Human rights defenders
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In this "Big Issue" area of our website you can find information on the links between the work of human rights & environmental defenders and business activities all over the world. It focuses on both positive and negative examples of the corporate dimension in the situations involving human rights defenders. The Resource Centre considers this subject a priority given, on the one hand, the critical importance of human rights defenders for ensuring corporate responsibility and accountability, and, on the other hand, the multiple challenges and risks they face while carrying out their work.
At all levels, local, national and international, human rights & environmental defenders expose human rights abuses, assist victims and advise states and businesses on better ways to conduct their operations (including on the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles). Therefore, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders acknowledges:
"the valuable work of individuals, groups and associations in contributing to, the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals"
However, to make such efforts possible, states need to provide human rights defenders with an environment that is safe and enabling. Companies, on the other hand, should consult them regarding the possible impacts business operations can have on human rights, and refrain from obstructing human rights defenders' work and from directly or indirectly abusing them.
We cover here a broad range of countries, types of abuses, issues, and relevant international standards and protection mechanisms. The information was obtained from a wide variety of sources, including UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, journalists, governments, NGOs, companies and human rights defenders themselves. It also features responses by companies to allegations of misconduct, sought and obtained by the Resource Centre. Following the UN OHCHR, we adopt a broad definition of “human rights defenders” considering as such “people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights” and who are best identified “through a description of their actions […] and of some of the contexts in which they work”. We also feature the particular challenges faced by women human rights defenders.
This “Big Issue” aims to offer the most relevant information on the positive and negative aspects of the relationship between business and human rights & environmental defenders. It aims to present a wide range of materials in a clear, structured manner to enable their efficient use. Overall, we hope to assist stakeholders and decision-makers in their work and research, with particular focus on:
human rights defenders: by providing information directly relevant to their work, featuring examples of similar efforts from across the globe and strengthening their own capacity by highlighting rights and protection mechanisms available to them;
NGOs: by disseminating their concerns, initiatives and research as well as providing information to contribute to their advocacy efforts;
companies: by providing positive and negative examples of the links between their activities and the work of human rights defenders, serving thus as a guidance tool for elaborating best practices and improving companies’ compliance with the Guiding Principles;
governments: by providing information to help them adequately protect human rights defenders from abuses by business and prevent state complicity in such instances;
media: by highlighting some of the less prominent, although equally critical, cases and issues they may want to investigate further;
investors and consumers: by making relevant information readily available to help them make conscious choices.
This Big Issue is not comprehensive. We welcome suggestions for additions at any time.
Frequently asked questions
Who is a Human Rights Defender?
Following the UN OHCHR, we adopt a broad definition of “human rights defenders” considering as such “people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights” and who are best identified “through a description of their actions […] and of some of the contexts in which they work”.
What is civil society space?
In law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity (A/HRC/C/L.29).
What is the role of civil society?
"Effective avenues for civic participation contribute to societal cohesion and give people, including minorities and those at the margins of society, a way to make their voices heard. Civil society also plays a crucial role in facilitating participation in public life and can allow people to contribute to policy development, and even decision-making." (Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)
"Civil society is the oxygen of democracy as it acts as a catalyst for social progress and economic growth. Civil society plays a critical role in keeping Government accountable, and helps represent the diverse interests of the population, including its most vulnerable groups." (Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General)
What is the business case for a strong civil society?
"There is a persuasive business and economic case for a strong civil society. Indeed, business and civil society have a shared interest in an environment that respects the rights to freedom of expression and association, is pluralistic and non-discriminatory, upholds the rule of law and promotes transparency and access to information." (Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)
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