Posts Tagged ‘David Petrasek’

Another one bites the dust…the future of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

February 13, 2018

David Petrasek, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, wrote on 8 February 2018 an interesting piece under the title: “Another one bites the dust—what future for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?” (Openglobalrights.org) and wondered whether the early departure—yet again—of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t suggests it’s time to re-think the office’s priorities and strengthen its mandate (rather than more activism).

After the announcement in December 2017 by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan that he would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wrote that “while most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/].

The piece is worth reading and poses well the difficult dilemma:

Petrasek states: Zeid’s untimely departure therefore begs the question—is the job do-able? In fulfilling the mandate, must the UN’s top human rights official so annoy governments that they cut short her or his tenure? Is that a price worth paying? It would certainly strengthen the High Commissioner’s position if they were given a single six or seven-year term, getting out from under the Damoclean sword of renewal at four years.

Zeid has been a prominent and eloquent spokesperson in defense of human rights,..Clearly, this won him few friends among powerful countries, the US included. But it’s less clear that his outspokenness made much difference. It’s worth asking: should the High Commissioner prioritize speaking out even if the cost of doing so is to lose the political support necessary to fulfil her or his full mandate? The High Commissioner is not only the UN’s human rights conscience. She or he is also tasked with co-ordinating the UN’s myriad human rights activities, pursuing an active—and perhaps less public—human rights diplomacy, and leading efforts to reform often overlapping, outdated and cumbersome UN procedures.

The idea for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was put forward by civil society in the lead up to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Many functions were suggested for inclusion in the High Commissioner’s mandate, but the non-negotiable core demand was simple—the High Commissioner must have an overarching duty to promote and protect human rights anywhere.The High Commissioner was, therefore, a giant leap forward—personified in the post was the UN’s general human rights mandate, grounded in the UN Charter. She or he was now able to act whenever and wherever rights were at risk.

This general protection mandate has produced real results: High Commissioners have put neglected crises on the global agenda; there’s been a much-needed shift to the field of human rights staff, and the High Commissioner has amplified the voices of local human rights defenders.

Yet, today the High Commissioner’s voice is often only one amongst many. There are almost 60 independent human rights monitors (“Special Rapporteurs”) .. in 1993, there were barely a dozen. Similarly, today UN human rights inquiries are investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in five countries, and eight investigations have concluded in the past decade. The Council regularly meets in emergency session, there is an International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council often (if inconsistently) includes human rights concerns in its resolutions, a rare occurrence in 1993. The Security Council has also authorized the deployment of over 1,000 human rights staff to UN peacekeeping missions. They too issue reports and statements of concern, as increasingly does the UN Secretary-General.

In short, the gap identified in 1993 has narrowed considerably, at least as concerns the UN pointing a finger at human rights abusers.

But other gaps remain and widen. The growth in UN human rights mechanisms has not been accompanied by an obvious growth in their efficiency or effectiveness. Indeed, multiple and overlapping procedures are weighing down what should be a nimble and responsive system. Further, although at least since the late 1990s High Commissioners have prioritized putting staff in the field, more than half remain in Geneva and New York; in contrast, the UN Refugee Agency has 87% of its staff in the field. This imbalance seriously undermines the Office’s ability to pursue an effective human rights diplomacy. And the relative weakness and underfunding of the High Commissioner’s Office means it is hard-pressed to co-ordinate UN system-wide approaches. It has been over a decade since it has proposed any significant reforms.

The conclusion might seem obvious—the High Commissioner should spend less time speaking out and more time strengthening and reforming both his Office and the UN human rights system. A less public profile, in this view, might produce less resistance to much-needed reform—diplomacy succeeding where activism fails.

Flickr/UN Geneva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-Some Rights Reserved)


Of course, it’s not that simple. Many states are reluctant to see the UN’s human rights efforts strengthened, regardless of what the High Commissioner is saying or not. And though a more ‘diplomatic’ approach might suit some states, it will at the same time alarm civil society and activists who look to the High Commissioner for leadership. Even if states might ignore denunciations from Geneva or New York, an activist High Commissioner undoubtedly gives comfort and support to beleaguered human rights defenders.

There are no easy answers to the question posed. Perhaps it’s simply unfortunate but necessary that the High Commissioner’s mandate is a poisoned chalice—do the job well, and you’re unlikely to be re-appointed. However, given the many changes since 1993, it is worth reflecting more deeply on how this mandate might be credibly pursued so that High Commissioners depart when the job is done, not when states determine their time is up.

A single, lengthier term is one proposal, but others might be considered, including better co-ordination between the High Commissioner and the Council’s independent experts to leverage more diplomatic space. The current High Commissioner will depart in August and the key players are already politicking to appoint a successor. If she or he is not to meet a familiar fate, then now is the time to re-think priorities and strengthen the mandate.

 

(David Petrasek was formerly Senior Policy Director and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Amnesty International. David has worked on human rights and conflict resolution issues with the UN, foundations and NGOs for over 25 years.)

https://www.openglobalrights.org/another-one-bites-the-dust-what-future-for-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights/?lang=English

Companies speaking out on human rights: less rare but not enough

June 17, 2015

On 17 June 2015 Open Democracy carried an article by Mauricio Lazala (Deputy Director at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre) and Joe Bardwell (Corporate Accountability and Communications Officer at the same) under the title: “What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t.”

It states that many companies nowadays speak out for human rights when it relates directly to their operations, but not to take a stand on broader human rights issues. It opens with the case of Formula One in Azerbaijan (Bernie Ecclestone, on the country’s human rights record,: “I think everybody seems to be happy. Doesn’t seem to be any big problem there.”

Companies tend to see the risks outweighing the benefits of publicly speaking out. The greater the leverage, the greater the risk, and the greater the reluctance to speak out. For example, earlier this year, Leber Jeweller, Inc., Tiffany & Co. and Brilliant Earth released statements calling on the Angolan government to drop charges against Rafael Marques, a journalist on trial for defamation after exposing abuses in the diamond industry, but none of these companies actually had operations in Angola. In fact, ITM Mining, who does have operations in Angola, pressed their case forward even when settlement with other parties looked likely.

Even where a company has significant leverage over a government, it might be reluctant to use this to further human rights. BP, for example, is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, investing billions each year. Asked to respond to human rights concerns around its sponsorship of the European Games (being  held in Azerbaijan in June 2015), BP replied that it does “not believe that seeking to influence the policies of sovereign governments could be considered to be a part of our role as a sponsor of the European Games”. Of course, as David Petrasek said, BP would certainly seek to ‘influence the policies of sovereign governments‘ when the company’s interests are at stake.

Where the protection of human rights clashes with business interests, even some companies with strong human rights commitments show disregard for them. Earlier this year, 31 Swedish companies released a letter highlighting their concerns around statements by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, criticizing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The Swedish companies called for the protection of economic relationships over these human rights considerations.

The article list some cases of companies speaking out:

  • In January 2014, clothing companies sourcing from Cambodia, including Adidas, Columbia, Gap, H&M, Inditex, Levi Strauss and Puma, condemned the government for its violent crackdown on striking garment workers that resulted in deaths and injuries.
  • In March 2013, in Peru, six US textile firms urged the Peruvian Government to repeal a law that condoned labour rights violations, making it difficult for them to implement their own sourcing codes of conduct.
  • And in 2009, in response to the coup in Honduras, major apparel companies called for the restoration of democracy. 
  • In the ICT sector, Google pulled out of China in 2010 over censorship attempts.
  • In the food sector, two Thai seafood associations provided the bail for rights activist Andy Hall, who was imprisoned and charged in 2014 following his investigations into abuses of migrant workers in the food industry.
  • In March of this year, 379 businesses and organizations submitted a public statement to the US Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage, including corporate behemoths such as Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley.
  • And in the last couple years, hundreds of companies have publicly expressed their support for the peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrillas, when in the past most companies in Colombia kept a very low profile in relation to the armed conflict.
  • More recently, civil society has called on FIFA sponsors to respond to human rights concerns at construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup. So far, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa have issued statements supporting workers’ rights in the country.

A “business case” to support tolerant and open civic spaces is not too difficult to make. Businesses clearly benefit when the rules of the game are clear, consumers are empowered, employees are respected, and the judicial system works well. Where human rights thrive and defenders are protected, companies will also find it easier to comply with their own codes of conduct and meet their public commitments to human rights.

Speaking out for human rights could even help companies. Firms in the US are discovering that taking an enlightened public stance on social justice issues hasn’t hurt their bottom line and makes business sense—it helps attract and retain new customers and the best staff. Investors are also increasingly looking at the social and environmental records of companies, and companies needing access to multilateral banks and export credit agencies need to comply with strict international standards. And sometimes businesses just don’t want the bad press that comes with being associated with a repressive government.

Companies can be a powerful voice in the protection of the vulnerable in repressive countries, particularly where abuses are taking place linked to their industry and when they are major investors. Unfortunately, many companies remain unwilling to speak out for human rights, especially when they think that doing so might hurt them financially. However, a few brave companies are helping to create and expand “enabling environments” for human rights. Perhaps they can set a new trend for companies speaking out to protect civic 

 

“What human rights?” Why some companies speak out while others don’t | openDemocracy.