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UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs calls on Irish business to help protect defenders

"Comment: Irish business can do more to protect those who defend human rights", 09 Sep 2020

We do not know exactly how many human rights defenders were killed last year, but we do know businesses were often involved in these murders of people working peacefully to defend the rights of others. Since I began as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) some months ago, I have been focusing on how to prevent HRDs being killed. I am hoping Irish businesses will help me... HRDs are not anti-development, but their work means they can make lethal enemies when they protest against the forced land evictions of communities, often indigenous communities, often by megaprojects where the benefits mostly go to corrupt officials and unaccountable investors. Human rights defenders are actually at the heart of progress, of how economies develop fairly. They are people taking risks to benefit their society: investigative journalists exposing bribes, healthcare workers saving lives in Covid-19 wards, local people – often women - distributing food and medicine in poor communities... What’s any of this got to do with Ireland? Well, the connections are not theoretical, they’re sometimes close to home. Cerrejón is a major coal-mining company in Colombia, and its sales division, the Coal Marketing Company, is based in Dublin. Christian Aid reports that between January 2011 and March 2018, the ESB imported two thirds of its coal for Moneypoint from Cerrejón. A report from the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre this year found that from 2015 to 2019, many attacks on local HRDs were against defenders who raised concerns about Cerrejón... Cerrejón says it is addressing the problem and is implementing human rights due diligence processes. Yet critics of the industry are at risk, and the companies involved should work to prevent these attacks, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs)... Irish businesses could strengthen this global reputation by publishing human rights policies which recognise the legitimacy of HRDs, and by publicly sharing the mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence measures they implement. Businesses could make clear how they will respond if a human rights defender is threatened in connection with their operations, no matter where they occur, and what steps they will take to help protect them...