UN must address brutal attacks on human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability

06.08.2013

(Geneva, 7 August 2013) – UN human rights officials must act to address a series of brutal attacks against human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

 

(Geneva, 7 August 2013) – UN human rights officials must act to address a series of brutal attacks against human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

Last Thursday, at least three people were killed and many more seriously injured in Weliweriya, Sri Lanka, after security forces fired on residents protesting against water contamination by a latex factory. There are also reports that journalists seeking to document the events had their cameras confiscated and were themselves attacked. The factory is owned by Dipped Products Ltd, a subsidiary of Hayleys Group, which is a major Sri Lankan multinational with close ties to the country’s Rajapaksa regime. The company’s Deputy Chair, Dhammika Perera, is head of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Transport and reportedly Sri Lanka’s richest person. Hayleys Group is a member of the UN’s Global Compact, which requires participants to respect human rights and avoid complicity in human rights abuses.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka from 25 to 31 August and ISHR urges her to investigate and report on the situation of human rights defenders, including those working on issues of corporate accountability, as a priority for the mission.

According to ISHR Director Phil Lynch, while both the Sri Lankan Government and Hayley’s Group have obligations under international human rights law to fully investigate the attacks on the Weliweriya protesters, ensure accountability for violations and provide remedies to victims, the UN also has a role to play.

‘Human rights defenders are people who work – whether as journalists, lawyers, whistleblowers or activists – to protect human rights, expose violations, and obtain justice for victims,’ said Mr Lynch.

‘It is a consequence of this work that human rights defenders are subject to attacks, intimidation and reprisals; acts often perpetrated by powerful actors, including governments and corporations. In these circumstances the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has a critical role to play in protection and accountability.’

The call for the UN High Commissioner to prioritise the situation of human rights defenders during her visit to Sri Lanka comes as another UN body, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, prepares for its inaugural mission to Russia from 30 September to 9 October.

ISHR is similarly calling on that Working Group to ensure that it consults extensively with human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability during its mission.

‘Human rights defenders and civil society organisations have an important and legitimate role in raising awareness of the human rights impacts and risks of business,’ said Mr Lynch.

‘Meaningful consultation and engagement between human rights defenders, corporations and States can play a critical role in identifying, preventing, mitigating and ensuring accountability for the adverse human rights impacts of business.’

ISHR particularly draws the Working Group’s attention to reports of harassment and attacks against residents protesting against construction of a power plant in Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, allegedly by private security forces engaged by a company involved in construction of the plant. ISHR also draws the Working Group’s attention to recent reports of harassment of Russian NGO Memorial, allegedly in retaliation for its work to expose and ensure accountability for migrant workers’ rights violations associated with Olympics works.

‘ISHR urges the Working Group to investigate allegations of harassment and reprisals against human rights defenders and NGOs in connection with their work on issues of corporate accountability,’ Mr Lynch said.

‘As part of their work to promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights we urge the Working Group to always consider the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and, as part of this, to put the interests and concerns of human rights defenders at the core of the forthcoming mission to Russia.’

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on p.lynch@ishr.ch or + 41 76 708 47 38

Category:

Topic
  • Corporate accountability
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Country
  • Sri Lanka