Human Rights Council: Adopt strong resolution on protection of economic, social and cultural rights and their defenders

01.03.2016

States should support the negotiation and adoption of a strong and substantive resolution on the protection of ESC defenders, the work of whom is vital to the realisation of ESC rights and sustainable development.

(Geneva) – States should support the development and adoption of a strong and substantive resolution on the situation and protection of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights at the UN Human Rights Council. Norway has announced that it will lead the negotiation of such a resolution at the Council’s current 31st session.

The positive relationship between the work of defenders and the promotion of ESC rights and sustainable development

The work of human rights defenders is essential to the promotion, protection and realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to food, water, housing, health, work, and social security. Such defenders help to develop effective social policy, enhance service delivery, and advocate for access for marginalised and disadvantaged individuals and groups. They work to promote sustainable development and responsible business. Their work is vital to combat corruption, document and expose violations, pursue accountability, and secure access to justice for victims. Their work benefits entire communities.

Defending ESC rights: An increasingly dangerous activity

Despite this invaluable work, there is overwhelming evidence that defending economic, social and cultural rights is an increasingly and ‘extraordinarily dangerous activity’ in many regions and countries of the world. In his most recent report to the UN General Assembly, which was based on first hand consultations with over 500 defenders from more than 110 countries, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst identified ESC rights defenders as among the most vulnerable and at risk in the world. Defenders working on issues of land and environment rights, pursuing corporate accountability, or protesting major development projects are at particular risk. The Special Rapporteur’s report documents a proliferation of laws and policies which restrict the important and legitimate activities of ESC rights defenders, such as anti-protest laws which criminalise protests which target or interfere with business. It also documents an increase in the use of surveillance and the incidence of stigmatisation, vexatious prosecutions, threats, attacks, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and even killings of ESC rights defenders. Such violations are perpetrated by both State and non-State actors, including business enterprises and private security companies. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no adequate investigation, with perpetrators allowed to enjoy impunity and victims denied access to remedy or justice. The Special Rapporteur’s findings are corroborated by recent reports from the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and leading non-governmental organisations, among others. The Working Group’s report makes clear that attacks on defenders can lead to violations or lack of fulfillment of the rights for which they advocate, highlighting that a failure to protect ESC rights defenders may amount to a violation of ESC rights themselves.

Elements of a strong and substantive resolution

In this context, it is timely and important that the UN Human Rights Council adopts a substantive resolution which recognises the vital and legitimate work of ESC defenders, condemns restrictions and attacks against them, and contains concrete calls and recommendations to States, business enterprises and other actors to ensure that defenders can work to promote and protect ESC rights, and contribute to sustainable development, without risk or fear. Without limitation, the resolution should:

  • Reaffirm the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, highlighting the importance of access to information and exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, protest and public participation to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of all ESC rights.
  • Call upon States to respect, protect and publicly support defenders of ESC rights, including by enacting specific laws for their protection and reviewing and repealing provisions which restrict or criminalise their work.
  • Call upon States to facilitate the work of defenders, including by enacting freedom of information laws which provide for a right of access to information pertaining to human rights held by both State and non-State actors, including business enterprises.
  • Call upon States to ensure that defenders are consulted and able to participate in and inform the development and implementation of laws, policies and programmes relevant to ESC rights.
  • Call upon States to ensure that threats, attacks and reprisals against ESC rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated, with perpetrators held accountable and victims provided with access to remedy.
  • Call upon States to ensure the enforceability and justiciability of ESC rights, and to respect, protect and support defenders in their work to secure accountability for perpetrators, including business enterprises and other non-State actors, and to obtain access to justice and remedy for victims.
  • Urge States to recognise the vital role of defenders in promoting and contributing to sustainable development, and to support and protect them through implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Urge non-State actors, including business enterprises, to properly consult and engage with human rights defenders in relation to the development and implementation of any policies, proposals or projects which may impact on human rights, including major development projects.
  • Reaffirm the obligation of non-State actors, including business enterprises, to respect and not interfere with defenders’ exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and protest, including expression or protest targeting the business enterprise or development project itself.
Contributing to the promotion, protection and realisation of ESC rights on the ground

ISHR calls on all delegations at the UN Human Rights Council to support the negotiation and adoption of a strong and substantive resolution enshrining the elements above. Such a resolution would be a timely response to the situation and protection needs of ESC defenders, a reaffirmation of the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the ICESCR and ICCPR, and, through its effective implementation at the national level, could contribute to the promotion, protection and realisation of ESC rights on the ground.

Photo: Amnesty Canada

Category:

Topic
  • Corporate accountability
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • UN Human Rights Council
Country
  • Norway