Report from 2005 UN Commission on Human Rights

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EarthRights International participated in several side events at the UN Commission for Human Rights Annual  Meeting in Geneva. 

One side event, “Business and Human Rights: Experiences and Testimonies”, presented testimonies of corporate abuses of human rights. Rashida Bi spoke about Union Carbide’s participation in the Bhopal disaster and the continuing issues of contamination.  Padre Claret spoke about a dam being constructed by a Canadian company in Brazil. Of course, no such event is complete without someone from Burma talking about the Total Yadana Pipeline. The event was attended to by mostly NGOs.  Unfortunately there were not many State representatives, the ones who this side event was directed towards were the States, in attendance. Part of the future NGO strategy will be to get “written” accounts of such testimonies to be submitted to the Special Representative.  ERI certainly plans to make a contribution in this area.

Another side even related to the Norms was: “The UN Norms: a necessary tool for Corporate Social Accountability or one shot too far”.  The panelists were German Forum Human Rights/MISEREOR, Confederation of German Employers Associations, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights and Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID).  The attitudes regarding the Norms were spilt across party lines. However, the business line was the same as it always is that States are subject to international HR, not corporations.  

The Norms were drafted by a Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of HR in 2003.  The Norms do not create new standards or regulations, but compile in one place all existing HR norms which relate to Corporations.  Last year the Commission on HR requested that a report be compiled on the scope and legal status of existing initiative and standards and identifying outstanding issues.  The report on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights was prepared and submitted to the Commission in Geneva.  Based on the findings in that report, the Commission entered a resolution requesting the appointment of a special representative on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises for two years.  The Special Representative will be required to submit an interim report next year and a final report in 2007. 

Based on the mandate of the Special Representative set forth in the resolution, there are several ways that ERI can continue to contribute to this movement which will hopefully lead to the development of norms or standards for corporations.  The Special Representative’s mandate is:

(a) To identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights;

(b) To elaborate on the role of States in effectively regulating and adjudicating the role of transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights, including through international cooperation; (Here our experience with ATCA and state adjudication will be particularly helpful to the Special Representative).

(c) To research and clarify the implications for transnational corporations and other business enterprises of concepts such as “complicity” and “sphere of influence”; (Here particularly our experience in our cases on the issue of “aiding and abetting” will be helpful in clarifying the concept of “complicity”).

(d) To develop materials and methodologies for undertaking human rights impact assessments of the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises; (ERI’s experience in fact finding and information gathering may assist in developing methodologies for human rights impact assessments).

(e) To compile a compendium of best practices of States and transnational corporations and other business enterprises;

Unfortunately, experience has shown that these Special Representatives never have enough resources to meet their mandate.  However, they generally welcome submissions which are well-reasoned and not too biased.  ERI will work on preparing a well-reasoned legal submission for the Special Representative. The representative has not yet been designated and he will still have to put together a working group. ESCR-Net which is coordinating all of the NGOs involved is preparing an “NGO strategy” with which to go forward.  

Another interesting side event, was on “The IFC and Indigenous Rights”.  The IFC, which is the private arm of the World Bank is developing their borrower policy on Indigenous Rights.  They will soon develop an environmental policy, most likely modeled after that of the WB.  ERI could potentially contribute to both of these policies.

The last side event was on “Human Rights and the Environment and the reduction of poverty.” HR and the environment was on the Commission Agenda as far as the relationship between human rights and the environment as part of sustainable development.  The commission entered a resolution:

3. Calls upon States to take all necessary measures to protect the legitimate exercise of everyone’s human rights when promoting environmental protection and sustainable development and reaffirms, in this context, that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms;

10. Requests the Secretary-General to submit to the Commission at its sixty-third session a report, consistent with the outcomes of the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Declaration in September 2005, on how respect for human rights can contribute to sustainable development, including its environmental component, and can also contribute positively to poverty eradication and strengthen capacity-building activities for developing countries, taking into account the contributions of relevant international organizations and bodies and the views of concerned States, and to include any developments that would update the report of the Secretary-General on human rights and the environment as part of sustainable development.

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