Oct 30, 2017 by Coalition

UN report calls on development banks to address attacks on human rights defenders

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Overlooking the first AngloGold Ashanti mine in the Siguiri region of Guinea. Approximately 380 households were forcibly evicted from their ancestral land to make way for the open-pit oxide goldmine. Click on the photo for more information. (Photo: Inclusive Development International)

Overlooking the first AngloGold Ashanti mine in the Siguiri region of Guinea. Approximately 380 households were forcibly evicted from their ancestral land to make way for the open-pit oxide goldmine. (Photo: Inclusive Development International)

A UN report released last week highlights the growing attacks on human rights defenders in the context of business and investment activities, including development finance. “Through their financing and technical support, a complex range of public and private institutions continue to be implicated in attacks against defenders,” cites the report by the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

According to Forst, “there is a profound crisis linked to the imposition of models of development that seem to favour short-term profits and commodification over the needs and aspirations of local populations.” The report found that in many cases, rights violations and conflict stem from the exclusion of potentially affected communities from decisions regarding their land and natural resources. “Only by guaranteeing the right of such communities to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent, as foreseen in international agreements, can these origins of conflict be avoided.”

The UNSR’s analysis echoes some of the critical trends and challenges highlighted in a brief submitted by the Coalition for Human Rights in Development in response to the UNSR’s call for submissions for the report. These include the growing role of the private sector in development, the lack of human rights due diligence by development banks, increasing use of financial intermediaries, and poor execution of consent and consultation processes. You can read the full brief with case examples here.

The UNSR’s report stresses the “urgency” for development banks and other investors to utilize human rights due diligence to identify potential risks to defenders and identify mitigation measures before investment decisions are made.  Given States’ commitments on sustainable development, the Rapporteur stressed that “now is the time to ‘walk the talk’ and ensure that no one can be killed or be threatened for the mere fact of speaking up for human rights.”

The report recommends several concrete policies and practices development banks and other investors should adopt to safeguard defenders:

  • Conduct ex ante impact assessments of the enabling environment for human rights and fundamental freedoms in host countries as well as projects’ risks for human rights defenders;
  • Conduct on-site monitoring with human rights expertise for all projects;
  • Use contractual provisions to require clients to ensure that defenders can safely and publicly air their grievances;
  • Require accessible and independent complaint mechanisms with human rights expertise;
  • Monitor projects closely for reprisals and, should they occur, respond promptly and publicly, including by exercising leverage over Governments to investigate and hold to account those who use force against protestors or threaten critics;
  • Disclose all end users of financial intermediary loans and ensure compliance with safeguards and human rights;
  • Withhold investments where impact assessments reveal serious threats to civic freedoms and defenders.

The UNSR’s findings echo many of the priorities and recommendations of the Defenders in Development campaign led by the Coalition along with civil society groups around the world. The campaign is working to ensure that development activities respect human rights, that development financiers promote an enabling environment for public participation, and that defenders can stand up for their rights and hold development actors to account without fear. Click here to learn more about the campaign.