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Human Rights Council starts Interactive dialogue with Experts on Business Enterprises and on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Human Rights Council  
MIDDAY

30 May 2013

The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting today began an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Pavel Sulyandziga, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provided a roadmap for both States and companies to take concrete steps to prevent and address adverse impacts on human rights.  The Working Group had carried out a survey of both States and companies to build a solid baseline of data on efforts to implement the Guiding Principles.  The survey provided important findings on where companies were facing challenges in implementation.  He spoke about the visit of the Working Group to Mongolia.

Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said his second thematic report focused on two important issues: the ability of associations to access financial resources, and the ability to hold peaceful assemblies.  Access to financial resources was of contemporary significance for many civil society organizations that bore the brunt of severe constraints in many cases, to the point of threatening their very existence.  Similarily, Governments were increasingly viewing peaceful assemblies as threatening rather than a legitimate means of expression.  He spoke about his country visit to the United Kingdom.

Mongolia and the United Kingdom spoke as concerned countries.

In the general discussion that ensued, on human rights and enterprises, speakers recognised the need to turn to and implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed by the Council in 2011, and the need for States and other stakeholders to consult each other and exchange good practices.  It was also necessary to give more attention to barriers to access to remedy, and to scale up the grievance mechanism set out in the Guiding Principles, which required competence and capacity building.

On the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, one speaker said that these should be exercised according to national legislation and should not attempt to go against national security and public safety, public order and morality.  The African continent had made significant process in this area, and many African States had adopted in their national legislation a number of legal provisions in this regard.  Concern was expressed about growing efforts to restrict, punish and deter civil society actors from exercising the freedom of association in various countries. 

Speaking in the general discussion were Norway on behalf of the Core Group on Business and Human Rights, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Egypt and the United States.

China and Colombia spoke in right of reply.

The Human Rights Council this afternoon will hold a panel discussion on business and human rights.  The interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association will resume at 9 a.m. on Friday, 31 May.

Documentation

The Council has before it the report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (A/HRC/23/32); an addendum to the report concerning the Working Group’s visit to Mongolia (A/HRC/23/32/Add.1); and an addendum to the report concerning the uptake of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Practices and Results from Two Pilot Surveys of Governments and Corporations (A/HRC/23/32/Add.2).

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/HRC/23/39); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/HRC/23/39/Add.1); an addendum to the report concerning observations on communications (A/HRC/23/39/Add.2); and an addendum to the report concerning the comments by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/39/Add.3).

Presentation of Reports by Experts on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, said that the recent tragedy in a garment factory where over 1,100 persons died in a horrific accident, was preventable.  The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provided a roadmap for both States and companies to take concrete steps to prevent and address adverse impacts on human rights.  The Working Group had carried out a survey of both States and companies to build a solid baseline of data on efforts to implement the Guiding Principles.  The survey found that some States had integrated the Guiding Principles into their policies and that several countries were designing national action plans or other strategy documents setting out how they would implement the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  The Survey also provided important findings on where companies were facing challenges in implementation.  Companies struggled to understand the exact scope of their responsibility where they were linked to adverse human rights impacts through their business relationships including their supply chains.  They also had difficulties identifying proven methodologies to assess human rights impacts, dealing with situations where they had limited leverage over business partners, and addressing impacts when local laws and practices were not aligned with international standards and multiple challenges in building effective grievance mechanisms.

In a visit to Mongolia, positive initiatives as well as challenges were identified.  The main conclusion had been ample opportunities to put the Guiding Principles into practice to address some of the challenges, which included the need to further clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of the Government and business activities in key decisions that affected them. 

While the main duty and responsibility to implement the Guiding Principles was with States and with companies, other stakeholders had a very important role to play.  Human rights defenders, civil society organizations, trade unions and community organizations were often at the forefront of facing the consequences of negative human rights impacts of business activities as well as fighting for accountability.

MAINA KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said his second thematic report focused on two important issues: the ability of associations to access financial resources, and the ability to hold peaceful assemblies.  Access to financial resources was of contemporary significance for many civil society organizations that bore the brunt of severe constraints in many cases, to the point of threatening their very existence.  Similarily, Governments were increasingly viewing peaceful assemblies as threatening rather than a legitimate means of expression.  Increased control and undue restrictions on the question of access to resources, including monetary transfers, donations and other kinds of assistance, had led to a decline in the number of associations, a decrease or rearrangement of the activities of existing ones and the extinction of some associations.  The ability to receive and use resources, from a number of sources, constituted an integral part of the right to freedom of association.  Governments had the responsibility not to impose unwarranted restriction nor inhibit the financial autonomy nor restrict potential sources of funding.   On the ability to hold peaceful assemblies as an integral component of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the presumption in favour of holding peaceful assemblies was the basis for the obligation of States to facilitate the exercise of the rights.  Several forms of restrictions constituted a violation or Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Counter-terrorism measures, for example, though legitimate to protect national security or public safety, were often used as a pretext to suppress opposition and silence criticism and dissent. 

Concerning his mission to the United Kingdom, Mr. Kiai thanked the Government for its exemplary collaboration.  The report noted the significant positive developments achieved in the last 15 years, but expressed concern about the use of undercover police officers to infiltrate activists groups not engaged in criminal activities.  Another issue raised was the excessive use of force by police against peaceful protestors and the use of ‘kettling’ as a containment tactic.  Mr. Kiai reiterated the belief that this was an intrinsically disproportionate and indiscriminate measure that had a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and recommended an end to this practice

Statements by Concerned Countries

Mongolia, speaking as a concerned country, said that the National Development Strategy reiterated Mongolia’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.  Mongolia was working on the implementation of the recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review.  The Working Group had recommended that corruption be tackled as a matter of urgency.  Mongolia emphasized that it had accepted the Universal Periodic Review recommendation on this matter and that the Government was taking measures in this respect. 

United Kingdom, speaking as a concerned country, said that it was confident that its legislation fully met its international human rights commitments whilst allowing police to make operations decisions, independent of Government, to facilitate peaceful protest and ensure public safety and security.  The Government did not consider that recent cases demonstrated that a fundamental review of the legislative framework was necessary.  The Government had worked with the police to ensure that they fulfilled their human rights commitments.  Strike action was protected and employees who took part in official strike action were protected from dismissal.

Interactive Dialogue

Norway, speaking on behalf of the members of the core group on Business and Human Rights, said that several incidents recently underlined the urgent need for implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles, endorsed by the Council in 2011.  It was necessary for States to consult and exchange with other States and the Working Group on experiences, lessons learnt and to share effective practices in their implementation.  It was also necessary to give more attention to barriers to access to remedy, and scale up the grievance mechanisms set out in the Guiding Principles, which required competence and capacity building. 

Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the African Group attached great importance to the freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the African continent had made significant process in this area, and many African States had adopted in their national legislation a number of legal provisions in this regard.   The exercise of this right should be accompanied by responsibilities and it was incumbent on all parties to respect this.

Egypt said that the new Egyptian Constitution guaranteed the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.  National dialogue was also underway over new legislation on the functioning of national and foreign non-governmental organizations.  A clear distinction had to be made between individuals and associations receiving funding.  Egypt agreed with the principles of accountability, transparency and integrity of civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations.  This should not be limited to accountability of donors.  National mechanisms to follow up on the activities of these entities had to be established and respected. 
 
United States highlighted the practice of due diligence reporting in national laws and regulation which could increase transparency.  Increasing transparency led to increased corporate accountability and could minimize adverse impact by businesses on human rights.  The United States was deeply concerned by growing efforts to restrict, punish and deter civil society actors from exercising the freedom of association in various countries. 

Right of Reply

China, speaking in a right of reply, said that the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation had always held an anti-China position and made attacks on a groundless basis.  The freedom enjoyed today by the people in Tibet was unprecedented.  China was a country of the rule of law and its constitution guaranteed its people the right to assembly and other rights.  The Council was a forum for genuine dialogue and cooperation between parties and should not become a venue for the so-called human rights organizations to usurp the forum to make false accusations.

Colombia, speaking in a right of reply, said that its Government was the first to recognise the problem of internally displaced persons and it was deeply convinced that it had to tackle this problem and it had taken measures to do so.  Around $ 3.3 million had been devoted to the attention of displaced persons.  On extrajudicial executions, in 2012 the Special Rapporteur had said that there were no such cases.  The Government was committed to human rights and had zero tolerance vis-à-vis this crime.  Colombia reiterated that it was open to having an open and respectful dialogue on the issue. 

The right of reply by China and Colombia were made in response to statements made in the morning meeting, a summary of which can be found in HRC/13/61.

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For use of the information media; not an official record