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Governments and corporations must ensure due attention to the protection of human rights
by Michael Ineichen
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
June 2015
(Geneva) - Governments and corporations must ensure due attention to the protection of human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of assembly, expression, and association, across the full range of their activities and investments in the extractives sector. Further, human rights defenders must be allowed, and indeed supported, in their role to ensure that the benefits of natural resource development are broadly shared among affected communities and that all actors are held accountable for respecting human rights, ISHR said today.
This message, central to ISHR’s strategy in supporting corporate accountability activists, is reinforced by a major new report on assembly and association rights in the context of natural resource exploitation, released last week by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai.
The report, which provides recommendations to governments, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders, provides a timely and in-depth summary that highlights the impact of policies and practices adopted by States and extractive companies on the enjoyment of those critical enabling rights. The report also cites cases of concern and good practices related to State and corporate engagement with human rights defenders and civil society.
"Governments, corporations and the UN should take action to address the disturbing global pattern of attacks against and repression of defenders who protest against business operations and major development projects," said Michael Ineichen, ISHR’s corporate accountability programme manager.
Examples highlighted in ISHR’s submission to the Special Rapporteur, many of which are also addressed in the report, give a human face to these defenders and activists, who face harassment, detention, and increasing constraints on their operations because their work.
The Special Rapporteur’s report highlights the range of actors that engage on natural resource development, from home and host countries of major corporations, to corporations themselves, their boards, and shareholders.
It notes that, despite the clear evidence that community engagement and a "social licence" are central to a successful project and to inclusive and sustainable development, civil society occupies a marginal position in decision-making processes.
The most marginalised groups - indigenous peoples, rural communities, and women (including women human rights defenders) - are precisely those communities and civil society organisations that are most vulnerable to attacks and abuse.
All too often, when these communities seek to protect and defend their livelihoods, or to ensure redress for past abuses, their legitimate concerns are reframed as attempts to "undermine" development efforts or "incite" resistance.
Some States, in an effort to attract and retain foreign investment, have passed repressive legislation limiting rights to freedom of association and assembly specifically for organisations working on "sensitive" development issues.
Worse, the Special Rapporteur notes that other States reinforce the message that attacks and intimidation are acceptable by themselves vilifying and stigmatising these activists, as well as targeting individual activists, as documented by ISHR and partner organisations.
It is important to note that these practices, and the responsibility for addressing them, are not limited to emerging economies or States in the global South. Developed countries equally have obligations, both domestically and extraterritorially where their corporations operate, to ensure that human rights are respected and that the voices of local communities and defenders can be heard. National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights are critical tools for achieving this.
"National Action Plans should include concrete steps and measures to ensure that human rights defenders and others who advocate or protest in relation to corporate accountability issues, particularly in relation to the extractive sector, are protected and supported," Mr Ineichen said.
When a country is in transition, or developing, additional measures must be taken to ensure that human rights are respected and civil society can participate fully in decisions on natural resource exploitation.
Low levels of governance characteristic of the majority of resource-rich countries goes hand in hand with a lack of an independent judiciary and non-judicial means of redress for local communities, or the defenders who may advocate on their behalf. As this report makes clear, the numerous and egregious violations of the rights of human rights defenders in the context of natural resource exploitation – including by national authorities and by private military and security contractors – demand accountability.
In following the recommendations of the report, which are in line with previous statements by ISHR, States must immediately cease statements and actions that vilify or stigmatise activists and human rights defenders; instead, they must act to protect and support them, including through the creation of an enabling environment for civil society participation and prompt responses to human rights violations.
Corporations, for their part, must both adhere to the principle of "do no harm", and adopt a proactive stance in insisting on the obligation of States to guarantee peaceful assembly and association rights.

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We say what we believe to be the truth, on behalf of victims
by UN Human Rights Office
June 2015
Statement to the 29th Session of the UN Human Rights Council by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, what can we conclude about our achievements in the protection and promotion of human rights? That we have protections today, in the form of treaties, national legislation and their implementation – and all supported by a broader awakening of the hitherto tranquilized parts of the human conscience, whether it be in the realization of women and children’s rights, for example, or the right to food security or health; all are a sign, indisputable signs, of a better human world. And this, when separated from everything else we see around us – the wars and deprivation around us – we can and should celebrate, for they, our achievements, are considerable.
Yet it is the nagging persistence of “the everything else” which leaves us deeply worried. It shows the unmistakable signs of a growing abandonment, of a headlong retreat, by too many States, who seem to be taking leave of their respective commitments to uphold those obligations.
We live in an age of contradictions, or contrary motions, where improvements and regressions collide to obscure certainty, cloud the future, giving rise to our present-day anxieties. Simply put, too many of us live among brutal conflicts, and are threatened by greed, ambition and contempt for human life.
Too many are still denied their economic and social rights, and the result is suffering on a colossal scale. Discrimination so severe and pervasive still, that it deprives too many people of the means of existence. Repression that stifles the human voice, and breaks the spirit, is also still too evident.
And so the people of this world yearn desperately for decisive moral leadership from your leaders and your countries: a leadership based on principle, law and humility. And not just from your leaders. We in the UN must do so too. My own conduct, and the conduct of my Office, must always accord with the highest standards of professional integrity in relation to those who suffer. We must always be sensitive and act sensitively where their rights have been violated. We must all be held to account, with no exceptions. And we must all be guided always by the needs of victims in our thoughts and deeds.
It is the rights of those who suffer from discrimination, deprivation and violence, that must occupy centre-stage in every aspect of our work – in this chamber and outside of it. The more they suffer, the more we must focus on them.
The member states must show this leadership too. It is of deep concern to me, and my Office, when court orders are issued by the ICC in respect of the serving head of state of Sudan, and State Parties to the Rome Statute openly flout them. In this regard, we note the ruling of the Pretoria High Court, and subsequent events.
I am often told in this chamber, in our debates, that I should not be "naming and shaming" member states. Somehow the naming is, or has become, the very shame itself. This is a disfigurement of the truth, which we must now reset.
The shame comes not from the naming: it comes from the actions themselves, the conduct or violations, alleged with supporting evidence or proven.
The greatest factory of shame is the blanket denial of human rights. The denial of the right to life shames unreservedly. Killing on a massive scale, shames stunningly, and inexhaustably. The denial of the right to development also shames. The denial of human dignity shames. Torture shames. Arbitrary arrests shame. Rape shames.
We name; the shame of States, where it exists, has already been self-inflicted. The loss of face for the affected countries has come well before OHCHR raises its independent voice. We say what we believe to be the truth, on behalf of victims. We have no monopoly over truth, but we believe our contentions can be supported by fact.
Political turbulence, repression, violence and war have become so widespread that they impel millions of the world''s people to risk their lives to find a place of relative safety. Migration is the symptom; the cause is despair, after repeated human rights violations have stripped an individual of all hope of justice and dignity. I am heartened that later today this Council will address the human rights of migrants. Your leadership on this issue will be vital, particularly in terms of the multiple crises regarding migrants en route to Europe, South-East Asia and Australia.
The conflict in Syria is the most mind-numbing humanitarian crisis of our era, and the magnitude and nature of its human rights violations pose a defining test of what we so often term the international community. After more than four years of a sustained campaign of terror directed by the Government against its own people, and the rise of non-State actors capable of the most appalling horror, this conflict has killed at least 220,000 women, men and children and blighted the lives of countless others. It has forced the largest movement of people since the Second World War, with well over 7 million people displaced within the country and 4 million fleeing it. If the words "international community" are to mean anything, they must mean that we collectively bring assistance and protection to the Syrian people.
The entire country has become a war-zone. Three out of four Syrians now live in poverty. Half of all school-age children are deprived of education or adequate nourishment and warmth. Allow me to quote one 15 year-old living in Aleppo: "We are living in a horror movie -- attacks, torture, assassinations, kidnappings, sieges, refugees, explosions, missiles, snipers, and finally ruins above the house, and all down the road...The most horrible thing is there are no bulldozers to clean up the ruins: people die in the rubble and nobody saves them." "We are living in a horror movie": it may be impossible to imagine the anguish and the terror of Syria''s children.
The Secretary-General, in his latest monthly report to the Security Council, writes, "The level of carnage and devastation throughout the Syrian Arab Republic should shock the collective conscience of the world." His Special Envoy, Steffan de Mistura, continues his consultations with Syrian, regional and international actors, and I deeply hope that they will pave the way for peace. Any agreement must be focused on the human rights of all the Syrian people, and the need to repair the fissures between ethnic and religious communities who for decades before this crisis lived in mutual respect.
In this room are the representatives of many States with influence in the region, including regional and global powers. I urge you to exert that influence, singly and collectively, to reverse the living nightmare that Syria has become for its people, and to encourage more constructive choices by all actors. I particularly welcome the recent call by the Government of the Russian Federation for accountability regarding allegations that barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas have been used. All sides must be held accountable for violations. There will never be sustainable peace where impunity prevails.
I am also deeply concerned by the ongoing deterioration of human rights and the humanitarian situation in Iraq. The Takfiri group ISIL continues to perpetrate the most despicable abuses on the Iraqi people under its control, in particular women, children and minorities, and has added to these crimes the deliberate destruction of monuments, which symbolize the deep roots and cultural and religious identity of many communities. The Iraqi government has made commitments to hold to account all those who have committed human rights violations – including, but not limited to, so-called ISIL – and this is welcomed.
Countering extremism and addressing sectarian violence will require more than military action. We stand ready to assist the government to promote the rule of law and good governance; increase accountability; encourage community reconciliation; and ensure respect for the rights of minorities and of women.
Meanwhile, more than half of the humanitarian assistance that is brought to over 8 million people in Iraq by UN operations may very soon be cut off, because States will not fund it. This is shameful.
In Libya, armed groups continue to engage in violent clashes using heavy weaponry, and indiscriminate shelling of residential neighbourhoods, as well as attacks on protected sites, have resulted in numerous civilian casualties. Large numbers of civilians have been abducted and tortured by all sides because of their actual or perceived ethnic or religious origin, opinions, family ties or political affiliation, and many have died in custody – possibly summarily executed or tortured to death. Detention of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees is widespread and prolonged, involving multiple violations of their rights. I am very concerned about their disastrous situation, as well as that of other vulnerable groups, including detainees and the internally displaced. This Council has requested that I dispatch an investigative team, and we will report on its findings in March.
In Yemen, I am gravely concerned about the high number of civilian casualties. My Office has received information suggesting that indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are being used on densely populated areas, including the attack on the Al Mazraq camp. Such attacks must be thoroughly investigated, and greater protection of civilians must be ensured by all sides. By now well over 20 million people are in need of assistance, and conditions in Yemen are described by OCHA as catastrophic. It is urgent that all sides ensure safe access of humanitarian agencies to affected areas, and the blockade on imports of food, medicine and fuel should be lifted immediately.
Much of the Middle East is now engulfed in violence, and this ferocity is spreading. Several governments in the region are fearful of extremist threats. Widening outwards, to Somalia, Nigeria and Mali, we also see horrific abuse of human rights by Takfiri groups. But repressing human rights is not a solution to these conflicts: it is a contributing cause.
Crackdowns and repression are counterproductive. I remind you that in March 2011, my predecessor warned that the use of firearms against peaceful protestors in Syria "risks creating a downward spiral of anger, violence, killings and chaos." The authorities chose to ignore that advice, and the results are painful to behold.
When governments attack civil society, they undermine the foundations of stability and prosperity. A tight grip on freedom of expression, crackdowns on peaceful protest, massive detention and even torture, denial of economic and social rights – these are the soil on which extremist groups flourish. They create opportunities for extremist or sectarian movements to step in and fan the flames of rage.
In particular, policing and security forces must embody the rule of law – or fail. It is they who are often seen as the face of the State. When security forces act with contempt for people’s rights, treating them as enemies, then enemies are what they may become. Every act of torture contributes to extremism; and every arbitrary arrest and abusive crackdown – every act that represses civil society and legitimate dissent – is a step towards further violence.
Respect for human rights offers States a path towards greater stability, not less. Dialogue and respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities, build confidence and loyalty as well as thriving political and economic institutions..
June 2015
UN Inquiry reports gross human rights violations in Eritrea, by Sheila B. Keetharuth.
The Government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country, according to a UN report. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.
Citing an array of human rights violations on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere, the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea describes a totalitarian state bent on controlling Eritreans through a vast security apparatus that has penetrated all levels of society.
“Information gathered through the pervasive control system is used in absolute arbitrariness to keep the population in a state of permanent anxiety,” the 500-page report says. “It is not law that rules Eritreans – but fear.”
The release of the report comes as the international community, particularly governments in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, struggles to cope with a growing exodus of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants across the Mediterranean and along other irregular routes. Many of them are Eritreans, a significant proportion of whom fall victim to human traffickers while trying to reach Europe. The UN refugee agency placed the number of Eritreans under its concern outside the country at more than 357,400 in mid-2014.
The report strongly urges continued international protection for Eritrean refugees fleeing human rights violations, and warns against sending them back to danger in a country that punishes anyone who tries to leave without permission.
“Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country,” the report says. “In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers. To ascribe their decision to leave solely to economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection.”
The commission of inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014 to conduct an investigation of all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea, including: extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and inhumane prison conditions; violations of freedom of expression and opinion; freedom of association and assembly; freedom of religion and belief; freedom of movement; and forced military conscription.
Announcing the release of the report, Ms. Keetharuth urged renewed commitment from the international community to help end the climate of fear in Eritrea.
“With the end of the commission’s investigations and the publication of this report detailing our findings on human rights violations in Eritrea, I look forward to a renewed commitment by the international community to address the justice deficit and to support our call for a restoration of the rule of law,” she said. “Rule by fear – fear of indefinite conscription, of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and other human rights violations – must end.”

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