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Oxfam concerned over rising harassment of campaigners addressing impact of oil and mining in Africa

The detention of another anti-corruption campaigner in Angola over the weekend highlights the vulnerable situation of people working for economic and social rights in Africa and the need for stronger international engagement by the African Union and home governments with mining and oil companies to support the protection of human rights.

Washington, Feb. 22—London-based Sarah Wykes, the Africa oil campaigner for anti-corruption group Global Witness, an Oxfam partner, was arrested on Sunday, February 18th in the oil-rich province of Cabinda, Angola. She was released on February 21, although charges against her are pending and it remains unclear when she will be allowed to leave the country.

Oxfam, Global Witness and other international and African organizations and networks work together in the global "Publish What You Pay" campaign to promote disclosure of revenue payments and contracts between host governments and international oil, gas and mining companies.

Host governments in Africa along with home governments of transnational extractive industry companies have come under scrutiny by the global Publish What You Pay movement which demands stronger regulations in the sector. Increased transparency of financial aspects of oil, gas and mining investments can help curb corruption and increase the fair distribution of the large revenues accompanying oil and mining booms.

Oil and mining activities in Africa account for increasing export revenue, but the majority of those living in most “resource-rich” countries still live in extreme poverty. Therecently launched Oxfam America report on gold mining in Mali, Hidden Treasure: In Search of Mali’s Gold-Mining Revenues, provides the latest example of this tragic trend.

Sarah Wykes’ detention in Cabinda is the latest in a continuously increasing number of similar cases. In late 2006, community-based leaders in Ghana and one Oxfam America staff person were put under arrest while having an information-sharing meeting in a mining community close to a huge Newmont gold mine in Ghana. Earlier last year, Christian Mounzeo and Brice Mackosso, the two coordinators of the "Publish What you Pay" coalition in Congo-Brazzaville were jailed and have been subject to judicial and political harassment since April 2006 in Congo-Brazzaville. Mounzeo, a board member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), has been prevented from attending the first board meeting of EITI and otherwise leaving the country.

Around the world, Oxfam supports community-based organizations in many countries so that they may articulate their demands and protect their rights in the face of large-scale oil and mining developments.

With this latest detention underlining an extremely concerning trend, Oxfam makes a strong call to the authorities of Angola, Ghana, Congo-Brazzaville and other resource-rich countries to fully respect the rights of its citizens, including those who are campaigning for better management of natural resource wealth. The Angolan government should drop all charges against Sarah Wykes.

Oxfam urges resource-rich governments, the African Union, the home governments of mining and oil companies and the EITI board to take a clear and strong stance on the protection of economic justice and social rights workers. All actors share the same goal, namely to manage natural resource wealth in a way that benefits the population as a whole and not a select few.

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