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18 Oct 2021


Asia: A focus on the role of business in protecting HRDs in FORUM-ASIA’s 2020 report

'Summary Report: 9th Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum', 5 October 2021

[...] From 2019 to date, the situation of defenders and civil society organisations across Asia has grown increasingly challenging. Harassment and violations perpetrated against those defending human rights continue to increase and most perpetrators continue to benefit from impunity.

The global COVID-19 crisis, which started in 2020, exacerbated the already worrying situation for defenders. In the past one year alone, from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, at least 760 cases of abuses and violations against defenders were recorded across 19 Asian countries, based on FORUM-ASIA’s monitoring. More than half of the cases recorded were related to judicial harassment (409 cases), which is often followed by arbitrary arrest and detention (323 cases). The number of killings is alarming at 55 cases, most of which took place in Myanmar, the Philippines, and Afghanistan.


Role of Business in Protecting Defenders/Business and Human Rights & HRDs: Better Together

HRDs working in the field of business and human rights (BHR) are commonly targeted by attacks. According to FORUM-ASIA’s records, there were 205 cases of human rights violations against land and environmental HRDs between 2019 and 2020 alone...

A few countries in the region have adopted normative tools to enhance defenders’ protection: Mongolia was the first country in Asia to enact a national law on HRD protection, but it contains some controversial provisions, while Thailand adopted its National Action Plan (NAP) on BHR, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on BHR. Despite placing the protection of HRDs as one of its central pillars, the NAP has been poorly implemented.

In the region, powerful business actors commonly violate international human rights standards, oftentimes in collusion with governments. Key recommendations in response to such violations included calls to:

  • Develop a regional database mapping the flow of funding and investments to corporations committing human rights abuses;
  • Conduct international advocacy to ensure that HRD protection mechanisms are actually enforced;
  • Increase engagement with institutions that have not been proactive in supporting HRDs, like NHRIs; and
  • Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to empower grassroots organisations through networking and campaigns and by bridging the gap between them and regional and international actors.