Canada opposes United Nations Binding Treaty process that would help save the lives of human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, the general coordinator of the PBI-Honduras accompanied Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is part of the campaign supporting the creation of a Binding Treaty.

The United Nations open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIGWG) is holding its 7th session from October 25-29 to negotiate a third revised draft of a proposed Binding Treaty on transnational corporations and human rights.

Peace Brigades International supports the Binding Treaty as an instrument that would offer more leverage and protection to human rights defenders.

Canada opposes the Binding Treaty

Following the 6th session last year, the Global Campaign of 250 social movements supporting the Binding Treaty highlighted “the countries whose economies rely heavily on transnational corporations with overseas operations who have always opposed this UN process, such as the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia.”

This week, Ana María Suárez of FIAN International, stated that the US, which had boycotted the process along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand up until now, announced it would be participating in the meeting.

There are now concerns being expressed by more than 50 civil society organizations that the US is engaging in the process to undermine or derail an agreement. That concern has also been exemplified in this tweet.

Transnational corporations and the killing of human rights defenders

The Zero Draft (first draft) of the Binding Treaty was published in 2018.

While Canada has opposed this UN process, Global Witness has documented the murders of 606 land and environmental rights defenders over this three-year period (227 in 2020, 212 in 2019, and 167 in 2018).

Global Witness concludes: “Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.”

They add: “Companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.”

Third revised draft, 7th session

The 23-page third revised draft of the Binding Treaty can be read here.

Paragraph 12 of the preamble of the Binding Treaty notes:

Emphasizing 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 business-related human rights abuses.

And paragraph 1 of Article 1. Definitions states:

“Victim” shall mean any person or group of persons, irrespective of nationality or place of domicile, who individually or collectively have suffered harm that constitute human rights abuse, through acts or omissions in the context of business activities. The term “victim” may also include the immediate family members or dependents of the direct victim. A person shall be considered a victim regardless of whether the perpetrator of the human rights abuse is identified, apprehended, prosecuted, or convicted.

Commenting on this paragraph, the global trade union movement has recommended: “A comprehensive definition of victim should include persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization so that human rights defenders, including trade unionists, are implicitly covered by the term.”


For updates on this negotiating session, please see the Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and End Impunity, Treaty Alliance and ESCR-Net / Red-DESC on Twitter. You can also search with the hashtags #BindingTreaty, #StopCorporateImpunity and #Feminist4BindingTreaty.

Further reading: Why do we need a binding treaty for Business and Human Rights? by the Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project.

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