GENEVA (19 October 2018) – A UN expert group has welcomed the decision by a number of the world’s business leaders to pull out of a high-level investment conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (23-25 October), to show their concerns over the case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Their decision to withdraw from the conference underlines how companies can use their leverage to address human rights concerns,” said Dante Pesce, who chairs the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.
“Business leaders need to take a strong interest in keeping civic space open wherever they operate. For it is only in an environment where journalists and human rights defenders are able to speak freely that businesses can effectively identify and prevent negative human rights impacts.”
The practical steps that businesses need to take to avoid causing human rights harm is the focus of a report that the UN expert group presented to the UN General Assembly earlier this week.* It is also the central theme of this year’s United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights (Geneva, 26-28 November), which will include a focus on the critical importance of civic space for corporate respect for human rights** in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. UN experts have called for an independent international investigation into his disappearance, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged the Governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to ensure a prompt, thorough, effective, impartial and transparent investigation.
* See also executive summary of the report
** See also project of the UN Working Group on human rights defenders and civic space.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected by governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.
The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (know as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights) was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 to promote worldwide dissemination and implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Working Group is composed of five independent experts, of balanced geographical representation. Its current members are: Mr. Dante Pesce (Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Githu Muigai, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry. The Working Group and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
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This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.