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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Tuesday, November 26 • 15:00 - 18:00
Prevention is better than cure: exploring best strategies by States to prevent attacks on human rights defenders

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Interpretation provided in English, French and Spanish

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) and Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) in collaboration with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

About the session
This 3-hour session will explore states’ strategies to prevent attacks on and protect human rights defenders and their rights, in cases where defenders are being targeted for their work to address impacts of business activities. It will involve the perspective of defenders and affected rights holders and focus on the role that civil society, intergovernmental bodies, and businesses can play to strengthen and supplement state-based mechanisms.

The first part of the session will emphasize the obligation of states to protect human rights defenders at risk by encouraging and/or mandating robust human rights due diligence by both international and national financial institutions and companies. It will showcase strategies that some states are using to reduce the possibility of attacks against defenders.
The session will be opened by a high-level panel, which will offer general reflections about the current situation of attack on defenders. The recipient of the 2019 Human Rights and Business award will launch the ‘zero-tolerance’ pledge on killings and attacks on defenders.
The session will then delve into the specific example of anti-reprisal requirements for development finance, as one important aspect of a preventative approach. It will underline the importance of states needing to improve their efforts to ensure respect for defenders by corporations headquartered or operating in their territories and by finance institutions of which they are owners or members. Recommendations regarding best practices will be drawn from the examples discussed.

The second part of the session will emphasize the best examples of response strategies by states, when attacks on defenders occur despite preventative efforts. Using the example of the new Peru protection mechanism, participants will discuss how existing state mechanisms can be strengthened, how businesses could support state protection of and remedy for defenders and what can be learnt from the most successful approaches to date. The discussion will also explore the importance of protection of defenders and civic freedoms by companies, in cases where the state is unable or unwilling to provide protection, using the example of a case from Equatorial Guinea in which an oil company supported a defender. Recommendations regarding good practice approaches will be drawn from each set of case studies.

Session objectives
The objective of the session will be to have an open dialogue about how to move toward a preventative approach to protection of defenders, working on business-related human rights issues, taking into account the most promising current developments in terms of state protection of defenders on national and international levels. The co-organizing civil society organizations will collect key recommendations emerging from the dialogue, to inform the Working Group’s report on the Forum and further work on this issue.

Key discussion questions

Part 1:
  • What are the best strategies states have been using to reduce the possibility of attacks against defenders?
  • What are the recommendations for concrete actions by states, companies and investors to address the root causes of violence, criminalization and intimidation affecting collective and individual human rights defenders in the field of business and human rights? What are the specific recommendations in relation to different sectors?
  • What’s the potential of the ‘zero pledge’ – why is it important, what is it hoping to achieve and how will it lead to prevention of attacks? What can companies, governments and investors do to support and implement it?
  • What’s the potential of investor sensitivity and preventative mechanisms, especially development banks?
Part 2:
  •  Are existing protection mechanisms a strong enough preventative tool or are they “just” a band-aid?
  • What can be done to guarantee that the promising measures such as the Peru protection mechanism becomes more effective than past efforts in preventing attacks on defenders? What are the untapped opportunities in other older models? What are the best ways states can protect defenders, when attacks do happen, despite preventative efforts?
  • What can be learnt from the Alfredo Okenve case study, and how can lessons be replicated in other cases? What are the possibilities of creating pre-established networks of support for defenders, made up of supportive companies and embassies? How can companies’ reaction time be sped up and appetite increased for collective action in support of defenders?
The organizers will use a discussion-oriented format, with panelists responding to each other and to the audience throughout the session. The moderators will lead the discussion to balance speaking time between panelists and the audience, and to act as a ‘disruptor’, so as to ensure that the panel is inclusive and challenges multiple viewpoints. Case-studies will be used to ensure the discussion is grounded in real examples and concrete. The moderators will ensure the lessons from the case-studies are extrapolated.

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 shown to have caused, contributed to, or be directly linked to these attacks. 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

avatar for Mauricio Lazala

Mauricio Lazala

Deputy Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Mauricio Lazala, Deputy Director & Head of Europe Office (based in Frankfurt)Mauricio joined the Resource Centre in 2006. Until his appointment as Deputy Director in Feb. 2011 he served as Senior Researcher and Head of Latin America & Middle East. As part of the senior management... Read More →
avatar for Debbie Stothard

Debbie Stothard

Coordinator/Founder, ALTSEAN
Grassroots-centered initiatives, youth activism. Women's leadership, atrocity prevention, BHR.


Carlos Briceno

Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Peru to the United Nations Office and other international organizations, Geneva
avatar for Michel Forst

Michel Forst

UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention, UNECE
Michel Forst has extensive experience in human rights, and more specifically on the protection of human rights defenders. He held several leading positions on the national and international stages (Secretary General of the French National Human Rights Institution; General Director... Read More →
avatar for Hannah Clayton

Hannah Clayton

Manager, Communities and Human Rights, ICMM
Hannah joined ICMM in February 2016 as a manager in the Social and Economic Development programme. Hannah leads on community relations, social performance and human rights. Prior to joining ICMM Hannah was a human rights adviser in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with a focus... Read More →
avatar for Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry

Member, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights
avatar for Maria Aranzazu Villanueva Hermida

Maria Aranzazu Villanueva Hermida

Directora Interina, Mecanismo Independiente de Consulta e Investigación (MICI), Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo
Arantxa Villanueva es actualmente la Directora interina del MICI, mecanismo de rendición de cuentas del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo. Asimismo, desde 2016 es la Coordinadora de la Fase de Verificación de la Observancia del Mecanismo, que investiga los posibles incumplimientos... Read More →
avatar for Mark Fodor

Mark Fodor

DiD Campaign Coordinator, Coalition for Human Rights in Development
Development Finance Institutions, civic space, reprisals and human rights more generally
avatar for Demetrio Pacheco Estaca

Demetrio Pacheco Estaca

Coordinator, Tambopata Reserve Management Committee (Peru)
Environmental Defender from Madre de Dios Peru
avatar for Veronica Cabe

Veronica Cabe

Community Organizer, Coal Free Bataan Movement
Derek Cabe is a coordinator and community organizer for the Coal and Nuclear-Free Bataan Movement and Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya-Bataan (Movement for National Democracy). A staunch anti-coal advocate and human rights defender, she is among communitymembers leading the campaign... Read More →
avatar for Joel Frijhoff

Joel Frijhoff

Manager, Responsible Sourcing & Trading, Vattenfall
avatar for Marianne Hagen

Marianne Hagen

State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway
avatar for Alfredo Okenve

Alfredo Okenve

Civil Society Representative, Publish What You Pay (PWYP)
Alfredo Okenve is a well-known human rights defender and activist who for many years has been denouncing, nationally and internationally, regular patterns of human rights violations and corruption. He is Vice President of the Center for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID... Read More →

Tuesday November 26, 2019 15:00 - 18:00 CET
Room XX