UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights: Push for accountability for attacks on defenders


The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights should call on States and companies to promote the rights and protection of activists promoting corporate accountability, ISHR said today. 

(Geneva) - The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights should call on States and companies to promote the rights and protection of activists promoting corporate accountability, ISHR said today. 

In a statement delivered to the Human Rights Council, the United Nations top human rights body, ISHR asked the group of experts appointed to implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to follow-up on recommendations made in the context of its fact-finding mission to Azerbaijan

'Regrettably, the Government of Azerbaijan has so far ignored the recommendations of the UN human rights experts to stop its repression of independent civil society and human rights defenders,' said Michael Ineichen of the International Service for Human Rights.

'It is critical that the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights leverages its relationships with third States and business enterprises to contribute to the release of the many unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders in the country,' Mr Ineichen said. 'We also call on businesses themselves to stand up and speak out against the repression of civil society and attacks against human rights defenders in countries in which they invest and operate. Respect for fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly should be a pre-condition for doing business in a country. Recent actions taken by companies such as Tiffany & Co to condemn the prosecution of human rights defenders and transparency activists working to expose corruption in the diamond industry is a good practice example in this regard.'

The statement welcomed the Working Group's efforts in increasing the volume and substance of its letters confronting governments with allegations of human rights violations, but requested that such communications also remind businesses of their obligations with regards to the protection of human rights activists. It also recommended that the Working Group make its individual complaints function more accessible and visible to activists.


Full text of the statement: 

ISHR welcomes the various reports of the Working Group, including in particular the mission report on Azerbaijan. 

As the report points out, the Guiding Principles recognise the critical role played by human rights defenders in preventing, mitigating and seeking accountability for human rights violations related to business operations. 

We share the Working Group’s deep concern about the repression of human rights defenders by Azerbaijan, and regret that contrary to the Working Group’s recommendation, the arrest and detention of prominent human rights defenders continues. In this regard, we would be interested in your views, Mr Addo, on how third States, but also business enterprises operating in the country, could contribute to the release of imprisoned activists? 

More broadly, what is the role of companies to contribute to an overall better working environment for human rights defenders, and in particular those working to promote corporate accountability and to expose corruption? 

We also welcome the allegations letters of the Working Group contained in the joint communications report, but regret that the Working Group has only sent a fraction of communications when compared to other mandates. For instance, the Working Group sent 3 communications in the reporting period, as opposed to 54 for defenders, 40 for freedom of expression, or 10 for the countering terrorism mandates. That said, we encourage the Working Group to continue to strengthen it’s communications work, and recognise ongoing efforts to this effect. 

The allegations contained in the communications sent to Thailand, Kenya and Nicaragua – the latter two not having received any response during the reporting period – are serious, and range from adverse impact of business operations on the health and livelihood of the local population, to excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention and killings of several human rights defenders. What is the Working Group currently undertaking to follow-up on these serious allegations? 

Finally, ISHR would also be interested in learning what, if any, engagement the Working Group has had with the concerned companies, and why previous practice of also sending communications to these companies was no longer followed in these cases? 

Thank you.

Contact: Michael Ineichen at m.ineichen@ishr.ch or + 41 78 827 77 86


Photo credit: United Nations Photo


  • Corporate accountability
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