For further information on the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Forum/Pages/2019ForumBHR.aspx

For further information on the work of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights please visit https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx 
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Monday, November 25 • 09:00 - 10:15
“Voices from the ground”

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Session organized by the International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH, Forest Peoples Program, International Service for Human Rights - ISHR, Forum Asia, Rights in Development, Peace Brigades International - PBI, Rafto Foundation, Plataforma Internacional contra la Impunidad, Publish What You Pay - PWYP, Defend Defenders, Global Witness, Front Line Defenders, DanChurchAid, Institute for Human Rights & Business (IHRB), Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and IWGIA  and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre in collaboration with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Overview, aims and objectives
This session will feature a panel of human rights defenders and community representatives from all regions to set the stage for discussions at the 2019 Forum on Business and Human Rights. The speakers will share their stories and experiences of working to improve business respect for human rights in their countries, as well as the attacks they are under because of doing so. The moderator will guide the discussion through three segments: the first part with focus on ways in which they have successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals, the second part will identify the common challenges that defenders and community representatives face in their work, and the third part will outline what they want to see between now and the next Forum.

This session will offer an insight into the lives and struggles of defenders and community representatives, and highlight their expectations to businesses, investors and governments, thus setting the scene for the 2019 Forum. It will also be an opportunity for defenders to send a joint message about the launch of the ‘Zero tolerance pledge’ to attacks and killings of defenders, which will originate from the gathering of defenders, which is going to take place prior to the Forum.

Key discussion questions
1st part: focuses on ways in which the participating human rights defenders and community representatives successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals so far
Question(s) to speakers: What was your main achievement in your work as a defender or community representatives this year? Why do you do what you do and what keeps you going?  
Sub-questions: What were the main things that helped you and your colleagues continue defending human rights in the context of business operations in your country over the past year (coalitions, partnerships, new approaches to work, financial support, new laws, support from community/ family/ friends, religion, etc.)

2nd part: focuses on challenges defenders face in their work
Question(s) to speakers: Who prevents you from advocating for rights in your country and how? What are the main types of attack you and your colleagues have faced in defending human rights in business operations in your country this year?

3rd part: focuses on what they would like to ask from the Forum participants (govts, businesses, investors) - what do they want to see between now and the next Forum
Question(s) to be asked to speakers: What are the main things that you would like to see businesses, investors and governments do in the coming year, that would  improve the safety for and prevent attacks on defenders working for human rights in business in your country, and improve business respect for human rights?

Format of the session
The session will open with a question or two to the audience to get them engaged early on. It will then be divided into three parts: the first part will identify ways in which they’ve successfully defended themselves and achieved their goals so far, the second will identify challenges that defenders face in their work, and the third part will outline what they would like to ask from the Forum (governments, businesses, and investors) and what do they want to see between now and the next forum. We will leave enough time for interaction with the audience at the end, so that governments, investors and businesses, can voice their proposals and feedback, and so that defenders and community representatives that won’t get a chance to speak on the panel, will have the opportunity to also share their stories (time permitting). The role of the moderator will be to engage the audience and to summarize the challenges and the demands voiced by the defenders.

In terms of identifying and voicing expectations, the speakers and the moderator will, to the extent possible, surface and build upon existing demands, such as the Zero tolerance pledge, Action plan from the World HRDs Summit, the joint statement from 40+ civil society organizations from 2016, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ report, UN Working Group work on business, human rights and defenders to date, and other relevant material.

States have the primary obligation to ensure the rights and protection of human rights defenders, as set out in various human rights instruments – in particular the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders – and as reaffirmed in many UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions, including through the March 2016 resolution on the protection of human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights.

The importance of human rights defenders in the context of business-related impacts on human rights is recognized by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They highlight the key role human rights defenders can have in human rights due diligence and enabling companies to understand concerns of affected stakeholders. In particular, the Guiding Principles:
  • Urge businesses to consult human rights defenders as an important expert resource as part of their human rights due diligence, as defenders have a key role as watchdogs, advocates and voice for affected stakeholders.
  • Urge States to ensure that the legitimate activities of human rights defenders are not obstructed.

Declines in privacy and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which are taking place worldwide, are not just negative for defenders and civil society but also signify where the rule of law may be under threat from governments, which can undermine the overall business environment. A red flag for this is the targeting of human rights defenders, media organizations and journalists.

Many companies have been exposed as being complicit, aiding and abetting, or even directly involved in these attacks and some businesses are directly targeting defenders who seek to hold their businesses accountable. The organizers of this session have tracked hundreds of attacks, including strategic lawsuits, beatings, threats and killings, related to most major business sectors, an alarming trend that is on the rise. Women defenders face additional and heightened risks because of their gender.

The majority of attacks are related to mining, agribusiness and renewable energy projects - these sectors also face the greatest intensity and severity of attacks on defenders. There is a widespread failure to tackle the root causes of the violence: impunity for threats and attacks; corruption, which facilitates land grabbing; the failure to sec

avatar for Jena Martin

Jena Martin

Professor of Law West, Virginia University
Professor Martin is a Professor of Law at West Virginia University. Her research and scholarship is in the area of business and human rights, specifically examining how traditional frameworks - such as securities regulation - can be applied.


Josephine Chiname

Legal Officer & Bertha Justice Fellow at ZELA, the Zimbabwe environmental Law Association (ZELA)

Danilo Rueda

National Coordinator, Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – CIJP
avatar for Indianara Ramires Machado

Indianara Ramires Machado

Guarani Kaiowa indigenous youth representative, AJI (Action Association of Young Indians of Dourados)
Lives in the indigenous land of Dourados in Mato Grosso do Sul Brazil, graduated in nursing from the State University of Mato Grosso do Sul, since 12 years participates in the movement of indigenous youth of Mato Grosso do Sul. She is vice president of AJI - Young Indigenous Youth... Read More →
avatar for Ani Khachatryan

Ani Khachatryan

Representative, Armenian Environmental Front
Ani Khachatryan is a human rights defender who has fought many environmental fights for protecting the environment, and to defend the right of communities and individuals to participate in environmental decision making processes, including in the context of mining projects.
avatar for Benjie Velasco

Benjie Velasco

International Officer, Partido Manggagawa, The Philippines
Educator and researcher on labor rights issues in the Philippines with a focus on the condition of workers in the export processing zones

Monday November 25, 2019 09:00 - 10:15 CET
Room XIX