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Human Rights Council 31 Session: Are We Protecting Human Rights Defenders?

March 31, 2016

Human Rights Council 31st Session finished and it was marked by the assassination of Berta Cáceres, human rights and environmental defender.

WILPF has joined other NGOs in Geneva, such as FIAN and Plataforma contra la Impunidad in advocating to ensure that there is an independent, impartial investigation of this crime. Our main goal was to transmit and defend the demands coming from Berta Cáceres’ family and from COPINH that were brought to us by those NGOs with presence in Honduras.

WILPF has also joined several initiatives that look at the bigger picture and demand the suspension of the foreign funding of the development projects COPINH are protesting against. So far most funding to the project has been suspended, but we will need to keep pressure up so funding is not reestablished as soon as the case loses attention from the media.

Human Rights Defenders

While Berta was being assassinated, States were negotiating a resolution on Human Rights Defenders addressing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Unfortunately, even on such an undeniable pillar of human rights, States did not have a consensus on the matter.

The Human Rights Council entered for over 3 hours into a series of identical votes on amendments, one after another, mainly aimed at not recognizing the term “Human Rights Defenders”. Fortunately, none of these amendments past and the resolution was approved with a vote. You can find the final resolution here .

The resolution acknowledges that human rights abuses can be perpetrated by business enterprises. The resolution however fails to address the challenges posed by the transnational nature of some of those businesses enterprises that may perpetrate crimes against human rights defenders. Berta Caceres’ investigation will definitely be a challenge with the main Corporation she was protesting against, DESA, being financed by foreign institutions.

A resolution on peaceful protest also passed, also with a vote. It is a positive step forward in the right of peoples to protest against human rights abuses. We regret however that the text mentions all “relevant stakeholders” and includes on the same list of actors to be engaged human rights defenders, such as Berta, and the businesses enterprises that human rights defenders may be voting against.

Human Rights defenders and Businesses are not the same

Whilst businesses enterprises can be important interlocutors, their role should not be at all times equated to that of civil society. For example in the case of peaceful protests, businesses enterprises need to be engaged as they could try to prevent peaceful protests against them from taking place. On the other hand human rights defenders need to be protected in their right to protest.

CIVICUS during this session hosted an eye-opening event where speakers compared the paperwork and vetting processes that associations have to undergo to register with that of businesses. The conclusion is appalling: in most countries opening a business can be an administrative process of a few hours and founding an association a complicated, sometimes impossible, process of months or years.

Associations may have to compete in courts with businesses in claiming land-ownership in cases of land-grabbing, but equality before the law will be impossible for as long as we don’t actively protect the rights of associations and human rights defenders, and acknowledge that businesses have a very different, for profit agenda.

A treaty on Corporations and Human Rights

The next step in ensuring accountability for any crimes against human rights defenders perpetrated by Corporations is adopting a Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regards to Human Rights, WILPF joined Plataforma por la Impunidad in a statement on this matter.

Women in peace resolution: Colombia and Syria

WILPF Colombia and our Crisis Response programme also conveyed messages on the participation of women in the peace processes in Colombia and Syria.

In both cases, even if women have been included at some level, WILPF denounced that the participation has not been equal. In the case of Colombia we are strongly concerned about the lack of equal numbers of women in several sub-committees created in Havana as well as the low presence of women at the top level of the decision making in the negotiation. We also denounced that impunity for alleged crimes of sexual violence in the Colombian conflict remains at 100%.

We also reminded of the gendered effects of the conflict on Syrian women, in particular in prisons and detention facilities run by the regime.

You can find also our statements on the situations in Eritrea and in Lebanon.

Read other statements on extraterritorial obligations, climate change and the right to development and disarmament.

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