Increasing the Protection of Human Rights in the Face of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation
Every day across the globe, people bravely speak out against injustice, often at great personal risk. Human rights defenders are at the forefront of promoting and protecting our human rights, natural resources, and shared planet, as well as playing a vital role in drawing attention to the harms created by abusive business practices and monitoring companies’ compliance with business and human rights standards. Human rights defenders are not anti-development, but they are often painted as such and face a range of attacks for merely speaking up against business-related human rights harms, especially in jurisdictions where the rule of law is weak and respect for human rights is lacking.
Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are one type of attack against human rights defenders. These are civil or criminal lawsuits brought, or initiated, by business actors that divert time, energy, and resources away from human rights defenders’ vital work and infringe upon a range of human rights, including the freedom of expression and of assembly and association. Recent research by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre shows that SLAPPs are a global problem; the analysis identified 355 cases that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs brought or initiated by business actors since 2015. According to this research, the highest number of SLAPPs took place in Latin America (39%), followed by Asia and the Pacific (25%), Europe & Central Asia (18%), Africa (8.5%), and North America (9%). Also, 63% of cases involved criminal charges. Most individuals and groups facing SLAPPs (65% of cases) raised concerns about projects in four sectors: mining (108), agriculture and livestock (76), logging and lumber (29), and palm oil (20).
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights and to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights risks to human rights defenders. Each of these actors has a critical responsibility in stopping the use of SLAPPs to silence and intimidate. In June 2021, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights released the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Guidance on Ensuring Respect for Human Rights Defenders (A/HRC/47/39/Add.2) which included recommendations to States and businesses to address the problem of SLAPPs.
This session presented the global trend of SLAPPs including an overview of the problem in terms of the defenders most affected, the business sectors most commonly involved, the types of proceedings brought, and the common charges. The audience also heard from defenders being targeted by SLAPPs, and learned about the promising initiatives from States and business enterprises to address this growing and urgent issue. The speakers explored actions that States, and businesses need to take to mitigate and eliminate the use of SLAPPs against human rights defenders.
The Alliance's Rebecca DeWinter Schmitt was one of the featured speakers.
Below is the event recording: