PBI reviewing the language on protecting defenders in the draft Binding Treaty on business and human rights

Published by Brent Patterson on

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.

This Thursday December 7, PBI-Canada is organizing a webinar that will discuss the language that should be included in the UN COP28 climate summit final declaration that could reflect the protection needs of land and environmental defenders.

That is because at least 1,390 defenders have been killed since COP21.

The Human Rights & Climate Change Working Group is calling on the Conference of Parties to adopt this language in the COP28 declaration:

“Urging all Parties to commit to the enhanced protection of environmental human rights defenders, including reporting, investigating and seeking accountability and redress for reprisals against environmental human rights defenders, and public information about the actions taken to do so as well as public recognition of the importance of their work.”

To register for our webinar, click here.

Photo: Wet’suwet’en land defender Eve Saint, Colombian water protector Yuli Velasquez, Javier Garate of Global Witness, Emily Lowan of Climate Action Network-Canada.

The Language in the Binding Treaty

As we prepare for the public forum on December 7, we are also looking at the language that has been proposed in the Binding Treaty on business and human rights.

The most recent draft (July 2023) states:

The States Parties to this (Legally Binding Instrument),

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 in seeking effective remedy for business[1]related human rights abuses, and that States have the obligation to take all appropriate measures to ensure an enabling and safe environment for the exercise of such role;

Have agreed as follows:

6.2. State Parties shall adopt appropriate legislative, regulatory, and other measures to:

(d) promote the active and meaningful participation of individuals and groups, such as trade unions, civil society, non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples, and community-based organizations, in the development and implementation of laws, policies and other measures to prevent the involvement of business enterprises in human rights abuse.

6.4. Measures to achieve the ends referred to in Article 6.2 shall include legally enforceable requirements for business enterprises to undertake human rights due diligence as well as such supporting or ancillary measures as may be needed to ensure that business enterprises while carrying out human rights due diligence:

(e) protect the safety of human rights defenders, journalists, workers, members of indigenous peoples, among others, as well as those who may be subject to retaliation;

The draft report of the 9th session of negotiations that took place in October 2023 will be presented at the 55th meeting of the Human Rights Council in March 2024.

The 10th session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group (IGWG) working on the Binding Treaty is expected to take place in October 2024 in Geneva.

Hope for COP30?

That 10th session in October 2024 will take place perhaps concurrently with COP29 (likely to be held in Eastern Europe) and COP30 (very likely to be in Brazil).

Earth Rights International has posted:

“In 2025, Brazil, a country in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, ravaged by deforestation, and where attacks against defenders are all too common, will host COP30. All eyes will rightly be on Brazil’s environmental and human rights records, but we cannot afford to wait two more years to prioritize human rights in climate policies. This year’s COP must advance an agenda that guarantees the participation of environmental defenders, develops provisions to enhance protections for defenders, and provides means to document, report, and investigate threats against defenders. Ultimately, we need climate policies that advance human rights and ensure a just transition from fossil fuels.”

PBI & the Binding Treaty

Speaking in March 2018, prior to the 4th session on the Binding Treaty, PBI-Switzerland stated: “PBI reiterates the importance of the participation of civil society and human rights defenders as crucial to the success of the process.”

In June 2018, PBI-UK launched a Human Rights Defenders Toolbox with PBI-Colombia accompanied CCAJAR “to address the fact that, despite the existence of [the UN’s Guiding Principles], gaps in their implementation mean that human rights defenders confronting corporate interests still face escalating violence.”

In September 2018, PBI-Mexico commented: “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. PBI believes that a Binding Treaty … could potentially lead to greater protection of human rights defenders working on business and human rights cases.”

Canada & the Binding Treaty

On a PBI-United Kingdom webinar in July 2020, PBI-Colombia accompanied Yessika Hoyos from the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) commented: “Many companies together with the states have been blocking this issue.”

Following the 6th session in October 2020, 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.”

In October 2021, just prior to the 7th session, 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.

PBI-Canada is following the Binding Treaty process with great interest, as we continue to follow the UN COP summit process with particular attention to COP30.

Photo: Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi land defender Abelino Chub Caal supports the creation of a Binding Treaty.

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