Business, civic freedoms and human rights defenders: Which developments and ideas did we put in the spotlight?

We continuously highlight important developments, research, actions and ideas at the intersection of business, civic freedoms and the work of human rights defenders:

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Article
3 March 2017

Complaint against Centro de Estudios de la Mujer – Honduras

Author: Front Line Defenders

...On 28 February 2017, two days before the one-year anniversary of the killing of Berta Cáceres, Suyapa Martínez was notified that DESA had filed a lawsuit against CEM-H, based on declarations made by the human rights defender as a representative of the organization concerning the murder of Berta Cáceres. Suyapa Martínez publicly alleged that DESA was involved in the planning of the crime. On 2 May 2016, four men were arrested in connection with the murder of Berta Cáceres, two of whom have ties with DESA, the Honduran company that was building the Agua Zarca dam, a project Berta Cáceres had strongly opposed and campaigned against. In the complaint, the company requests indemnification for damages and losses to the amount of one million lempiras (approximately €40,400) for allegedly inaccurate and false declarations. The human rights defender is due to attend a court hearing at 10 am on 21 March 2017…[Refers to the case to Gladys Lanza Ochoa and Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Vivienda Social, Urbana y Rural]

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Article
7 March 2017

One year without justice: In-depth interview with Laura Zúñiga, daughter of killed human rights defender Berta Cáceres and COPINH member

In time for the 1st anniversary of the killing of her mother Berta Caceres, the renowned environmental activist, human rights defender of rights of Lenca people, leader of COPINH and known opponent of the Agua Zarca dam in rio Blanco in Honduras, we talk to Laura Zúñiga, a COPINH member and an articulate activist in her own right. She shares her thoughts on the investigation of the murder, on what investors and companies could be doing to prevent and address abuses against human rights defenders, on the proposed law on consultation in Honduras and on how development discourse should change – to protect the defenders and the planet.

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Article
21 March 2017

Guatemala: Communities present report of attacks against human rights defenders opposing hydroelectric projects before Inter-American Commission

Author: Acompañamiento de Austria (ADA); Asamblea Departamental de Pueblos de Huehuetenango (ADH); Asociación de Abogados Mayas de Guatemala; Asociación Indígena Ch`Orti` Nuevo Día; Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA); Business and Human Rights Resource Center; Consejo del Pueblo Maya (CPO) Consejo Mam; Guatemala Human Rights Commission, USA (GHRC); Guatemala Solidarity Network; Microregión de Ixquisis, San Mateo Ixtatán; The Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (SweFOR); PAYXAIL YAJAW KONOB (Gobierno Ancestral Plurinacional) AKATEKA, CHUJ, POPTI’, Q’ANJOB’AL; International Platform Against Impunity; Protection International; Proyecto Acompañamiento Quebec Guatemala Montréal, Canadá; Resistencia Río Dolores y la Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA)

Full version in Spanish

A coalition of communities and organizations denounced human rights violations against traditional and indigenous communities in Guatemala, at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Because of their opposition to large hydroelectric projects, the human rights defenders have been threatened, assaulted, treated as criminals, and assassinated...A report filed before the Commission, featuring 10 different cases, notes that various communities confronting these projects have faced rights abuses including violations of their rights to free, prior, informed, and culturally appropriate consultation; self-determination; due process; and life...The report also outlines how those who defend affected people and communities have been victims of threats and aggressions. The most common attacks include arrest warrants (103), assaults resulting in injuries (56), imprisonment (36), detention (25), criminalization (16), and threats (15). There have been 11 documented murders and three conflict-related deaths in communities that oppose these hydroelectric projects...At least 19 companies are linked to hydroelectric projects in Guatemala, of which 55 percent are national, 40 percent are transnational, and five percent are State-owned. 

Guatemala_HRD_Credit_Inter_American_Human_Rights_Commission

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Article
26 March 2017

Front Line Defenders nominates two defenders working on business and human rights for its annual award

Author: Front Line Defenders

Given annually, the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk honours the work of human rights defenders who - at great personal risk - courageously make an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights of their communities... Nonhle Mbuthuma has persisted in her struggle for land and environmental rights in South Africa's Eastern Cape despite assassination attempts, ongoing death threats and the murder of her colleague. She is a founder and current member of the Executive Committee of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, formed to unite community members in five villages of the Amadiba Tribal Authority region opposing destructive mining projects... Human rights defender Francisca Ramírez Torres' children were attacked in attempt to stop her powerful work advocating against a destructive inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua. Francisca is the coordinator of the Council for the Defence of Land, Lake and Sovereignty, which educates communities on their rights, campaigns for the repeal of laws allowing land-grabbing. 

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Article
12 April 2017

Nationalism, xenophobia and authoritarianism: How should business respond to these rising trends?

Author: Contributions from Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s Researchers

What role can and should business be taking to combat rapid shrinking of civic spaces and severe encroachment on human rights in international contexts? 

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Article
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Author: Voice of America (Etats-Unis)

Maïkoul Zodi, figure de la société civile nigérienne poursuivi pour concussion, a été relaxé après deux semaines de détention, la justice estimant les faits non constitués..."Notre camarade à été relaxé. Le juge vient de nous donner raison en disant que les 'faits ne sont pas constitués' et 'qu'il n'y a pas matière à poursuites'", a déclaré...Ali Idrissa, membre du Collectif de la Société civile auquel appartient M. Zodi. M. Zodi, également responsable au Niger de la coalition internationale 'Tournons la page' pour la démocratie en Afrique, avait été arrêté le 5 avril et inculpé de concussion après que le ministère de l'Enseignement secondaire eut informé celui de la Fonction publique que M. Zodi "continuait de toucher son salaire sans travailler". "Dès le début nous savions que notre camarade n'a eu à commettre aucune faute", a poursuivi M. Idrissa, coordonnateur du Réseau des organisations pour la transparence et l'analyse budgétaire (ROTAB), où milite aussi M. Zodi, professeur de collège de profession. Mi-mars 2016, M. Zodi, avait été mis, par son ministère, à la disposition de la Commission électorale nationale indépendante (Céni) pour y occuper le poste de rapporteur général. Il en avait ensuite démissionné pour dénoncer des violations de la loi électorale par le président de la Céni...Selon un autre membre de la société civile, Ali Garba, M. Zodi avait averti le ministère de la Fonction publique de sa démission de la Céni et demandé une nouvelle affectation. "Depuis il attend ce nouveau poste", mais "à ce jour le ministère ne lui a pas répondu", a expliqué...M. Garba. M. Zodi est l'un des dirigeants du Collectif de la société civile qui a déposé, le 31 mars, une "plainte contre X" auprès d'un juge d'instruction pour réclamer une enquête sur une vente présumée douteuse d'uranium nigérien...cette affaire baptisée "Uraniumgate", qui implique un proche du chef de l'Etat, fait depuis scandale dans ce Etat du Sahel...

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Article
23 April 2017

"The next frontier: the concept of corporate human rights defenders”, Dutch Min. for Foreign Trade & Development

Author: Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation

"Speech minister Ploumen on international business and human rights", 19 April 2017

I’d like you to think about where the following quote comes from: ‘We will […] petition governments, alone or in concert with other actors, where we feel the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders with whom we are engaged have been impinged by the activities of the State.’...[It] comes from a statement by Adidas...Adidas is striving to be what I like to call a ‘corporate human rights defender’.

In the past few years, business and human rights have been at the core of my ‘aid and trade’ agenda...sustainable development without respect for human rights is an illusion...We were one of the first countries with a National Action Plan on business and human rights. Dutch companies should uphold the same high human rights standards wherever they operate...[W]e concluded groundbreaking agreements with the garment and banking sectors, and recently we added the vegetable protein and timber sectors to the list. These voluntary agreements enable companies to conduct proper due diligence, with the help of the government and civil society...That brings us to the next frontier of business and human rights: the concept of corporate human rights defenders. Let me offer a few examples of both the best and the worst of corporate human rights conduct...

Being a human rights defender is a dangerous business – many activists meet a fate worse than Andy Hall’s in Thailand, or Rafael Marques’ in Angola...In 2016 at least 281 people were killed worldwide, often for protesting peacefully against new business projects in their communities. All too often, companies are complicit in the persecution of these human rights defenders...Indeed, the business case for human rights is increasingly clear. Last month we saw the launch of the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark...With Dutch backing, the first steps have been taken towards the creation of a strong network of multinationals willing to collectively raise their voices in support of human rights defenders. This network is maintained by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. Today, I am delighted to announce that ABN AMRO has become the first Dutch member of this network. And I expect many more to follow...

[also refers to S Group, Tiffany’s, IBM, General Electric, Nike, Unilever]

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Article
27 April 2017

Brazil: 9 farmers killed over land dispute in region plagued by land grabs & illegal logging

Author: Enca

"Massacre in Brazilian farmland highlights brutal struggle", 27 Apr 2017

In Brazil, where approximately 60,000 murders are committed every year, the killings [of poor farmers] last week caused little uproar. Partly that's because they occurred in a remote area of western Brazil [with]...no proper roads and no cellphone signal. When the first reports emerged of mass killings on April 20, police had to make an arduous journey...[and] journalists...had an even harder time getting to the location...Five days on, the police have not announced any leads, let alone arrests, and the subject has largely disappeared from Brazilian news broadcasts. The biggest reason for this, say critics, is darker than mere problems of distance and communications. The area in Mato Grosso state is at the heart of Brazilian agriculture, a hugely lucrative industry that for years has been plagued by land grabs, illegal logging and environmentally destructive policies...According to the Pastoral Land Commission...61 people were killed in land conflicts in Brazil last year, the highest number since 2003...The Pastorais do Campo said the latest killings were rooted in the 2004 expulsion of 185 families from the lands they were farming. The pressure in the area has continued ever since, with murders, torture and illegal imprisonment, but hundreds of people continued to try and settle in the disputed lands...

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Article
10 May 2017

Hungary: Multinational corporations only key players still silent on Orban's assault on independent academia, civil society & media

Author: Thorsten Benner & Wolfgang Reinicke in The Washington Post (USA)

"It’s time for international investors to speak up about Hungary’s assault on democracy", 18 Apr 2017

Earlier this month, German President...warned against an assault on civil society and academic freedom in the heart of Europe. “Europe must raise its voice,” he declared. He was referring...to the predicament of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest... Hungarian parliament passed a law with the sole purpose of driving CEU...out of the country... His latest move has earned Orban strong criticism... The U.S. government has come out strongly against [it]... German Chancellor Angela Merkel... [has] harshly criticized him. The only key players to have remained silent are the many European and U.S. multinational corporations — such as Audi, Daimler and General Electric...factories, research and development centers, and logistics hubs [of which] form the backbone of Hungary’s economy... German companies alone employ 174,000 Hungarians... Daimler has just invested about a billion euros in a new plant in Hungary. Audi is the second-largest employer... Any slowing or interruption of Audi’s production has an immediate impact on Hungarian gross domestic product. It is time for these companies to change course... Multinational corporations have a particular responsibility within the E.U... They cannot turn a blind eye when political freedom is being eroded even as they continue to benefit from the four economic freedoms of the [E.U.] common market. Foreign investors need to clearly speak up against Orban’s authoritarian agenda and his assault on independent civil society and media.

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Company response
24 May 2017

Ahli United Bank Egypt responds to allegations by Egyptian human rights defender

Author: Ahli United Bank (Egypt)

AUBE’s second reply on the allegations mentioned in Mrs. Azza Soliman letter dated 9 May 2017

First of all, we confirm that AUBE acts in accordance to the laws governing the Bank. And, the bank will allow Mrs. Azza to access her accounts upon the cancelation of the issued adjudication. On the other hand, and reference to the above mentioned subject and to the response submitted from Mrs. Azza Soliman on what she called allegations from our bank, kindly find below our response on the mentioned letter ...

        4. Allegation: AUBE is complicit with security agencies and violated all relevant national and international banking regulations and customs 

  • Response: this is totally false allegation with no evidence, as the bank does not complicit with any entity and there is no complements in applying law. Also, security and judicial authorities are neutral and independent bodies. And the allegation mentioned from Mrs. Azza above may constitutes a crime against her and we hope no further allegations from her in the future 

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