Human Rights Council: Adopt resolution on business and human rights defenders

04.06.2014

The UN Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution which recognises the crucial role of human rights defenders in promoting corporate responsibility and accountability, and which responds to the disturbing global pattern of attacks against defenders who undertake this work, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

(Update - 11 June 2014) - In a statement delivered today, ISHR called on the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that any resolution on business and human rights adopted at its 26th session contains concrete calls for States to support and protect human rights defenders who work on issues of business and human rights, and to investigate and ensure accountability for attacks and harassment against such defenders.

A joint statement delivered by Norway similarly noted the 'high number of submissions on alleged abuses linked to business activities' and reaffirmed 'the important and legitimate role of trade unions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders in raising awareness of the human rights impacts and risks of some business enterprises and activities'. 

 

(Geneva) – The UN Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution which recognises the crucial role of human rights defenders in promoting corporate responsibility and accountability, and which responds to the disturbing global pattern of attacks against defenders who undertake this work, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The call comes as Human Rights Watch appealed for an urgent investigation into threats and violence against human rights defenders and activists who are protesting planned oil exploration projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the Asian Human Rights Commission expressed serious concern at the imminent risk of violence against human rights defenders protesting the negative effects of mining in Thailand's Loei Province.

Human Rights Council has unprecedented opportunity and obligation to protect defenders working on business and human rights

The 26th session of the Human Rights Council commences in Geneva next week and presents an unprecedented opportunity for the international community to support and protect the work of human rights defenders in promoting corporate accountability.

In advance of the session, Norway has announced that it will introduce a resolution which focuses on implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, while Ecuador has said it will continue efforts towards the development of a treaty on business and human rights.

'The protection of human rights defenders should be at the heart of any resolution on business and human rights,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

'Human rights defenders have a crucial role to play in promoting corporate responsibility and advising States and business as to the implementation of the Guiding Principles. They also have a crucial role to play in exposing corporate human rights violations and working with victims to ensure accountability and achieve justice where they occur,' Mr Lynch said.

Worsening attacks against human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability

Disturbingly, human rights defenders in all regions are facing worsening attacks and restrictions from both governments and private actors in retaliation against this work.

In April this year, Global Witness released a major report which documents a sharp increase in the killing of human rights defenders working on land and environment issues, many of which implicate corporations and other private actors. The report also documents a lack of accountability for such attacks, with more than 90% being perpetrated with impunity.

Similarly, the most recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders documents ‘credible reports and allegations indicating that private corporations are involved in violations against defenders, including stigmatization, threats, harassment, attacks, death threats and killings.’ The report identifies ‘defenders working on land and environmental issues in connection with extractive industries and construction and development projects’ as facing a particularly ‘high risk of violations’. It also expresses deep ‘concern about the increased criminalization of social protest often in connection with the peaceful expression of opposition to public or private development projects’.

‘ISHR is deeply concerned at the worsening pattern of attacks and restrictions against human rights defenders who work to expose and seek accountability for corporate human rights violations,’ said Mr Lynch.

‘From the DRC and Thailand, to Mexico and Russia, human rights defenders are being criminalised and attacked for their work to identify, mitigate and remedy human rights violations associated with business operations,’ Mr Lynch said.

'This is despite the constructive and positive role that human rights defenders can play in assisting business to consult with affected communities, to conduct human rights impact assessments, and to mitigate the human rights risks and maximise the human rights benefits of their operations.'

HRC resolution on business and human rights must strengthen recognition and protection of human rights defenders

In the context above, ISHR calls on the sponsors and supporters of the proposed Human Rights Council resolutions on business and human rights to ensure that they include language which:

  • Emphasises that human rights defenders and other civil society actors have an important and legitimate role in implementing the Guiding Principles, promoting corporate social responsibility, and in preventing, mitigating and seeking remedy for the adverse human rights impacts of transnational corporations and other business enterprises;
  • Expresses concern about threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders and civil society actors for investigating, protesting, and seeking accountability and access to remedies in cases of corporate involvement in human rights violations;
  • Urges States to take concrete steps to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society actors working on issues of business and human rights are able to undertake their work in a safe and enabling environment free from hindrance and insecurity; and
  • Further urges States to investigate any alleged threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders or civil society actors in connection with their work on business and human rights.

ISHR also considers that any resolution on business and human rights should strengthen and build on both the UN Guiding Principles and the mandate of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, particularly with respect to that body's capacity to receive and respond to individual complaints and communications.

Recommendations to other actors to protect and support the work of human rights defenders working on business issues

In addition to supporting the adoption of a Human Rights Council resolution incorporating the provisions above, States should also take a range of steps and measures to strengthen the recognition and protection of human rights defenders working on business issues at the national level:

  • States should develop specific laws and policies to enact the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders at the national level and should review and repeal laws which restrict and criminalise their work.
  • States should develop and implement National Action Plans on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which include policies and measures to protect and support human rights defenders.
  • States should protect human rights defenders from attacks and reprisals by both State and non-State actors, ensure prompt and thorough investigations when they occur, and hold perpetrators accountable.
  • States should take specific measures to protect and support the work of human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability, who seek to exercise their right to participate in decision-making processes, or who voice their opposition to business activities or development projects, including by guaranteeing their right to peaceful protest and to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
  • States should publicly support the work of human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability, including by refraining from labelling them as ‘anti-development’ or as economic ‘terrorists’ or ‘saboteurs’.
  • Home States should properly regulate the activities and operations of transnational corporations and companies operating abroad, including by ensuring that they do not interfere with the important and legitimate work of human rights defenders, and by providing access to effective remedies for human rights defenders harmed by those corporations.
  • States should issue a joint invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to conduct a country mission to examine and make recommendations regarding the situation and protection of defenders working on corporate accountability.

Corporations and other non-State actors also have a role to play in protecting and supporting human rights defenders:

  • Corporations should consult and engage with human rights defenders to in order to avoid and mitigate adverse human rights impacts associated with business and should refrain from obstructing or impairing their work.
  • Corporations should comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and, in the case of corporations working in the extractive and resource sectors, fully implement the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, a multi-stakeholder initiative to address the risk of human rights abuses arising from security arrangements in the oil, gas and mining industries.
  • Investors and sponsors should undertake human rights due diligence to ensure that the rights of human rights defenders are respected and protected in business operations and that they do not contribute in any way to human rights violations or attacks on defenders.

ISHR side-event on business and human rights defenders

As part of our efforts to influence the proposed Human Rights Council resolution, ISHR will hold a side-event on the topic of business and human rights defenders in Geneva on 13 June. Panelists include the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst. The event will also be webcast and you can follow and interact with it on Twitter by following @ISHRglobal and using #HRDs.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, on p.lynch@ishr.ch or + 41 76 708 4738.

Category:

Topic
  • Corporate accountability
Mechanism
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • National HRDs laws/policies
Country
  • Congo (Kinshasa)
  • Ecuador
  • Mexico
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Thailand
  • United Kingdom