Flyer protesting the assassination of human rights defenders

Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders (HRDs), including journalists, lawyers, and anti-corruption campaigners are invaluable in safeguarding human rights and the rule of law around the world. In 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs noted that HRDs working on business and human rights were one of the most vulnerable groups of defenders. Particularly at risk are HRDs working on the intersection of land and environmental rights. Over 200 HRDs were killed in 2016 for protesting against negative environmental impacts and land-grabs affecting the livelihoods and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

The UN Guiding Principles recognize the key role of HRDs in human rights due diligence. Businesses are urged to consider HRDs as an important expert resource that may help companies assess their human rights impacts, and enable them to understand the concerns of affected stakeholders, particularly “in situations where consultation with affected stakeholders is not possible.” In practice, the operating environment for defenders around the globe is becoming increasingly restrictive and dangerous.

Investors, companies and human rights defenders have a shared interest in an environment characterized by non-discrimination, transparent and accountable state institutions, freedom from corruption, and respect for the rule of law. Companies should have human rights policies that recognize the important role of HRDs and take steps to respect, consult, support, protect or even advocate for defenders. Investors and financial institutions should also withhold approval for investment where impact assessments reveal serious threats to civic freedoms and defenders, and develop guidelines that clearly communicate that reprisals against defenders will not be tolerated.

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