Human Rights Defenders – among the top 10 issues for Business and Human Rights in 2016

December 20, 2015

The Institute for Human Rights and Business has published: Human Rights Defenders and Business – Searching for Common Ground. This is the fourth in a series of Occasional Papers by IHRB to provide independent analysis and policy recommendations about timely subjects on the business and human rights agenda. In this instance, this paper is co-published with Civil Rights Defendersand Front Line Defenders, both organisations with practical research, campaigning, and advocacy experience of the issues raised in the paper.

As cases in this Paper show, journalists exposing corruption, Internet activists demanding accountability, and community activists campaigning for land rights have all faced pressure.

More than sixty governments have passed laws in the last three years to place restraints on the ability of human rights defenders to hold their governments to account. Among those targeted are individuals and organisations who challenge economic policies or business conduct. Human rights defenders’ activities are being criminalised and they face surveillance, intimidation, lawsuits, arrests, and torture – in some cases, even death.

Companies are engaging with civil society, but mutual suspicions remain. Companies share common goals with human rights defenders – accountability, transparency, the rule of law, and due process. Companies should build on these common interests and engage human rights defenders, and where possible, speak out in their defense. To download:

The same institution – to mark International Human Rights Day 2015 – published the seventh annual list of the Top 10 Business & Human Rights Issues for the 2016 (these issues are not ranked in order of importance). The one specific on human rights defenders reads:
Defending Defenders: A Role for Business in Championing Civil Society

More than sixty governments have passed laws in the past three years to place restraints on the ability of human rights defenders to hold their governments to account for actions that undermine respect for international standards. Among those targeted are individuals and organisations who champion alternate economic paradigms or challenge government policies or business conduct. Some have faced intimidation, surveillance, lawsuits, arrests, and torture.

Twenty years ago, after a trial that failed to meet international standards, the Nigerian Government executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders who opposed the activities of Shell in the Niger Delta. The case sparked global awareness of business’ human rights responsibilities beyond the factory walls, leading to the development of standardsadvocacyinitiativescodes of conducts, and eventually a comprehensive UN framework and principles for business and human rights.

Despite some progress over the past two decades, suppression of activists too often continues. The UN has passed a resolution recognising the legitimate role of peaceful activists who call out abusive behaviours, including business actions that undermine respect for human rights. Yet a growing number of governments are also passing new laws to restrain civil society activities.

Human rights defenders are like canaries in a mine. When they campaign against abuses, they highlight society’s fundamental problems, such as lack of accountability, transparency, or the rule of law. Courts have jailed journalists exposing corruption, governments have tried Internet activists, authorities have prevented activists from travelling abroad, and states have cracked down on funding sources of non-governmental organisations. International financial institutionsare also under focus. The international community is increasingly paying attention to their cause. At the 2015 UN Forum on Business & Human Rights, there was special focus on human rights defenders and the role of business.  

In the year ahead, some governments, businesses, and NGOs will likely sharpen criticism of states that unjustifiably attack human rights defenders, as well as the companies that benefit from such crackdowns and choose to say nothing. With rising concerns over terrorism and the resulting tendency in many countries to emphasise security threats over protecting human freedoms, the road ahead for those who dissent will not be easy. The combined voice of global business will be critical in effectively promoting the legitimate role of individuals and organisations that champion human rights principles and standards in societies around the world. 

Sources:

Top 10 Business and Human Rights Issues for 2016 – Top 10 Emerging Issues

http://www.ihrb.org/publications/reports/human-rights-defenders.html?utm_source=IHRB+Subscribers&utm_campaign=0e75f77298-eNews_Update_Quarterly_Update_2&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_94694639e6-0e75f77298-120645865

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/business-and-human-rights/

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