Human rights defenders and civic space – the business and human rights dimension

Threats to human rights defenders and to civic freedoms are increasing concerns globally and are also critical for the business and human rights agenda. A large number of human rights defenders are under threat and attack because they raise concern about adverse human rights impacts of business operations, often in the context of large development projects that affects 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 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 civic space.

Against this background, the Working Group has decided to give focused attention to the issue human rights defenders and civic space and identified activities it proposes to undertake to complement and support efforts by others, including to:

(i) Develop guidance for business on engaging, respecting and supporting human rights defenders and preserving civic space in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
(ii) Facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogue among stakeholders, so as to develop coordinated efforts; and
(iii) Help identify and support opportunities for collective action.

The Working Group is undertaking this project in consultation with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, who is dedicating his thematic report to the United Nations General Assembly (being presented in October 2017) to the situation of human rights defenders working in the field of business and human rights.

More information: see the Working Group's background note on its project, “Human rights defenders and civic space – the business and human rights dimension

Discussion paper: identifying elements for guidance on human rights defenders, civic space and business. Comments can be sent by 20 January 2018 to wg-business@ohchr.org cc: bhrconsultant@ohchr.org indicating in the subject line “HRD CONSULTATION [+ name of contributor/entity/organization”.

Initial consultation: summary of expert workshop held in Geneva on 11 May 2017

Multi-stakeholder consultation on "Scaling up initiatives to protect human rights defenders": 30 November 2017