Switzerland Assumes the Chairmanship of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human RightsTargeted News Service
BERN, Switzerland, March 14 -- The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs issued the following news release:
From today Switzerland will take over for one year the chairmanship of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. By signing up to this international initiative companies from the mining, oil and gas industries commit themselves to contribute in their activities at home and abroad to the protection of human rights and to the prevention of conflicts. This initiative is supported by governments, companies and civil society. The mining company Xstrata is the first company with headquarters in Switzerland to join the initiative.
The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights apply to companies working globally in the mining, oil and gas industries. These companies frequently make use of security companies, the military and the police for protection. In some cases this may lead to violations of human rights. The Voluntary Principles provide specific instructions on how concerned companies can analyse possible risks and take the corresponding measures in order to avoid such situations. The initiative also urges companies to engage in dialogue with the population, local authorities and public and private security forces in the commodities-producing countries. This is particularly important in countries affected by conflicts or where governments are weak. For governments the Voluntary Principles are also an important instrument that helps them to fulfil their duty to protect human rights.
The Voluntary Principles date back to an initiative by the US government which in 2000 held discussions with leading mining, oil and gas companies (including Shell, BP, Chevron, Texaco) and human rights organisations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch) to find a common basis for dealing with issues of security and human rights. Today 21 oil, gas and mining companies (including Xstrata, BP, Shell, Chevron, Anglo American, Newmont Mining Corporation), 12 non-governmental organisations and eight governments (Switzerland, USA, Australia, Great Britain Canada, Norway, the Netherlands and Colombia) have signed up to this initiative, and another five governments have observer status.
Switzerland has been a full member since September 2011. In its activities and its national plan, it has stated its willingness to support, promote and implement the Voluntary Principles. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) is in contact with mining companies based in Switzerland and with government representatives in countries where raw materials are mined. The aim is to encourage companies and governments to adhere to the Voluntary Principles. In addition Switzerland wishes to promote a dialogue between business, authorities and civil society about human rights and security practices. Switzerland has a leading role at the local level in Peru and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. It is also active in Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Indonesia and Mongolia.
Switzerland has now taken over the chairmanship of the steering committee of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. Ambassador Claude Wild, head of the Human Security section in the FDFA, regards this both as an honour and a challenge. "It is a challenge that we gladly accept. We are convinced that it will be possible to harmonise the requirements of human rights with business in this sector because this benefits everyone: the companies themselves and society at large. During our chairmanship we will do everything in our power to come closer to achieving this goal." The FDFA intends to intensify its cooperation with companies based in Switzerland and with governments in the countries where the raw materials are extracted. There are also plans to produce a study on the effects of the Voluntary Principles. A set of guidelines will be produced to help companies operating in fragile states to reform their security sector.
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