Yesterday, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders presented her report at the General Assembly's Third Committee on the long-term detention of human rights defenders.
Threats and attacks to human rights defenders and to civic freedoms are increasing concerns globally. A large number of HRDs are under threat and attack because they raise concern about adverse human rights impacts of business operations, often in the context of development projects that affect access to land and livelihoods. At the same time, the space for civil society actors to raise concerns about human rights impacts is being restricted, and HRDs face criminalization when engaging in public protest or civil dissent.
The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: guidance of ensuring respect for human rights defenders is the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights’ response to the increasing risks to the life and security of human rights defenders, says Anita Ramasastry, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. The UN Guidance is important because it goes beyond the Guiding Principles, considering specific risks to human rights defenders and proactive measures that the private sector can carry out to mitigate risks and enable a safe civic space.
Despite the policy efforts and the development of international frameworks for protection of human rights defenders, Josefina Tunki, President of Shuar Arutam People, reminded us that good intentions and policy papers are not enough to protect her. Josefina described how she and the the Shuar Arutam People suffered harassment, intimidation and death threats, while the State of Ecuador did not provide the required protection or access to remedy. Three indigenous leaders have already been killed and she considers her life to be in danger. Sadly, this is a growing trend among local communities in the Latin-American region.
The UN, in its new guidance document, calls on businesses to think beyond the safety of human rights defenders and act preemptively by carrying out due diligence and anticipating potential risks to defenders. Beyond this, they must provide access to remedies and identify solutions. The use of judicial actions against human rights defenders, stigmatising and criminalising their work, becomes incompatible with any notion or responsible business, respect for human rights or sustainable operations. SLAPP lawsuits are used to silence defenders and constitute an unlawful vehicle to limit freedom of expression and assembly..
The UN Guidance calls on businesses to intervene when their partners or investors threaten or harm defenders. Ramasastry says, “when we say businesses need to do more, this does not mean the company is causing the harm, but sometimes it is the connections between companies.” Companies can no longer hide behind complex international supply chains or a network of subsidiaries owned by authoritarian leaders. Businesses have a responsibility to understand the complexities of the countries where they invest, to examine the suppliers they buy from, and to take into consideration the potential for impact associated with operating in countries where governance is weak and the rule of law is fragile.
The importance of consultations between businesses and human rights defenders was highlighted by Antonia Urrejola, President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights who highlighted that States have an obligation to adopt policies protecting human rights defenders and to remedy any violations. States need to establish a clear framework for businesses involved in abuses against human rights defenders.
The UN Guidance identifies human rights defenders as key stakeholders calling on businesses to consult with them as they are “a voice for affected stakeholders and communities, as watchdogs, advocates and often providers of early warnings of human rights risks and adverse impacts.”
Edgardo Rodriguez, Director of Human Rights of the Ministry of Access to Justice and Human Rights of Peru said that States should adopt a policy for the protection of human rights defenders and improve defence systems for those defending indigenous communities, LGBTI and other minority communities.
María Fernanda Garza Merodio, the Vice President of the International Chamber of Commerce said it is very important for businesses to commit to future legislation and the exchange of good practices as coherent measures are required. ICC has recently created a Working Group on Business and Human Rights to advance the institution’s work on this domain.
Dante Pesce, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights concluded the event highlighting that, by now, ten years after the creation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, there is a “clear diagnosis” of the issue, and that the conversation should be moving beyond the diagnosis to finding solutions and concrete, effective actions. It is time for implementation.
To watch the full recap of the multi-stakeholder dialogue, click here.
Today, UN member States elected members to the UN's top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, for the 2022-2024 term. 18 candidates ran for 18 seats, and all were elected, leaving civil society disappointed in a process that can hardly be called an election.
On 14 October 2021, the UK delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 80 countries, condemning intimidation and reprisals, and calling on States to prioritise and support the meaningful participation of civil society at the UN.
Futures thinking encourages us to identify small ‘signals of change’ which might help to identify and influence the futures that come to pass. At ISHR we’ve identified and, together with advocates and activists from around the world, helped contribute to a number of small but significant signals of positive human rights change in recent weeks.
ISHR together with 36 NGOs from around the world have called on member States of the UN General Assembly to sign on to a cross-regional joint statement on reprisals at the 76th session of the UNGA Third Committee.
During the interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on the SG’s Reprisals Report, some States raised specific cases of reprisals, whilst others drew attention to the use of COVID-19 as a guise under which reprisals were committed and also raised the additional risks to human rights defenders online as a result of the pandemic.
The 8th meeting of the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders brought together civil society, private sector and experts to discuss how companies can use their leverage for a positive change in the civic space
Human rights organisations* urge the immediate and unconditional release of Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed El-Baqer, who completes today two years in arbitrary detention.
On 17 September 2021, the UN Secretary-General released his annual report on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a high number of threats and attacks aimed at retaliating against defenders and discouraging cooperation with the UN.
The Human Rights Council should not only respond to diverse States and civil society’s calls for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on human right and climate change and to recognise the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, but also recognise the fundamental role of environmental human rights defenders in addressing climate change and safeguarding biodiversity. ISHR also called on the Council to respond to grave human rights violations in Afghanistan, China, and Nicaragua.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.