Posts Tagged ‘Business and human rights’

50th session Human Rights Council: issues directly affecting Human Rights Defenders

June 22, 2022

A bit belatedly this overview for the 50th session:

The 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 June to 8 July 2022, will consider issues including sexual orientation and gender identity, violence and discrimination against women and girls, poverty, peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression, among others. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations including in Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Eritrea, Israel and OPT, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela, among many others. With “HRC50 | Key issues on agenda of June 2022 session” the ISHR provided again its indispensable guide. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda that are the most relevant to HRDs [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/guide-to-49th-session-of-human-rights-council-with-human-rights-defenders-focus/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/15/results-49th-session-human-rights-council-as-seen-by-ngos/

Thematic areas of interest

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Business and human rights

Despite their vital work to protect the environment and combat climate change, Indigenous peoples as well as land and environmental defenders continue to be attacked. New data shows an alarming pattern of violence and harassment as a precursor to lethal attacks against defenders. 

In 2020, Global Witness registered the killings of 137 land and environmental defenders in just five of the most dangerous countries for them: Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico and the Philippines. However, a new dataset from the ALLIED Data Working Group, a coalition in which ISHR takes part, focused on these countries has for the first time documented what is often hidden – the non-lethal attacks, including threats, harassment, smear campaigns and stigmatisation that are a precursor to the shocking number of deaths we see each year.

The findings highlight the urgent need for States to monitor, collect data, report on the situation of these defenders, and address the root causes of attacks against them. ISHR urges all States to make a commitment to the systematic monitoring of attacks on indigenous, land and environmental defenders in their countries, and to take stronger action, together with civil society and relevant UN Special Procedures, to address the root causes of attacks in the debate with the Working Group due to take place on 21 June 2022. 

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law, and they undermine the UN human rights system.

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue, including:

  • Requesting that the Secretary General prepare an annual report on cases and trends of reprisals;
  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • The appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

Despite this, ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.

During the 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text was adopted by consensus for the first time since 2009 and invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again the resolution listed key trends, including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. The President should also update the Council on actions taken by the President and Bureau to follow up on cases and promote accountability under this item.

Due to the lack of a general debate under item 5 at HRC 50, ISHR encourages States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals during the interactive dialogues on the relevant countries on the agenda at this session or in the context of thematic interactive dialogues where relevant.

During the organisational meeting held on 30 May, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

The mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is up for renewal for the second time at this session. We will be following this closely and call on all States to support the mandate and contribute to the Council’s efforts to combat violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other thematic reports

At this 50th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders and the High Commissioner, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  • The Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary of arbitrary executions
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
  • The Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change
  • The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises
  • The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
  • The High Commissioner on State responses to pandemics 

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including;

  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • The Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members
  • The Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers

Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

Together with WHRDs from the country and civil society organisations from all regions, ISHR calls on States to lead and support an Urgent Debate at HRC50 on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country, there has been an enormous deterioration in the recognition and protection of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, including with respect to the rights to non-discrimination, education, work, public participation, health, and sexual and reproductive health. The Taliban has also imposed sweeping restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement for women and girls. Afghanistan is now the only country in the world to expressly prohibit girls’ education.

The world’s worst women’s rights crisis demands a response and it would be unacceptable for the June session of the HRC, traditionally the session focused on gender-related issues, to pass without some meaningful action on the issue. I

The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the update on Afghanistan on 15 June 2022. 

China 

The High Commissioner’s visit to China failed to adequately address widespread and systematic violations in the country, express solidarity with victims and defenders, or pave the way for meaningful monitoring of China’s human rights crisis across the Uyghur and Tibetan regions, Hong Kong and mainland China. The High Commissioner’s end of mission statement failed to address strong, specific concerns or make substantive, concrete recommendations to the governmen. The broad concerns issued in a light language do not match the scope and gravity of human rights violations across the country that have been thoroughly documented by UN experts and civil society and that could amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.

States should call on the High Commissioner to immediately publish her OHCHR report on the Uyghur region, with clear, compelling recommendations to the government, and present her findings in a briefing to the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner should also ensure that the established annual meeting and working group for dialogue with the authorities are of public nature, include specific substantive recommendations to the government, and involve substantial consultation with a diverse set of independent civil society groups. China should also follow suit on promises for subsequent visits by the OHCHR by granting prompt unfettered access to Hong Kong and the Tibetan region. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/06/09/disappointment-with-un-high-commissioners-visit-to-xinjiang-boils-over/

Burundi

The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) concluded its work at the 48th HRC session in October 2021 while a new resolution establishing a mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi was adopted, resolution 48/16. The resolution tasks the mandate with monitoring the human rights situation in the country, making recommendations for its imp­ro­ve­ment, and re­por­ting to the Human Rights Council. During the 50th HRC session, the newly nominated Special Rapporteur on Burundi will present their first oral update on 29 June 2022.

Egypt

Notwithstanding the launch of a national human rights strategy, the fundamental purpose of which is to deflect international scrutiny rather than advance human rights, there has been no significant improvement in the human rights situation in Egypt since the joint statement delivered by States in March 2021 at HRC46. Emblematic recent examples include: Ayman Hadhoud’s death in the custody of Egyptian security forces following his enforced disappearance over two months ago and the execution of seven people in Egypt on 8 and 10 March 2022 following trials in which the defendants were forcibly disappeared, tortured, and denied their right to a lawyer.

In response to the Egyptian President’s announcement of “reactivating the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee” on 26 April 2022, Egyptian human rights organisations submitted a proposal for a fair and transparent process to release political prisoners in Egypt. Yet, recent harsh sentences in unfair trials against peaceful critics demonstrate further the lack of political will of the Egyptian authorities to address the crisis of arbitrary detention in Egypt. ISHR joined more than 100 NGOs from around the world in urging the HRC to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. 

Israel and oPT

This session, the COI on the oPt and Israel established in 2021 will present its first report to the HRC. Civil society from around the world had welcomed the historic resolution establishing the standing Commission of Inquiry to address Israel’s latest and ongoing violations against the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, while also addressing the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid. The interactive dialogue with the CoI comes in the context of mounting recognition of Israel’s establishment and maintenance of an apartheid regime by Israel over the Palestinian people as a whole. During HRC49, the SR on the oPT called on the international community to accept and adopt his findings as well as the “findings by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations that apartheid is being practised by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and beyond.” In its 2019 concluding observations, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that Israel’s policies violated Article 3 of ICERD pertaining to segregation and apartheid on both sides of the Green Line. In 2022, the Human Rights Committee concluding observations on Israel emphasized the “pre-existing systematic and structural discrimination against non-Jews”.

While some States continue to seek to undermine the mandate of the CoI and effective accountability mechanisms to put an end to Israel’s apartheid regime, CSOs support the CoI’s methodological approach to fulfill its vital mandate. We call on States to engage with the substance of the mandate of the CoI during the interactive dialogue, express support for this important accountability mechanism and ensure it has sufficient resources to discharge its mandate.

Russia 

Together with a coalition of international and regional NGOs, as well as numerous Russian civil society organisations, ISHR urges the Council to establish an independent international monitoring and reporting mechanism on Russia. In the context of the systematic repression of civil society organisations, severe restrictions on press freedoms and independent media, severe restrictions and criminalisation of many forms of free expression, association, assembly and peaceful protest, and the propagation of huge volumes of misinformation, a Special Rapporteur is necessary to ensure that the international community receives vital information about the human rights situation on the ground. 

Sudan

The Council will hold a debate with the High Commissioner and Expert on Sudan on 15 June 2022.

The Sudanese Women Rights Action documented from March to April 2022 the violations against women protesters, including arrests, injuries, and sexual violence. Their report also highlighted the economic and humanitarian situation in conflict areas and in the country in general. The report shows that “the coup leaders are using increasing violence against women protesters, including arrests, fabricated charges, direct lethal violence in protests, and sexual violence. The civic space is shrinking across Sudan, where human rights groups and WHRDs are not able to work freely and safely. Surveillance on internet, communication, movement, and offices of many groups led them to work from underground. The economic conditions and the fragile political situation is increasing women insecurity, as the peace process failed to end violence conflict areas. Women in Sudan are living in constant fear of violence with growing threats of the collapse of the state.”

In light of this context, ISHR urges all States to support the adoption of a resolution that ensures continued attention to Sudan’s human rights situation through enhanced interactive dia­logues at the Council’s 52nd and 53rd regular sessions. While the Expert’s mandate is ongoing, a resolution is required for the Council to hold public de­bates and continue to formally discuss the situation. A resolution at the Council’s 50th session would ope­ra­tio­nalise resolution S-32/1, which in its operative paragraph 19 called upon “the High Commis­sioner and the designated Expert to monitor human rights violations and abu­ses and to continue to bring information thereon to the attention of the Human Rights Council, and to advise on the further steps that may be needed if the situation continues to deteriorate.”

Venezuela

On 29 June, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on her report on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. The Council requested her to provide in this report a detailed assessment of the implementation of the recommendations made in her previous reports. Implementation of recommendations and improvements in the human rights situation on the ground remains a critical question as HRC mandates for OHCHR and the international investigative body for Venezuela expire in September. Venezuelan civil society groups continue to show evidence of a lack of any substantive human rights reform in the country, of a lack of meaningful cooperation by the State and – in fact – of regression in key areas such as judicial independence and civic space. ISHR urges States at the upcoming session to express support for the work of OHCHR in the country, and encourage the Office to speak clearly to realities on the ground. In addition, States should signal their support for the continuance of the work of the HRC’s fact-finding mission to the country through an extension of the Mission’s mandate at HRC51. 

The adoption of the report of the third cycle UPR on Venezuela will also take place on the 29 June or 1 July.  

Other country situations

The Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s annual report on 14 June 2022. The Council will hold debates on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Interactive Dialogues with the High Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogues with the High Commissioner on Ukraine
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
  • Interactive Dialogue with the International commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Belarus
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Central African Republic 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates: 

  1. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
  2. Special Rapporteur on the right to education
  3. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  4. Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, member from African States
  5. Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  6. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  7. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from Eastern European States
  8. Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, member from Western European and other States

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 50th session

At the organizational meeting on 30 May the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Elimination of discrimination against women (Mexico), mandate renewal 
  2. Freedom of expression (Brazil, Canada, Fiji, Sweden, Namibia, Netherlands) 
  3. Elimination of female genital mutilation (Africa Group)
  4. Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico), mandate renewal 
  5. Human rights situation in Sudan (United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, United States)
  6. Human rights situation in Syria (Germany, France, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United States, United Kingdom)
  7. Mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity  (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay), mandate renewal 
  8. Casualty recording and the promotion and protection of human rights (Liechtenstein, Croatia, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone) 
  9. Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  10. Access to medicines and vaccines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand)
  11. Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (NAM)
  12. Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers (Hungary, Australia, Botswana, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand)
  13. Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms (Ecuador, Peru)
  14. Human rights in Belarus, mandate renewal (European Union)
  15. Human rights in Eritrea, mandate renewal (European Union) 
  16. The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protest (Switzerland, Costa Rica)
  17. Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (OIC) 
  18. Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (Canada), mandate renewal 
  19. Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (Austria, Honduras, Uganda), mandate renewal
  20. Human rights and international solidarity (Cuba)
  21. Social Forum (Cuba)

Read the calendar here

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Togo, Syrian Arab Republic, Iceland, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Lithuania, Uganda, Timor-Leste, Republic of Moldova, South Sudan, Haiti and Sudan.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Panel discussion on the root causes of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar 
  2. Panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality
  3. Panel discussion on good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
  4. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
  5. Panel discussion on the adverse impact of climate change on the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by people in vulnerable situations
  6. High-level panel discussion on countering the negative impact of disinformation on the enjoyment and realization of human rights
  7. Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity-building

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC50 on Twitter, and look out for its Human Rights Council Monitor. During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched. 

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc50-key-issues-on-agenda-of-june-2022-session/

Davos’ annual meeting starts on 22 May under human rights cloud

May 22, 2022
Agnès Callamard at a press conference

Agnès Callamard at a press conference © Amnesty International

Ahead of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos that starts today, Sunday 22 May 2022, Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

This year’s Davos conference takes place amid a gathering storm of human rights crises. Russia’s mounting war crimes in Ukraine, the terrifying rollback on abortion rights in the US, the still-neglected climate emergency, the ongoing failure to secure universal vaccine access – these are just a few examples of what happens when human rights are sacrificed for power and profit.  

“Many of the political and business leaders attending Davos are directly responsible for these catastrophes, whether through their explicit pursuit of anti-human rights agendas or through their contemptible inaction and failure to implement solutions.  

“The Davos guestlist includes some of the richest and most powerful people in the world, and they have a moral obligation to put respect for human rights at the top of the agenda. They must use their vast wealth and influence to change the status quo and end the rampant inequality which has been the root cause of so much recent suffering.

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting will take place in Davos, Switzerland, between 22 and 26 May.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/global-rich-and-powerful-meet-davos-amid-gathering-storm-human-rights-crises

SHIFT’s new Chair is former High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

May 20, 2022

Shift, the centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, announced the appointment of HRH Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein as the new Chair of its Board of Trustees. He served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014-2018, as well as Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, and as the first president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), among other leadership roles.

He is currently the CEO and President of the International Peace Institute and the Perry World House Professor of Practice of Law and Human Rights at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. He is also a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights, first established by Nelson Mandela in 2007. He has been recognized globally and received 5 human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/8ec8e85a-66ba-404c-b82e-720ebf044549]  

Prince Zeid succeeds Shift’s late founding Chair, Professor John Ruggie, author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/28/in-memoriam-john-ruggie-father-of-business-and-human-rights/]

On taking up the role of Shift’s Chair, Prince Zeid said:  

The unanimous endorsement of the Guiding Principles in 2011 represented a watershed moment in changing the understanding of companies’ responsibility for the negative impacts that business activities can have on people. For a decade now, Shift has worked relentlessly to embed the ethos of the UNGPs in the way business gets done, with the focus where it must always be – on delivering better outcomes for the most vulnerable workers and communities. I am delighted to take up the role of Chair of Shift’s Trustees at a time when we see so much growth in the appetite and need for the organization’s work and leadership, not least as regulators, legislators, investors and financiers become more attuned to their own roles in incentivizing rights-respecting business practices, including as an essential component of a Just Transition to carbon neutral economies. I look forward to working with the Board and the management team to seize these growing opportunities to deliver on the promise of the UN Guiding Principles.”

For the past three years, Shift has worked closely with Prince Zeid in strategic partnerships to advise global sports bodies––including the International Olympic Committee and the Féderation Internationale de l’Automobile ––on their responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles.

Better “business and human rights” starts with better understanding

May 17, 2022

Andrés Zaragoza in Open Global Rights of 16 May 2022 hits the nail by arguing that “If we want to constructively engage companies, business associations or investors on human rights issues, we must recognize who our interlocutor is.

..Building trust and a common narrative to engage in a constructive conversation is extremely difficult. Some would argue that a trusting relationship between civil society and private companies is not only impossible but also not desirable; that good faith is nowhere to be found in business sectors where human rights abuses can and do take place.

It has already been 10 years since the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights…..The enactment of legislation at the regional and national levels requiring companies to carry out human rights due diligence, such as the newly proposed EU Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, as well as negotiations on a binding international treaty on business and human rights, creates a window of opportunity for NGOs to be creative, ambitious, and innovative in testing new advocacy strategies to change corporate conduct and advance human rights.

Despite an understandably dogged legacy of mistrust between civil society and corporations, there is a momentum for human rights organizations to engage productively with businesses, responsible investors, and other private actors that hold increasing market power, leverage, and are subject to new human rights legislation. As we write, global corporations are becoming increasingly relevant actors in international conflicts. In other words, businesses could become powerful allies in advancing human rights’ agendas with governments or in regards to public opinion.  

It’s no mystery that businesses and civil society speak different languages and engage from radically distinct perspectives when referring to human rights issues.

It is true that corporate activism is on the rise, with some companies supporting important causes and campaigns such as LGBTQ+ rights, anti-racism, equality, and non-discrimination. However, companies are not founded for promoting and protecting human rights, even if we may wish it otherwise. Instead, corporations see human rights issues through the lens of their productive and business models. This does not mean that workers or companies do not care about human rights. They do care, especially in certain sectors and business cultures. 

As civil society, we need to identify and understand how to best engage our strategic targets and audiences. If we want to constructively engage companies, business associations or investors on human rights issues, we must recognize who our interlocutor is. Businesses’ core activity is the starting point to analyse any human rights issue: their business, people, customers, and supply chain

Businesses tend to focus on risk identification and mitigation. There is growing recognition that human rights defenders can play a vital role in sounding the alarm on problems within an organization’s operations or supply chain. Generally, ‘UN speak’ does not work with businesses. Civil society should avoid jargon when engaging with business circles. Business representatives seek examples and clarity on which human rights issues are of concern and how they are relevant to their operations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/21/davos-businesses-need-strong-human-rights-defenders/

Civil society should not automatically feel good about the fact that a company has a person with “human rights” written in their title. Unfortunately, this often means that a position was created for compliance or reputational management purposes, to deal discreetly with human rights issues, or engage (read: manage) civil society relations. By contrast, companies that take human rights seriously embed the topic across functions and departments, working towards including human rights within the company’s ethos. 

To achieve change, civil society should make every effort to better understand the complexity of a particular company, its economic sector, activity, internal governance, corporate values, and culture. Each company has its own systems and structure, progressing through their human rights journey differently. 

On a micro level, the individual background, connections, and motivations of the human rights personnel within the company have great bearing on how issues are pushed through a company. At the systemic level, NGOs must understand the functioning of international business, economics, investment and trade.  

Lessons learnt and scars taken 

..Civil society should understand and use the market. As companies need to comply with human rights and sustainability regulations, NGOs and defenders can become key in risk assessment or due diligence processes, influencing directly the behavior of companies. We need to know the “enemy” and know ourselves. As civil society, we should build our technical capacity to understand and leverage international business, economics, investment and trade. We will not change business dynamics if we do not understand them.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/18/business-network-on-civic-freedoms-and-human-rights-defenders-launches-new-website/

https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-it-takes-to-bridge-the-divide-between-the-business-sector-and-human-rights/

Green economy and human rights defenders: Provide data, denounce attacks

April 21, 2022

On 21 April 2022 Christen Dobson, Ana Zbona and Andrea Pelliconi of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre wrote a piece entitled: “Safe, legitimate engagement between firms, human rights defenders key to a just transition

..Human rights defenders are vital leaders of a just transition to green economies. They are on the front lines of the climate crisis – and they hold essential information on the risks and harms associated with business actions, which can be used by companies and investors to conduct effective environmental and human rights due diligence to create long-term value.

Yet, these defenders are under sustained attack. In 2021, there were at least 615 attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms, with nearly 70 per cent of attacks against climate, land and environmental rights defenders. Since January 2015, we have documented more than 3,870 attacks globally, including killings, death threats, arbitrary detention and strategic lawsuits against public participation.

Indigenous peoples, who are at the forefront of protecting biodiversity and our shared planet, experience a disproportionately high level of attacks. Although they comprise approximately 5 per cent of the world’s population, they faced 18 per cent of attacks globally in 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

One of the main drivers of this violence is the failure of companies and investors to engage in safe and legitimate consultation with rights-holders and defenders. This failure stands to derail the fast transition to a zero-carbon economy that we urgently need.

If companies and investors do not listen to people highlighting risks related to their operations, investments, supply chains, and business relationships, or if it is not safe to raise these concerns, they will lose out on critical information needed to mitigate harm and achieving a fast and fair energy transition, essential for averting the climate crisis. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/un-experts-urge-eu-to-take-the-lead-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-in-context-of-business/]

Renewable energy firms guilty too

While companies and investors are increasingly making welcome and necessary commitments to climate action, including promises to achieve net zero by mid-century, many do not have policies expressing zero-tolerance against reprisals, nor do they assess risks to defenders or engage in consultation with them. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/07/clean-energy-will-not-automatically-be-good-for-indigenous-land-defenders/

That’s the case even in the sector most crucial to the transition: our 2021 Renewable Energy Benchmark, we found that of the 15 of the largest global renewable energy companies evaluated, all scored zero on their commitment to respect the rights of human rights and environmental defenders.

The urgently needed global transition to green economies will only be successful if it is sustainable and just. This means respecting the rights of the people at the forefront of protecting our earth and raising the alarm about harmful business practices.

We have seen this failure to secure consent from affected communities prior to starting development projects lead to horrific outcomes. On 30 December 2021, police officers in the Philippines raided an Indigenous village, killing nine leaders. Local groups said that those killed were targeted and red-tagged because of their opposition to the Jalaur Mega Dam construction. Indigenous groups had challenged the project for years saying it would destroy their ancestral domain.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, an Indigenous Zapotec community has been raising concerns about wind farm construction not respecting their rights to self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent. Leaders have faced stigmatisation and harassment. In October 2018, a federal court in Mexico delivered a historic ruling in favour of the community, ordering the Mexican authorities to carry out a consultation at a wind farm operated by a state-owned company based in Europe. In October 2020, the community filed a civil lawsuit in Paris against the company.

Engaging with rights-holders and defenders early on is one of the most effective ways of identifying actual and potential human rights and environmental impacts, while also reducing business risks. It is also their responsibility under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

For human rights due diligence processes to be effective, companies and investors can start by making clear they will not tolerate any attacks to defenders related to their operations, value chains or investments, communicating this publicly and to their suppliers and business partners. Companies should also conduct due diligence across their entire value chains, as the biggest risks and harms to people and planet occur in the lower tiers…

Throughout the entire due diligence process, companies should engage in ongoing consultation with rights-holders and defenders, including prior to and at every stage of business activity, and integrate their input into decision-making.

Effective due diligence also involves conducting human rights and environmental impact assessments. The assessments should map potentially affected rights-holders and land and resource conflicts and by informed by rights-holders and defenders’ expertise

This is not just nice to do. Conducting safe and legitimate human rights and environmental due diligence benefits everyone and will ensure companies are more effectively achieving their climate commitments. As the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights says, defenders need to be seen as key partners who can help businesses identify their human rights impacts, rather than being seen as obstacles to be disposed of.

The urgently needed global transition to green economies will only be successful if it is sustainable and just. This means respecting the rights of the people at the forefront of protecting our earth and raising the alarm about harmful business practices.

https://www.eco-business.com/opinion/safe-legitimate-engagement-between-firms-human-rights-defenders-key-to-a-just-transition/

Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders launches new website

February 18, 2022

The Network is now launching its official website, where details about activities, priorities and participants can be found and engagement is encouraged. 

The work of human rights defenders  (HRDs) and civil society is vital to peace, justice, fairness and sustainable development. It is also essential to promote transparency and combat corruption. Nonetheless, around the world, there is a concerted attack on the essential freedoms and the rule of law on which business and civil society depend. Both defenders and organisations who expose the risk of abuse by companies in their operations and supply chains are under particular attack.

Responsible businesses and investors need to both step up and lead by example as well as to speak and act decisively to protect open societies and the “shared civic space” in which both companies and civil society develop. Sustainable development cannot thrive in closed societies where cronyism and corruption prosper, and basic human rights are not respected.

But why, when and how should business engage on this urgent agenda? There is no easy answer and progress will only be achieved by motion and action. Created in 2016 with this goal in mind, the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders is formed by a group of companies committed to identifying ways that businesses and society can benefit from increased support from the private sector for the protection of civic freedoms and human rights defenders. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/21/davos-businesses-need-strong-human-rights-defenders/

The Network is now launching its official website, where details about activities, priorities and participants can be found and engagement is encouraged. 

The participating NGOs and defenders have been providing guidance for companies, which was compiled in the Shared Space Under Pressure Report on Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, published by BHRRC and ISHR in 2018. Since then, at least 30 companies make references to human rights defenders in their internal policies. A good trend, but not enough in terms of numbers, implementation, and impact. Additionally, some of the members signalled their early commitment to this agenda through this public statement in support of civic freedoms, human rights defenders and the rule of law.

The Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders is coordinated by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, the International Service for Human Rights, and The B Team. Approximately 40 major multinationals currently participate in the Business Network. The Network works across sectors, which include businesses, civil society (NGOs, community representatives, union leaders and other front line human rights defenders), investors, international institutions and academia.

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/business-human-rights-the-business-network-on-civic-freedoms-and-human-rights-defenders-launches-its-new-website/

2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

January 18, 2022

The new #PeoplePower2021 report shows where civil society conditions are improving and getting worse. A closer look at top violations & trends.

2021 global data report from the CIVICUS Monitor

  • 9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted 
  • Country downgrades include Poland, Singapore, Nicaragua, Jordan and South Africa
  • Detention of protesters is the top violation of civic freedoms in 2021
  • COVID-19 continues to be used as a pretext to restrict rights across the globe

The fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association continue to deteriorate year after year worldwide, according to a global report released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online research platform that tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. The new report, People Power Under Attack 2021, shows that the number of people living in countries with significant restrictions on civic rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, amount to almost 89% of the population this year. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/26/10th-edition-of-civicuss-state-of-civil-society-report-2021/

The CIVICUS Monitor data shows that year after year, there is significantly less space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms: only 3.1% of the world’s population lives in countries rated as ‘open’.

Nearly two billion people live in countries with the worst rating, ‘closed’, where the authorities are routinely allowed to imprison, injure and kill people for attempting to exercise their fundamental freedoms. China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and 21 other countries fall under this category – Nicaragua and Belarus joined their ranks this year. 

It is nearly two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus is having a dire impact on civic freedoms globally, one that will have lasting impact if remedial action is not taken. Our research shows the detention of protesters and the use of restrictive laws to muzzle dissent are becoming more prevalent, as governments use the pandemic to introduce or implement additional restrictions on civic freedoms. 

“Governments across the world are setting a very dangerous precedent by using the health emergency as a smokescreen to crack down on protests and enact or amend legislation that will further limit peoples’ rights. Specifically, disinformation legislation is being enacted and used to criminalise speech, a concerning practice that could become the new norm to crush dissent,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Cluster Lead. 

This year, 13 countries have been downgraded and only one improved their rating.  The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about civic space restrictions in Europe, where four countries dropped a rating: Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Poland. Europe has the greatest number of ‘open’ countries, but year after year we continue to see signs of serious deterioration.

Also alarming is the deterioration of civic space conditions in Africa, where South Africa, Botswana, Mali and Mozambique all dropped ratings. In the Americas, Nicaragua joined Cuba in our worst category, ‘closed’. The Middle East and North Africa retained its status as the region with the worst civic rights record, with Jordan being downgraded to ‘repressed’. In Asia, Singapore also fell into the ‘repressed’ category, as a persistent clamp down on dissent and opposition voices continues. 

https://monitor.civicus.org/widgets/world

“What we are seeing is not a proportional reaction to a health emergency, where restrictions are meant to be extraordinary measures to deal with a crisis that is temporary. On the contrary, governments are using the pandemic as a pretext to further accelerate the crackdown on human rights that we have been documenting over the past years.” 

Although only one country – Mongolia – improved its rating in 2021, it is important to highlight the resilience of civil society. Governments have not been successful in silencing alternative voices or limiting their activism. Despite increasing restrictions, civil society has found ways to continue to speak up and claim their rights.  

Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, which are analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021. 

Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.

As the climate crisis intensifies and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate social and economic inequalities, the efforts of civil society are fundamental to achieve tangible results and systematic change. However, a new report by CIVICUS shows how activists, human rights and environmental defenders face profound barriers: not only are governments and businesses failing to take urgent steps to mitigate the climate crisis; they are also actively trying to silence activists, disrupt and prevent climate actions and repress environmental, land and Indigenous rights defenders. In addition, companies play a crucial role in limiting human rights activism.

CIVICUS’ report highlights the role of companies across the world in perpetrating, contributing to, or allegedly benefiting from attacks on human rights defenders and rights groups, including: Feronia PHCFormosa Plastics GroupSOCFINNewmont Mining CompanyXiang Lin SI LtdGreat Season LtdChevron EnergySomkhele and Tendele Coal Mining, PanAust, Oxec, OCP Ecuador and Petroecuador, SG Interests, Celtejo, Mineral Commodities (Ltd) (MRC) and Mineral Sands Resources, PetroTal, Enbridge, Lydian Armenia, andthe RWE Group. The report also highlights positive developments from Chevron and the Mizuho Financial Group.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) had already asked most of these companies to respond to the allegations included in the report, previously. Responses can be found in the companies’ dashboard. BHRRC asked RWE Group to respond to the allegations; RWE’s response is included below.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/reports-publications

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/civicus-report-highlights-role-of-companies-in-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-amid-increasing-restrictions-on-civil-society/

AFREWATCH wins Business and Human Rights Award 2021

December 14, 2021

At the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, the 2021 award recipient was announced: AFREWATCH — a small, courageous organization headquartered in Democratic Republic of Congo that focuses on the human rights and environmental impacts of extractive companies in Africa.

Here a 3-minute video announcing the award: https://www.humanrightsandbusinessaward.org/announcement-2021-recipient-of-the-human-rights-and-business-award/. The video features two Advisory Network members announcing the award (Abiodun Baiyewu and Seema Joshi), followed by the Executive Director of AFREWATCH (Emmanuel Umpula) accepting the award.

AFREWATCH researches and reports on abuses by mining and oil companies and by governments; engages with government officials to advocate for improvements in law and practice; presses for extractive companies to pay their fair share of taxes, and helps grassroots community organizations build their capacity.  

For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/fd511ca0-10f0-11ea-8f61-d1d879c27588

https://www.humanrightsandbusinessaward.org/award-recipient/afrewatch/

Norway’s Telenor in Myanmar should do more than pull out – it should not hand sensitive data to the regime

October 26, 2021

The Norwegian firm took a principled stance to Myanmar’s coup. The same can’t be said for its exit from the country, writes Aung Myo Min, Minister of Human Rights in Myanmar’s National Unity Government., on 25 October 2021.

Praising Norway as a global leader when it comes to protecting human rights defenders and Telenor for acting in principled ways following the attempted coup by pushing back against the military junta’s illegal directives, the author is perplexed that in July, “after considering all possible alternatives and events,” Norway’s largely state-owned telecoms provider agreed to sell its Myanmar operations to the Lebanese firm M1 Group. According to the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), M1 is “infamous for its business activities in countries with violent totalitarian and extremist regimes.” In 2012, telco MTN Syria, a subsidiary of MTN in which M1 is the major shareholder, undermined protest leaders by blocking text messages at the behest of the Bashir al-Assad regime. In 2013, MTN installed “lawful surveillance equipment” for its mobile network in South Sudan during a crackdown on government critics by state security forces.

It is to be feared that M1 group will hand over user details of some 18.2 million Telenor users to the military junta, placing human rights defenders even more clearly in the crosshairs.

Telenor has operated in Myanmar since 2014, a decision that back then, according to the Group, was informed by “a thorough human rights impact assessment as part of the due diligence.” The Norwegian Government holds a 53 percent stake in Telenor.s.

The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, in coordination with 474 Myanmar civil society organizations, has lodged a complaint against the sale with the Norwegian National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and, after an initial assessment, the watchdog found merit in the claim. Mediation may well follow. This offers Telenor and the Norwegian government an opportunity to salvage something significantly more valuable than telecoms assets and investments: their reputations.

Telenor says that its decision to sell “was not motivated by financial or strategic objectives,” but guided by its “commitment to its values and standards.” This commitment requires scrutiny. The potential sale of Telenor requires assessment of any adverse human rights impact and prevention or mitigation where they present.

https://thediplomat.com/2021/10/telenor-in-myanmar-norways-human-rights-reputation-is-on-the-line/

FIDH launches “SEE YOU IN COURT” campaign

September 29, 2021

The disastrous impact that multinationals have on the environment can no longer be denied. The human right to live in a healthy environment concerns us all, therefore, FIDH and its member organisations are launching coordinated legal actions across the world. The companies implicated and States which allow it to happen must be held accountable.

The first legal actions

It is time to recognize the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right and to hold companies accountable for their actions.

  • Environmental impact = human impact Because human rights and the environment are interdependent, it is crucial that States recognise the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right. Hundreds of organisations are fighting for a UN resolution to achieve international recognition of this.
  • Restoring a healthy environment to affected communities In the face of environmental disasters and human rights violations, the balance is still too often tipped in favour of the companies involved. Ensuring access to justice for those most affected and passing laws which hold multinationals accountable are also means to protect the planet.

https://seeyouincourt.fidh.org/?lang=en#