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Human Rights Defenders & Civic Freedoms

HRDs’ work is essential to the business and human rights movement because of their critical importance for ensuring corporate responsibility and accountability. Yet, attacks on them are growing. This hub brings together news on these advocates and communities - specifically on land, environmental and labour defenders, guidance for companies and investors, and supportive business actions. It also links to our database of attacks and interview series.

We all have the right and the responsibility to promote human rights and to safeguard democracy and its institutions. Human rights defenders are those of us that actively do so. Around the world, civic freedoms and human rights defenders (HRDs) are increasingly under attack and the environment in which civil society can operate freely is narrowing. This phenomenon is taking place not just in countries that are led by repressive or autocratic governments, but also in established democracies. In particular, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of information, and the right to privacy, are under increasing attack. Both companies and defenders have a shared interest in the full respect of civic freedoms, characterised by non-discrimination, transparent and accountable government, and freedom from corruption.

Prioritisation of business interests over interests of communities and workers is one of the key challenges faced by defenders. HRDs who confront business interests – be it human rights lawyers, labour activists and unionists, land and environmental defenders, anti-corruption activists or human rights journalists – are among those defenders most at risk. They are key agents of change, and they contribute greatly to safeguarding human rights and ensuring corporate responsibility. This portal collects the latest news on struggles and victories of these defenders, public company actions and policies in support of defenders and civic freedoms, guidance for companies and investors, and developments related to the two most targeted groups - labour rights defenders and land and environmental defenders. It also links to our database of attacks and our interview series, where defenders share their strategies, victories, and recommendations and business representatives share their perspectives on protecting civic freedoms and human rights.

The responsibility of businesses to respect human rights not only entails a negative duty to refrain from violating the rights of others, but also a positive obligation to support a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in the countries in which they are operating. Discharging this duty requires consultation with defenders in order to understand the issues at stake and the shortcomings that impede their work.
Mr Michel Forst, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

Featured stories & campaigns

Colombia: Killings, arbitrary detentions and disappearances in crackdown on demonstrations against tax and health reforms

The United Nations is urgently calling for constitutional order to be restored and for the government to investigate and punish those responsible for these events, which are particularly serious in Cali, Barranquilla, Bogotá and Medellín. Social organisations are calling for a new national protest on Wednesday 5 to demand justice and measures to address poverty, lack of public health services amid a new peak in the pandemic.

In the line of fire: Increased legal protection needed as attacks against business & human rights defenders mount in 2020

2020 was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the significant harm to health and livelihoods it has caused across the globe. Instead of serving as a rallying cry to better protect those worst affected, the economic fallout of the global health crisis was cited by many countries and companies as a reason to weaken environmental and social regulation and increase extractive projects. Our 2020 report found that this resulted in even more attacks on communities and human rights defenders (HRDs).

IPRI report on criminalization and killings of Indigenous Peoples

The annual report of the Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) revealed patterns of threats and harassment of Indigenous people and human rights defenders working on land, indigenous and environmental rights. By the middle of 2020, IPRI had already recorded 204 incidents of violence and attacks in 23 countries, including killings and criminalization. A number of cases of criminalization and killings of Indigenous Peoples indicate a trend of having links to the defense of their lands and resources against mining, agri-business and energy companies.

Our analysis & infographics

Since 2015, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has been collecting data on attacks on human rights defenders, focusing on business sectors and specific businesses. Our infographics and briefings show patterns of violence, identify at-risk business sectors and geographic areas, provide guidance for business & investors as well as in-depth analysis of some specific types of attacks, such as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

Explore further: Database of attacks on HRDs & HRDs Interview series

The Resource Centre collects data on attacks on defenders that are targeted because they raise concerns about business sectors and operations. Collecting data about attacks on defenders is important in order to analyse patterns of violence, identify at-risk business sectors and geographic areas, and provide support to targeted individuals and groups.