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Tuesday, November 17 • 14:00 - 15:30
Time for action: the role of Human Rights Defenders in defending rights during crisis and when “building back better”

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Session organized by the Working Group on Business and Human Rights in collaboration with Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, BHRRC, ISHR, FIDH, Swedwatch, OECD Watch, The B Team, Frontline Defenders and Publish What You Pay

Interpretation in English, French, and Spanish available

Brief description of the session 
The session will start with an introduction by Anita Ramasastry, the Chair of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, including the announcement of the recipient of the 2020 Human Rights and Business Award, an annual award "for outstanding work by human rights defenders in the Global South or former Soviet Union addressing the human rights impacts of business in those regions". A short video about the recipient will be posted on the Forum webpage.

The session will then be split into two halves, with the first half focusing on the role that human rights defenders have in defending human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ways in which they should be included in the process of ‘building back better’. The second half will focus on the ideas that human rights defenders are proposing in the context of a just recovery, including how their ideas should be featured in plans proposed by governments and business.

The session will help inform the WG’s project ‘Business and human rights: towards a decade of global implementation' (also known as “UNGPs 10+ / Next Decade BHR”). Centred around the upcoming tenth anniversary of the UNGPs in 2021, the project is taking stock of practice to date, identifying gaps and challenges, and developing a vision and roadmap for scaling up implementation of the UNGPs over the course of the next decade.

Key objectives 
This session aims to:
  • Reflect in general terms on the gravity of the situation currently facing human rights defenders.
  • Consider the role that human rights defenders have in defending human rights during the pandemic, and the ways in which they should be included in the process of ‘building back better’.
  • Reflect on the ideas that human rights defenders are proposing in the context of a just recovery, in particular related to tackling unsustainable inequality, climate breakdown, and opposing a return to unsustainable ‘business-as-usual’, including how their ideas should be featured in plans proposed by governments and business.
  • Discuss the State obligation to protect human rights defenders at risk by encouraging and/or mandating robust human rights due diligence, by both international and national financial institutions and companies, that takes into account risks to human rights defenders, and reflect on strategies that some States are taking to reduce the possibility of attacks against human rights defenders.
  • Showcase emerging business policies, practices and processes (e.g. using leverage to support human rights defenders under threat, engaging with States on issues facing human rights defenders, introducing policies and processes that address risks to human rights defenders).
  • Highlight challenges and opportunities to strengthen protections for human rights defenders in the context of a just recovery.
Key questions
  • What has been the role of human rights defenders in defending human rights during the pandemic, and what are the ways in which they should be included in the process of ‘building back better’?
  • How should human rights defenders be included going forward and what are the positive steps taken by companies and businesses to protect them and address attacks against them?
  • What are the challenges that human rights defenders face when trying to fulfil their role within the framework of human rights due diligence, or generally participating in consultations and decision-making?
  • What are the alternatives that human rights defenders are proposing to prevent harm?
  • What are the new systems that would proactively welcome the voices and input of human rights defenders on different projects, and what are new approaches to business/investment?
Background to the discussion 
Threats to human rights defenders and to civic freedoms are global issues. Many human rights defenders are under threat and attack because they raise concerns about adverse human rights impacts of business operations, often in the context of large development projects that affect access to land and livelihoods. At the same time, the space for civil society actors to raise concerns about human rights impacts is shrinking, and human rights defenders face criminalization when engaging in public protest or civil dissent. Concerns are being raised by many actors about the role of business in contributing to attacks against human rights defenders or in failing to take action against such attacks. Questions are also being raised about the role of business in helping to protect human rights defenders and expand civic space. Business activities may pose challenges to many different kinds of defender populations, for example, indigenous peoples and women human rights defenders.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks against human rights defenders have continued and in many cases they have worsened as human rights defenders have faced greater risks due to some governments misusing the situation to further curtail civil rights to participate in public decision-making, and deploy state forces to repress legitimate, peaceful protests and obstruct access to justice. Their voices are crucially needed at this time, yet in too many countries they are being silenced through threats, dismissals, lawsuits, intimidation, violence and killings.

The importance of human rights defenders in the context of business-related impacts on human rights is recognised by the Guiding Principles. They highlight the key role that human rights defenders can have in human rights due diligence and in enabling companies to understand the concerns of affected stakeholders. In particular, they:
  • Urge businesses to consult human rights defenders as an important expert resource as part of their human rights due diligence, as defenders have a key role as watchdogs, advocates and voice for affected stakeholders; and
  • Urge States to ensure that the legitimate activities of human rights defenders are not obstructed.
Forward looking businesses are embracing their responsibility to assess and address any risks to human rights defenders their activities may pose - recognizing that our collective fate and that of our planet depends on human rights defenders being able to safely continue their work.
The inclusion of human rights defenders in government and business decisions and processes is vital and particularly challenging right now. Their parti

Moderators
avatar for Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry

Chair, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Speakers
avatar for Deepika Rao

Deepika Rao

Programme Director, Cividep India
Deepika Rao is the Programme Director at Cividep India. Cividep is a Bangalore based organisation which works for workers' rights and corporate accountability. It attempts to empower workers and communities and to ensure that businesses comply with human and labour rights and environmental... Read More →
avatar for Vann Sophath

Vann Sophath

Business and Human Rights Project Coordinator, Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
I am Vann Sophath. I worked as Project Coordinator for Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Land Reform Project from 2012 to 2017. I am currently the Project Coordinator for CCHR’s Business and Human Rights project since 2017, which have focused significantly on conducting research... Read More →
avatar for Maria-Isabel Cubides

Maria-Isabel Cubides

Program Officer Globalization and Human Rights Desk, Federacion Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH)
Colombian lawyer and French jurist specialized on Business and Human Rights, with master degrees in legal anthropology and public international law. Multi-disciplinarity has been a fundamental part of career, giving an important added value to her work, which is marked by a participatory... Read More →
avatar for Mary Lawlor

Mary Lawlor

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
Ms. Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders since 1 May 2020. She was born and educated in Ireland and is an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights. She was the founder and director of Front Line Defenders (2001-2016) and Director of... Read More →
KK

Katrin Kvaran

Senior Adviser, The Norwegian Ministry of Children and Families
avatar for Phil Bloomer

Phil Bloomer

Executive Director, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre
Phil Bloomer is Executive Director of Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, a digital action platform that empowers human rights advocates in civil society, business, and government.The website attracts 4 million visits each year; tracks the human rights performance of over 9,000... Read More →
avatar for Sifiso Dladla

Sifiso Dladla

Mining & Extractives Lead, ActionAid South Africa
Sifiso is currently the Mining & Extractives Lead for ActionAid South Africa. He joined AASA in 2016. He is a former provincial coordinator of Mining Affected Communities United in Action, a social movement. Before joining AASA, Sifiso was a journalist with the Land & Accountability... Read More →
VV

Verónica Vidal

Deputy Director, Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)
avatar for Maja Kristine Jåma

Maja Kristine Jåma

Politcal advisor, Saemiedigkie
Political advisor to the Governing Council of the Norwegian Sámi Parliament. Also Sami reindeer herder at Fovsen njaarke.
LL

Larissa Luy

Environmental and Social Risk and Grievance Response Manager, IFC
Larissa Luy is the Environmental and Social Risk and Grievance Response Manager at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), World Bank Group. Larissa has a career spanning over two decades working on projects globally with a focus in Latin America and Africa.
avatar for Lisa Isakson

Lisa Isakson

Head of Communication and Sustainability, Greenfood
Responsible of communication and sustainability at Greenfood Group. Greenfood is one of the Nordic region’s leading groups in fresh healthy food, with a history that stretches back 50 years. Talk to me about the possibilities and challenges we have have within the food industry... Read More →



Tuesday November 17, 2020 14:00 - 15:30 CET
Plenary Room