information to us so that we may take action.
Between them, those organisations have introduced me to a breathtakingly brave network of women who face daily threats to themselves and to their families, which, in many ways, is much harder. The Conservative Party’s report, at page 31, gives an example of a woman we will never meet as she was shot when she was eight months pregnant. Her two year-old child was shot at the same time.
Mining companies have a particular duty to do something about human rights, and I accept that some of them may be trying to do so. However, as consumers and shareholders, we also have a responsibility in this area. We cannot ignore that fact. Many noble Lords will have attended the recent event hosted by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, at which George Soros talked of what we could do about this matter. We could enact the same legislation as the United States did in July this year. That legislation included a landmark provision requiring oil, gas and mining companies registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to publish how much they pay to foreign countries. It is known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. If we are serious about human rights, we need to introduce a similar provision As long as Governments can receive unknown amounts of money for the rights that we are discussing, corruption can, and does, follow. The communities affected cannot even know what compensation they might reasonably be entitled to. Just before Congress voted this measure through, President Obama said:
“We know that countries are more likely to prosper when governments are accountable to their people. So we are leading a global effort to combat corruption—which in many places is the single greatest barrier to prosperity, and which is a profound violation of human rights”.
If we are to take any action as a result of today’s debate, let us press for our own form of this legislation for companies registered here.
For the complete debate on various human rights issues, see