PBI engaged in UN processes on human rights and transnational corporations

Published by Brent Patterson on

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“It has been determined that there are many companies that have the support of the state army, the mining and energy battalions in order to ‘defend’ what they consider theirs to stop communities instigating social protest.” – Rosa Maria Mateus, Lawyers Collective CCAJAR Photo credit: Manu Valcarce

Peace Brigades International has stated that the human rights defenders it accompanies often find themselves threatened, criminalized and at risk because of powerful economic and political interests and a system that favours profit over rights.

Our motto is “making space for peace” and there are several United Nations processes underway to ensure the space for human rights defenders to participate in social protest and advocate for social justice in peace and without risk of harm.

Guiding Principles

One such process is the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

The UN has noted, “The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (also referred to as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights) was established by the Human Rights Council in 2011.”

The resolution that formed this Working Group emphasized that “transnational corporations and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights.”

At the same time that the Working Group was established, the UN also adopted a set of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

In June 2018, Peace Brigades International-United Kingdom launched a Human Rights Defenders Toolbox that it highlighted includes “a range of legal fact sheets designed to inform and assist human rights defenders in their struggles to uphold the rule of law in the face of corporate aggression.”

The toolkit was initiated with the support of PBI-UK by the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective Corporation (CCAJAR), which has been accompanied by the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project since 1995.

PBI-UK has explained, “The project seeks to address the fact that, despite the existence of [the Guiding Principles], gaps in their implementation mean that human rights defenders confronting corporate interests still face escalating violence.”

Binding Treaty

In September 2018, the Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project posted, “After 7 years of the Guiding Principles being in force, PBI has not witnessed an improvement in the situation of risk for human rights defenders on the ground.”

It highlights, “On the contrary, there has been a spike in attacks against land, territory and environmental defenders, indicating that the implementation of the Guiding Principles, mainly through voluntary codes of conduct, has not had the desired affect and that further action may be required.”

PBI-Mexico further notes, “PBI believes that a Binding Treaty has the possibility to contribute to greater accountability for companies in relation to human rights abuses and could potentially lead to greater protection of human rights defenders working on business and human rights cases throughout the world.”

That process began in 2014 when the Human Rights Council established “an open-ended intergovernmental working group [OEIGWG] on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights, whose mandate shall be to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.”

This coming October 14-18, the fifth session of the OEIGWG will be held in Geneva to discuss this revised draft of a legally binding instrument.

The preamble of that draft emphasizes that “civil society actors, including human rights defenders have an important and legitimate role in promoting the respect of human rights by business enterprises, and in preventing, mitigating and seeking effective remedy for the adverse human rights impacts of business enterprises.”

Significantly, this was a demand made to the UN Human Rights Council by Peace Brigades International-Switzerland in March 2018.

Speaking prior to the fourth session of the OEIGWG, PBI-Switzerland Advocacy Coordinator Kim-Mai Vu stated, “PBI reiterates the importance of the participation of civil society and human rights defenders as crucial to the success of the process.”

That said, Friends of the Earth International has commented that the revised binding treaty draft is shamefully disappointing.

It notes, “The Revised Draft must be much more ambitious so that it will be possible to advance as peoples in the regulation of the transnational corporations. Most importantly, the focus on transnational corporations and their obligations to respect human rights over profits must be brought back into the text.”

UN climate summits

On September 20, 2019, the Peace Brigades International statement on the Global Climate Strike (which took place just prior to the UN climate action summit in New York) highlighted that human rights, land and environment defenders “are at risk due to the powerful economic and political interests that lie behind environmental destruction, whether that be through the imposition of mineral extraction projects, agri-business or other sectors that seek to exploit natural resources for economic gain.”

PBI further noted, “In a system that favours profit over rights, economic models that encourage the forced displacement of those defending their resource-rich territories will continue and those at the forefront will remain at risk of violence.”

Given that current reality, PBI affirms it will continue to accompany and support human rights defenders “who defend their land and territory against the imposition of economic projects that will damage nature and contribute to climate change.”

Key upcoming dates

October 14-18 — The fifth session of the OEIGWG will be held in Geneva to discuss this revised draft of a legally binding instrument.

November 25-27 — The annual UN forum on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Geneva will “focus on the need for all governments to demonstrate progress, commitments and plans in implementing the State duty to protect and strengthening accountability.”

December 2-13 – The UN COP25 climate summit will take place in Santiago, Chile. At COP24, nongovernmental organizations cautioned that negotiators were removing references to human rights in the rulebook on how to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

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