When it was announced that the government of Fiji would chair this year’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany, expectations were high. As a small island, Fiji sees climate change as an existential threat.

Indigenous peoples demand their rights at climate negotiations in Marrakesh, Morocco, November 2016,

© 2016 Katharina Rall / Human Rights Watch

The talks wrapped up on Friday, and during the last two weeks, advocates for gender equality and indigenous peoples made their voices heard and won hard-fought battles to better respect their rights. Notably, governments agreed to create a platform to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in United Nations climate responses, and adopted a Gender Action Plan that aims to better integrate gender equality in climate change policies.

There was also increased attention given to environmental rights defenders and indigenous people who have been killed, attacked, and threatened for their activism. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that governments often fail to conduct serious and timely investigations.

Just when the talks were nearing their end, human rights were pushed to the fore when Fijian prime minister and president of the climate talks, Frank Bainimarama, convened a high-level event about the importance of rights in climate negotiations. Why was this such a big deal? Because never before has any government presiding over the talks hosted an official event on human rights.

Bainimarama has also long been among those who have been silent on human rights issues. But on Thursday, he announced that integrating human rights in the implementation of the Paris Agreement was an important element of Fiji’s presidency, which will continue through the coming year. Costa Rica’s environment minister, Edgar Gutiérrez-Espelata, also proposed concrete ways to integrate rights into the current negotiations about the so-called Paris Rulebook. For example, governments could reference human rights obligations in climate change action plans and climate negotiators could agree to build capacity among states on promoting human rights in climate action.

Of course, such commitments are worth little unless governments are willing to turn rhetoric into reality. If they are serious about fighting climate change, governments should also do more to integrate the protection of human rights in climate policies, while defending the rights of people working to protect the environment.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman speaks during the inaugural Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing Sunday, May 14, 2017.

© 2019 Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP

(New York) – The Chinese government should ensure the projects it finances or engages in under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) respect human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 25-27, 2019, President Xi Jinping will host heads of state and international organization leaders at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The BRI, announced in 2013, is China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure and investment program stretching across some 70 countries, linking China to the rest of Asia, Africa, and Europe via land and maritime networks.

Under the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government should set out requirements to enable meaningful consultation with groups of people potentially affected by proposed projects. It should also ensure that affected communities can openly express their views without fear of reprisal. Other governments, the United Nations, and financial institutions should press Beijing to adopt such protections.

“Beijing claims it is committed to working with other countries to foster environment-friendly and sound development, but the practice so far has raised some serious concerns,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Criticisms of some Belt and Road projects – such as lack of transparency, disregard of community concerns, and threats of environmental degradation – suggest a superficial commitment.”

In recent years, some BRI projects have not conducted or disclosed adequate environmental and social impact assessments, or sufficiently consulted local communities that would be affected by the projects during planning and construction processes, prompting widespread protests.

Such practices are inconsistent with basic obligations of states under international human rights law concerning a healthy and sustainable environment. Some BRI projects have also drawn criticism for facilitating corruption, nontransparent loan agreements, and noncompetitive contracts that require the use of Chinese companies. Amid inflated project costs, several BRI recipient countries, such as Djibouti, Pakistan, and the Maldives, are at high risk of debt distress, potentially diverting limited government resources away from essential services to debt servicing.

The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, two of China’s policy banks and the biggest financiers of the BRI, have not publicly articulated mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability, or respect for human rights in financing BRI projects. A policy document issued in 2017 by the Office of the Leading Group for the Belt and Road Initiative, the government body that oversees implementation of the BRI, made no mention of human rights.

In Pakistan, the Chinese government has made developing the port city of Gwadar the centerpiece of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship BRI project totaling US$62 billion. In 2015, as part of the project, the Chinese government offered a loan of $130 million to build the East Bay Expressway, which will link the port to a major national highway. Since the Chinese state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) started construction on the highway in October 2018, local fishermen in Gwadar have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and consultations, and potential impacts on their livelihoods. They have held news conferences, strikes, and marches to protest the highway, which they allege would block their access to the sea and deprive them of their ancestral source of livelihood without offering any alternatives. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan assured “inclusive development” but construction has proceeded without any of the fishermen’s demands being addressed.

In Myanmar, the Chinese government has ramped-up pressure on Myanmar authorities over the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State. The Myanmar government suspended the construction of the dam in 2011, after nationwide protests. Critics say the mega-dam would cause large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods, wide-scale environmental damage, and destruction of cultural heritage sites significant to the ethnic Kachin people. The project has been criticized for having little transparency. In February, a Chinese government statement contending that most Kachin people support the revival of the dam project drew thousands of people to march in opposition to the claim. The Myanmar government briefly detained a protest leader.

In Sri Lanka, the CCCC in January completed the first phase of construction of Colombo Port City, a financial district in the country’s capital. The $1.4 billion development project has drawn continuing protests over environmental harm. Many residents fear that land reclamation required for the project would lead to coastal erosion and reduce fish populations, threatening the lagoon ecosystem and fishermen’s livelihoods. As with many other BRI projects, the agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the CCCC has not been made public.

The Chinese government and state-owned banks have responded to community opposition to planned Belt and Road projects in some cases. In March, Chinese authorities dropped a plan to blast rocky outcrops and islets in the upper reaches of the Mekong River to allow smooth passage of large cargo vessels, after strong protests by residents and environmental groups from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Also in March, the state-owned Bank of China said it would evaluate the funding commitment to the Batang Toru hydropower plant in Indonesia, asserting that the bank was committed to supporting environmental protection and corporate social responsibility. Critics fear the dam would cause environmental degradation and threaten the critically endangered orangutan.

“People and governments in some ‘Belt and Road’ countries are pushing back against threats to their physical, financial, and environmental well-being,” Wang said. “Chinese authorities should respond by committing to meaningful community consultation, project transparency, respect for peaceful protest, and addressing community concerns.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

On Wednesday, Indonesians go to the polls to determine their next president.

For one demographic, the stakes of the vote, regardless of the results, remain uncertain: the country’s indigenous peoples. Indigenous rights groups that represent some 17 million people and that could be a decisive force in the elections have been reluctant to endorse either candidate—for good reason. Major questions about the future of land rights policy remain unanswered by both of them.

Last September, I stood on the hills of Semunying, in West Kalimantan, on the Indonesian half of the island of Borneo. What was once a green tropical forest lush with evergreen rambutan trees has been taken over by a commercial palm oil plantation. Evidence of the palm oil industry extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. Stuck in the middle of all this is a small village, home to members of an indigenous people, the Iban Dayaks.

The Iban Dayaks have a worldwide population of some 751,000. About 19,000 currently inhabit this area near the Malaysia-Indonesia border, where Ibans have lived for centuries. “Our identity as Iban Dayak is almost lost now. We have no forest anymore,” Ibu Della, a 40-year-old woman whose name I have changed for her protection, told me. Over the last 10 years she has watched the forest she depended on slowly being taken over by palm oil plantations.

In 2004, the Indonesian government effectively permitted Ledo Lestari, an Indonesian company commercially cultivating palm oil for export, to strip the Ibans of their access to community land, forest, and their way of life—their very identity. In the absence of strong laws protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, the company cleared the forests without any meaningful participation from these communities. Attempts in writing and by phone to reach the palm oil company to discuss the impact on people’s land and livelihoods went unanswered.

The village of Desa Sungai has lost its land and livelihood to a palm oil plantation. Singkil swamp rainforest, Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia.

© 2008 David Gilbert
Palm oil is found in half of all grocery store products and is sometimes blended into biodiesel. According to the Indonesian government, as of 2017, the country had more than 12.3 million hectares of land under palm oil production. Foreign companies and domestic companies—both private and state-owned—own or control the large plantations that produce a large share of the oil. Land clearing for plantations has resulted in a loss of forest cover and forest fires that both cause air pollution, with serious risks to respiratory health in the region, and aggravate climate change.

Palm oil cultivation has been devastating for the Ibans, who depended on the land for growing their food and on plants that grew there to supply materials for weaving mats and baskets, their main source of income.

Around the globe, indigenous peoples struggle to have their land rights recognized as international standards demand. Several countries have adopted laws in favor of indigenous collective land rights, a few others have drafted and are debating legislation, but many have not acted at all. The failure of governments to ensure community land rights exposes indigenous peoples to all manner of human rights abuses.

A draft bill before Indonesia’s parliament, the law on the Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, could prevent repeats of what has happened to Ibans in Semunying and to others across the archipelago. By simplifying the process for recognizing indigenous peoples and their territories, the draft law would not only be key to the survival of indigenous peoples in the country—it would also set a path toward the resolution of many of Indonesia’s ongoing land conflicts.

Neither of the 2019 presidential contenders—the incumbent Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, a former general—seems to have a detailed plan to protect indigenous rights in the world’s third-largest democracy. Experts say that Indonesia’s political parties have few major differences on policy and ideology. Most of the divergence relates to the role of religion in public affairs, and to the candidates themselves. Jokowi is not from the political elite and has no military background. He gained national prominence as governor of Jakarta between 2012 and 2014. Prabowo represents an offshoot of an Indonesian oligarchy—a former army lieutenant general and, since he left the service in 1998, a businessman with stakes in pulp and paper, palm oil, and coal mining. Prabowo’s business interests have cultivation permits to an estimated 362,000 hectares of land.

In two televised debates, in January and February, Jokowi had little to say on the topic of land rights. During the second debate, the candidates did exchange views on agrarian reforms, which aim to redistribute agricultural land to close the economic gap and reduce the country’s inequality.

Jokowi’s government had set itself a target of redistributing 9 million hectares of land during his current term. In a bid to carry out this policy, in 2016 and 2017, he handed over 29,500hectares of customary forest to 18 indigenous communities and more to smallholder farmers, but still a far cry from the amount pledged in the country’s National Medium-Term Development Plan.

In February 2018, Jokowi launched Complete Systematic Land Registration, a program with an objective of formally registering all land in Indonesia by 2025. And that September, he announced a moratorium on issuing permits for new palm oil plantation developments in forest areas.

Prabowo criticized these policies, weak as their implementation has been. While both candidates have avoided addressing the issue of land-related conflicts, both were vocal about expanding the use of biofuel, largely palm oil, to reduce the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuel. Subsequent debates did not touch on land conflicts nor environmental issues.

Few candidates in the regional elections last year made the issue a priority in their campaigns. One exception, Abdon Nababan, a prominent indigenous peoples’ rights activist who ran for governor of North Sumatra, alleged that local elections campaign financing was linked to huge business interests in land. A series of investigations by Mongabay and the Gecko Project in 2017 highlighted rampant corruption behind Indonesia’s deforestation and land deals, naming local officials who contravene the law and sell permits for plantations, often to raise money for political campaigns. But without urgent legislative action to protect indigenous peoples and their land rights, it will be hard to undo any of the devastation these communities have experienced.

According to Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, one of the main advocacy groups for indigenous peoples in Indonesia, which Nababan runs, the country has a large number of unresolved land conflict cases involving indigenous peoples, companies, and the government—some of them ongoing for over a decade. Based on a 2016 National Human Rights Commission report, the main problem in resolving these cases is the lack of legal recognition of indigenous people’s claims over their traditional territories.

Laws on the books in Indonesia that offer indigenous groups access to what is known as customary land require that they first receive formal recognition by a district or province. However, the process of gaining recognition and transferring the land has been slow because of discrepancies between national, ministerial, provincial, and district-level regulations on recognition of indigenous rights. The Ibans’ territory, for example, is not legally recognized and not registered as collective property due to extensive delays in this process—a gap that companies are able to exploit for commercial gain.

Since a Supreme Court decision four years ago that codified these land rights, about 18 communities have seen the rights to use their forests recognized, a far cry from the more than 2,332 indigenous communities that make up an estimated 50 to 70 million people, between 20 and 26 percent of Indonesia’s population. This translates to less than 100,000 hectares of the more than 9 million hectares claimed by indigenous peoples nationwide.

In April of last year, Indonesia’s home affairs minister, Tjahjo Kumolo, questioned the need for the draft bill on indigenous peoples currently under consideration, potentially stalling its passage. The Home Affairs Ministry later backtracked on the objections, but it nonetheless slowed down the bill’s progress. It remains on the priority docket, and advocates for indigenous peoples’ rights continue to lobby officials and parliament to enact it.

What happened to the Iban community in Semunying shows why this protection is needed. “Community leaders have taken sweet promises from the company that they can replace the forest with money,” Della said. “They sold the land, we lost our adat forest to the company.” (Adat, a Malay word, is often translated as “customary” or “customary rules.” Adat forests are common resources that can be used by any individual within an indigenous community.)

She said that some community members had also traded away land in 2010, believing they had no option but to sell and without knowing the full implications of what they were doing.

Since the forest was cleared, vegetation and trees that are essential for the adat way of life are difficult to find. Weaving had long been the main revenue source for Iban women, but this skill that had been handed down from mothers to daughters is fading away. Pandan leaves used to make woven mats for drying rice and sitting on during special ceremonies have become scarce since the forest was cleared. Naturally growing vines used to make rattan are gone.

“We lost our sense of community,” said Kristi, a 28-year-old woman whose name has also been changed. “This place is not a village, you can’t call it home. These are shelters, not a community. It is owned by the company.”

In 2014, the Ibans sued Ledo Lestari and the regent of Bengkayang district, where Semunying, along with the village of Pareh, are located, to get their forest back, but they lost because they have no official document recognizing them as indigenous or giving them a collective right over the land. They plan to appeal. Legal status for the Ibans as indigenous could mean requiring the company to return their land at the end of its permit or pay compensation commensurate to the market value for its use. This would enable the Ibans in Semunying and Pareh to lease the land, if they chose, and develop diverse ways of generating revenue and protecting their interests.

Indonesia’s presidential candidates have not been eager to engage with the issue of clashes over land. The longer the subject goes ignored, the worse the situation will grow for indigenous people across the country.

In keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Indonesia’s parliament should promptly enact the draft law to protect indigenous peoples from being dispossessed. The Indonesian government needs to make sure that this bill moves along and passes—and then take the steps needed to make the system for protecting indigenous communities work.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants. 

The video cites activists’ reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. Municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organizers that have no legal basis. Government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, and some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects. The government should protect the activists.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video

South Africa: Activists in Mining Areas Harassed

Community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants.

(Johannesburg) – Community activists in mining areas in South Africa face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report and video released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants.

The 74-page report “‘We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities” and video cites activists’ reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. Municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organizers that have no legal basis. Government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, and some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects. The government has a constitutional obligation to protect activists.  

“In communities across South Africa, the rights of activists to peacefully organize to protect their livelihoods and the environment from the harm of mining are under threat,” said Matome Kapa, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights. “South African authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining, instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns.”

Interview: The Dangers of Opposing Mining in South Africa

Interview: The Dangers of Opposing Mining in South Africa

Fighting for a healthy environment in South Africa's coal mining communities can be perilous. At least three activists have been killed in the last three years. Birgit Schwarz talks to Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaign manager at groundWork, a South African environmental justice organization, about the impact of mining on rural communities and the dangers of being an activist in South Africa.

The Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch documented the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape provinces between 2013 and 2018. The groups conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police, and municipal officials. Researchers also wrote to the relevant government agencies and to many of the mining companies in the research areas. Four out of eleven companies responded. The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies, including some in the research areas, has stated that it “is not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where [its] members operate.”

Community members in mining areas have experienced threats, physical attacks, or damage to their property that they believe is a consequence of their activism. They described being assaulted, intimidated, threatened, and their property damaged.

“We know our lives are in danger,” one activist from KwaZulu Natal said. “This is part of the struggle.” Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks.

In one high profile case in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape province, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was killed at his home in March 2016. He and other community members had raised concerns about displacement and destruction of the environment from a titanium mine proposed by the Australian company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources. No suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing.

But many of the attacks go unreported or unnoticed, in part because of fear of retaliation for speaking out, and because police sometimes do not investigate the attacks, the groups found.

“South African authorities and companies should ensure zero tolerance toward threats and abuses against rights defenders in mining-affected communities,” said Katharina Rall, environment researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Government departments and the police have an obligation to investigate incidents and work with mining companies to create an environment conducive to freedom of speech and to reporting threats against defenders.”

Municipalities infringed on citizen’s rights to freedom of assembly, imposing extra-legal requirements for protests, despite constitutional guarantees established in South African law. In other cases, it was companies themselves that requested community activists notify them of their upcoming protests, wrongfully claiming that this was a legal requirement.

Some companies have used the courts to harass activists by asking for financial penalties, seeking court orders to prevent protests, or filing vexatious lawsuits. These meritless lawsuits – known as “Strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPPs – are a growing trend globally that South Africa could tackle by adopting new legislation. SLAPPs can silence activists by hitting them with the cost and burden of mounting a legal defense. Companies have also used social media campaigns to harass activists and organizations who are challenging them, inflicting an emotional and reputational toll on defenders.

“Municipalities and mining companies want to suppress protests,” said Ramin Pejan, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “But suppressing protest does not solve the underlying concerns of these communities, and upholding the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly is their legal obligation.”

The groups also found a pattern of police misconduct during peaceful protests in mining-affected communities, including violently dispersing demonstrations or arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters. South African police have also injured peaceful protesters with teargas and rubber bullets.

“These patterns of police violence and company tactics combine to create an environment of fear for community rights defenders and environmental justice groups in South Africa,” said Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaign manager at groundWork. “For some, this has meant reducing or stopping their activism. But for many, it means putting their lives at risk while they are continuing the struggle.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

What changes for a community once a mine starts operating?

Most mining in South Africa takes place in rural areas, where people live off the land and their livestock. Mining often forces people to leave the land they use for farming and grazing. Mining companies by law are required to make binding commitments for projects that will benefit a community that will be affected by mining. Our experience, however, is that the communities are rarely consulted and, as the South African Human Rights Commission has found in a recent report, compliance with these so-called Social and Labor Plans is poor. In the end, we don’t believe that the plans prioritize the needs of the community and often although local residents were promised employment, it goes instead to people from outside who have the required skills. Few people from the community in practice land a job with the mine.

Also, until recently, the government has allowed mines to operate on lands governed by customary or traditional laws without consulting with or seeking the consent of the communities living on them. In fact, the government has used mining laws to override legal protections for informal land rights. And although people have a right to be compensated for the loss of land even in the absence of formal land titles, we know of several cases in which no compensation was paid.

As a result, we find that the majority of those living near mines are left worse off than before because they no longer have enough land to farm. And to make matters worse, many end up breathing coal dust, getting sick, and their houses, most of which are made of clay, are cracking because of the blasting.

What are people’s biggest concerns?

One of the major concerns is water scarcity. Mines need millions of liters of water to wash coal. I remember one case where, during a drought, the community said the coal mine blocked off the entire stream that was their water source.

Video

South Africa: Activists in Mining Areas Harassed

Community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants.

Pollution from insufficiently treated effluents - water that runs off after the coal has been washed and that contains toxic substances - and the pollution of streams and boreholes from acid mine drainage are another worry. In places like Witbank in Mpumalanga, where there are many active and abandoned coal mines, people’s tap water is undrinkable. Their only option is to buy water. Yet these are people who cannot even afford the most basic things like sufficient food or primary healthcare.

Exposure to coal dust compromises people’s health. When inhaled, this very fine dust can cause respiratory problems, coughs, and trigger asthma. People end up having to see doctors, which is another expense they cannot afford.

Does the government listen when people voice these concerns?

Local and national government officials rarely respond to formal complaints. A community’s last resort is to take the mine to court. But this takes resources most communities don’t have.

At the end of the day, people are angry. When no one ever responds to their grievances, they resort to protests. It’s only then that the municipalities react – by sending in the police.

Our constitution is very clear. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest without needing to obtain permission to do so. Municipalities, however, insist that unless communities have been granted a formal permission, their protest is illegal. The police are brought in, shoot teargas and rubber bullets into the crowd, and arrest whoever gets in their way. The municipalities will claim the protest was violent and all they were doing was trying to enforce the law. Most protests, however, are peaceful, and most arrests are baseless.  

How do the mining companies respond?

In our work with communities at groundWork we have found that some mines will do anything to discourage people from voicing their concern. They encourage the narrative that anti-mining protests will scare off investors. They want the police to react quickly and decisively. And they put activists at risk by claiming they are destructive and endanger the national interest. In one case, activists told us that they even went so far as to hire small groups of people to gather information about “trouble-makers”.

How dangerous is it to be an activist who challenges mining projects in South Africa?

In KwaZulu-Natal, a province with a violent history and hit-men for hire, the threats activists receive are very real. In Somkhele, an activists’ car was set alight, and at night, he was woken up by gun shots. Somebody tried unsuccessfully to burn his house down. In the morning, he found a dead cat in his yard, he thought it was a warning. Many activists have received anonymous calls threatening that they will be “dealt with”. A female activist and single mother felt so threatened by death calls that she moved herself and her daughter out of the village. Apparently, the village headman was not happy with her opposition to the mine.

What threats have you personally experienced in the course of your work?

A female activist in Mpumalanga had asked us to provide the community with more information about how a proposed coal mine might affect them. The village was in quite a secluded area. Suddenly, a group of armed men burst into the meeting, accusing us of being sell-outs, more concerned about the environment than development. The men did not even come from the community, but in the end, they had whipped up so much anger that 200 to 300 people were chanting the names of our organizations and pointing fingers at us. We felt very threatened and very concerned about the local activist who had invited us. Anything could have happened at that moment. There could have been shooting. So we decided to leave the meeting before the crowd moved outside, gave the lady who had invited us a lift home. and drove off.

Could you do anything to help keep the local activist safe?

We considered relocating her, but she did not want to move. So we bought her a cell phone and checked in on her regularly to make sure she was safe. As a woman she was particularly vulnerable, and we felt she was underestimating the threat. But eventually the situation calmed down.

How do these threats and attacks affect those opposed to mining?

The threats diffuse their courage and passion. There are people, especially the leadership, who say I don’t care, I can die for the truth. But others feel they need to retract. Some have families or dependents they have to look after. They know that anything can happen to them. And there are no security measures in place that make them feel protected.

Do the police not investigate?

Police will break up a protest, but they do nothing when activists who oppose mining are threatened. I don’t know of a single case that has been properly investigated. Not even when people were killed. Take the case of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, the chairperson of a community-based organisation in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape. He had raised concerns about a titanium mine that Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd has proposed. Three years after his murder no one has been arrested.

Activists from mining communities protesting at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on August 24, 2018, KwaZulu-Natal.

© 2018 Rob Symons

Some communities have taken the government to court. What was the outcome?

In August last year, the Xolobeni community took the government to court arguing the community should have the right to decide what happens to the land their families have lived on for generations. The court ruled that customary land is only held in trust and that the South African Department of Mineral Resources cannot issue a mining license without the community’s consent. And last November, the Constitutional Court ruled that “restrictions [of protests] that are “blanket in nature” and criminalise gatherings “as an end in itself” are unconstitutional. This means that the protesters can no longer be prosecuted as a criminal offense, whether registered or not. These decisions are significant for the struggle.

What needs to change?

The government should take the injustices committed by corporations seriously. The Minister of Mineral Resources should ensure that issues raised by communities are addressed. The police need to understand that when people are protesting they are not criminals but human beings who care about their communities. And prosecutors should be trained in how to assess the validity of an arrest. We need to resolve these issues in ways that build trust with and calm down these angry communities who feel that, if they don’t fight for their rights, nobody will.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

**groundWork is one of four partners who researched the threats to activists in South Africa’s mining communities, resulting in a joint report “We Know Our Lives Are in Danger” and video. Other partners were Earthjustice, Centre for Environmental Rights and Human Rights Watch.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Washington, DC) – Chile’s Supreme Court should consider international law and standards protecting human rights and the environment in its application of the right to a pollution-free environment guaranteed in Chile’s national constitution, Human Rights Watch said yesterday in an amicus curiae brief. The international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association, served as pro bono counsel for the amicus curiae brief filed in the Supreme Court of Chile.

In August and September 2018, two toxic air pollution incidents in Chile’s coastal region, in Quintero and Puchuncaví, caused a public health crisis in which more than 300 people received medical assistance for symptoms of harm from toxic substances. The region has been the site of intensive industrial development over the last 50 years, hosting refineries, power plants, and factories. Given the extensive contamination from industrial activity in the region, it is commonly referred to as a “sacrifice zone,” including by Chile’s National Human Rights Institute.

“The right to a pollution-free environment means everyone should be able to breathe without landing in a hospital emergency room,” said Marcos Orellana, environment director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has a duty to protect people’s health from being sacrificed for the benefit of industrial facilities.”

Human Rights Watch included in its brief an analysis of 16 framework principles developed by the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. The brief argues that the court should regard these principles as highly relevant to the interpretation of the right to a pollution-free environment in Article 19(8) of the Chilean Constitution.

Human Rights Watch highlighted the following principles as particularly relevant:

  • Framework Principle 1 provides that, “States should ensure a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in order to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.”
  • Framework Principle 7 affirms that, “States should provide public access to environmental information by collecting and disseminating information and by providing affordable, effective and timely access to information to any person upon request.”
  • Framework Principle 11 maintains that, “States should establish and maintain substantive environmental standards that are non-discriminatory, non-retrogressive and otherwise respect, protect and fulfil human rights.”

Human Rights Watch did not take a position on the merits of the case. Instead, it provided Chile’s Supreme Court with legal analysis regarding the protection of human rights and the environment, including international law standards; jurisprudence from the European and Inter-American human rights courts; and decisions from courts and tribunals in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

 

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A child in Grassy Narrows First Nation, Ontario, Canada brushes her teeth with bottled water. Water on First Nations reserves is contaminated, inadequately treated or hard to access (April 14, 2016).

WASHINGTON, DC - While residents across Prince Rupert, British Columbia are once again able to get safe drinking water from their taps, the boil-water advisory lifted there in late January should not be forgotten. Canada is a freshwater-rich country, but the time for complacency on essential water issues has long passed. Most people living in Canada have access to safe water. But drinking water advisories in the country about unsafe water have been concentrated in First Nation communities.

As of December 31,  there were six “boil-water advisories” and three “do not consume advisories” affecting eight First Nations Indigenous communities in British Columbia.

The Prince Rupert boil-advisory responded to an increase in the levels of cryptosporidium and giardia, two parasites that cause intestinal health problems. The contamination is thought to have been brought on by the combination of a severe drought in British Columbia during the summer and a large storm surge that soon followed.

Similar environmental and health problems can be expected to recur.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the onslaught of extreme weather patterns caused by intensifying climate change will only continue. The water crisis in Prince Rupert lasted for nearly six weeks and left 12,000 people without drinking water, according to CBC News. It has overwhelmingly affected Indigenous communities.

Tom Kertes, a volunteer organizer with Community for Clean Water–a grassroots organization in Prince Rupert  —  told CBC, “The city almost treated it like an inconvenience. Clean water is not about convenience or inconvenience. It’s about life and death and access to clean water is a human right.”

In June 2016, Human Rights Watch published a 92-page report that found that the Canadian government had failed to meet a range of international human rights obligations toward First Nations  people and communities in Ontario by failing to remedy the severe water crisis.

We found that the water crisis in First Nations communities in Ontario has persisted for decades. A primary contributor to the problem is the legal discrimination that exists related to the regulation and protection of drinking water for First Nations reserves.

Provincial and territorial regulations governing safe drinking water and sanitation, which operate to protect the health of most Canadian residents, do not extend to First Nations reserves. Other factors compounding the problem include insufficient and unpredictable funding, tainted source water, and lack of capacity and support for water system operators. As a result, water on many First Nations reserves is not safe.

In 1976, Canada became a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In 2016, the UN Committee that monitors compliance with the treaty expressed concern about “the restricted access to safe drinking water and to sanitation by the First Nations as well as the lack of water regulations for the First Nations living on reserves.”

The Canadian government has taken measures to address the water crisis in First Nations reserves. In 2018, the Federal government began direct engagement with the Assembly of First Nations to repeal and replace flawed drinking water legislation passed in 2013. Funding to address the problems has increased since our Ontario report was issued, with the 2018 budget including an additional $173 million. In Ontario, 26 advisories were lifted in 14 communities as of mid-2018.

But as of February 4, 2019, there were 62 long-term drinking advisories throughout Canada. The Neskantaga First Nation in Northern Ontario, for example, has had a water boil advisory in place for the last 23 years.

Access to water is a human right under international law, and  Canada’s Constitution Act of 1982 provides for “essential public services of reasonable quality.” This means that the authorities have an obligation—as well as a moral imperative—to uphold this right. It also empowers people to demand that their governments take concrete and deliberate steps to ensure access to safe and affordable water for the population.

Canada still needs to do more to secure the right to water for all of its people and to live up to its commitments to First Nations communities.

The right to safe drinking water is indispensable to a healthy life.  Putting out a water advisory alerts residents to the problem, but doesn’t do anything to solve it. The federal government should be working closely with First Nation communities to ensure that money allotted for water improvement is used efficiently and that sustainable solutions are created. The provincial government can help by engaging indigenous communities and advocating for their right to clean water.

The Canadian government still has a lot of work to do, but it is critically important for the health of indigenous people to get the job done.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Itahu Ka’apor leads the Ka’apor forest guardians as they set out on patrol to identify illegal logging activity in their lands. Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Territory, Maranhão, Brazil.

© 2017 Luciana Téllez-Chávez for Human Rights Watch

I met Itahu Ka’apor after a long journey on a rough dirt track into the indigenous territory of Alto Turiaçu, in the Brazilian Amazon. After welcoming me and my colleagues into his community, he spent several days showing us how his people, the Ka’apor, defend the forest that is central to their identity and their survival from the scourge of illegal logging.

That has included relocating villages near the border of their territory to deter trespassing by illegal loggers. This has made the Ka’apor a frequent target of intimidation and sometimes violence.

Like Itahu, many defenders face great risk when they advocate for their communities’ rights in the face of environmental devastation. That’s why condemnation by the top UN human rights body of the human rights violations or abuses against them is significant.

On March 21, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a consensus resolution affirming “the positive, important and legitimate role” played by environmental defenders. The Council also noted more than 150 states have recognized some form of a right to a healthy environment.  

The Council’s resolution comes almost exactly a year after the adoption of a landmark treaty on environmental rights in Latin America and the Caribbean that contains specific protections for environmental defenders and recognizes their key role for democracy and sustainable development.

At a time when even authorities in established democracies harass environmental defenders and roll back environmental safeguards that protect public health to benefit corporate interests, the Council called upon states “to strengthen democratic institutions, safeguard civic space, uphold the rule of law and combat impunity,” as key components to protect environmental defenders. The resolution also underscores the responsibility of businesses to respect the rights of defenders to carry out their work safely.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders has argued that attacks against environmental defenders should be understood as what they often are: “a direct result of the exploitation of natural resources that does not take into account the legitimate demands and concerns from local communities.”

The distance between a Council resolution and the realities of grassroots activists will remain a challenge, but environmental human rights defenders like Itahu Ka’apor and his civil society supporters now have a new tool to call for accountability – backed by the top global human rights body.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Aerial photo of the vast freshwater resources in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario, Canada, October 2018.
© 2018 Human Rights Watch
(Toronto) – World Water Day on March 22, 2019 is a reminder that many of Canada’s First Nations communities do not have safe drinking water, Chiefs of Ontario and Human Rights Watch said today.

The groups issued a draft guide on the human right to water for First Nations communities and advocates. This guide will be open for comment through September 6, and then finalized.

“Most Canadians have easy access to fresh water, but many First Nations communities in Canada face a daily struggle to get safe drinking water,” said Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this guide will serve as an important tool for communities to help them achieve their right to a safe water supply.”

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Human Rights Watch conducted research in First Nations communities in Ontario in 2015 and 2016, and found that the Canadian government had violated a range of international human rights obligations by failing to provide a safe water supply to First Nations reserves.

Since that time, the federal government has taken steps to increase transparency in situations in which First Nations communities have long been without a safe water supply and to work more closely with the communities to address the problems. The government recently announced new investments to support ongoing efforts to eliminate and prevent long-term drinking water advisories.

But as of February 4, there were 62 long-term drinking advisories throughout Canada. The Neskantaga First Nation in Northern Ontario, for example, has had a water boil advisory in place for the last 23 years.

The Chiefs of Ontario continue to apply pressure and influence governments to provide safe potable drinking water – which is a human right – for First Nations peoples, leading toward a sustainable future and one that is based on truth and reconciliation.

Despite some progress, the government has failed time and again to deliver on its promises for safe drinking water. In developing the guide, Human Rights Watch and Chiefs of Ontario seek to develop an additional tool for First Nations to build their advocacy for safe drinking water access. The guide provides an overview of the legal framework behind the human right to water and recommendations on how to engage government officials on the topic. The commentary period will be helpful in producing a final guide to address the needs of communities and advocates.

“We need to guide and inspire a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation between First Nations and Canada,” said Chief Shining Turtle, of Whitefish River First Nation and member of the Chiefs of Ontario Environment Committee. “Collaboration on a renewed relationship based on inclusion, respect, and mutual understanding is paramount. Let’s begin this important process first by protecting our sacred water, in the spirit of true partnership.”

It is often those who least contribute to water crises around the world who are most affected by the outcome, Human Rights Watch and the Ontario Chiefs said. World Water Day 2019 serves as a reminder that everyone all over the globe should have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Canada has played an important role in promoting efforts to meet this goal globally. First Nations communities are on the front lines of demanding that Canada should meet this obligation at home as well.

“Water is life. It is recognized that women are the sacred keepers of the water and know that it's a gift that connects all life,” said Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald. “Water is significant to our way of life and livelihoods, and we recognize our inherent responsibilities as caretakers to protect water. Our responsibilities and our rights include all aspects to the use of water, jurisdiction and stewardship over use and access to water, and the protection of water.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Image of Sum Moeun (left) and Moeun Mean (right). 

© 2019 VOD
(New York) – Cambodian authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of a land activist forcibly disappeared in Preah Vihear province, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 20, 2019, at about 5:30 p.m., soldiers from Battalion 261 of Army Command Intervention Division 2 of the Cambodian armed forces arrested Sum Moeun, 54, a community leader in a local land dispute, and his son, Moeun Mean, 26, in Yeang commune, Chaom Ksan district. Soldiers transferred them to Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary Headquarters, where they were detained overnight. On January 21, only Moeun Mean was taken before the provincial court prosecutor. The wildlife sanctuary headquarters said that Sum Moeun had escaped at around 8 a.m. that morning.

“The Cambodian government needs to produce Sum Moeun in court and lawfully charge him or return him home to his family,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “There should be an immediate, independent investigation of this case with full cooperation from the army, which is commanded by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son, Gen. Hun Manet.”

Relatives of Sum Moeun said they received information that soldiers allegedly hit and beat him with gun butts and slapped him when they arrested him. A photo taken while he was in custody appears to show bruises on Sum Moeun’s face.

In June 2013, Cambodia ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which defines an enforced disappearance as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Because they are outside of the protection of the law, a person who has been forcibly disappeared is at heightened risk of torture and extrajudicial execution.

The convention against enforced disappearances obligates the government to investigate allegations that a person was forcibly disappeared, even in the absence of a formal complaint. The authorities are also required to take appropriate measures to protect relatives from any ill-treatment, intimidation, or sanction as a result of the search for information about a “disappeared” person.

“Sum Moeun’s wife has not heard from him since his arrest and has made repeated public calls to the authorities to help find her missing husband,” Adams said. “His family has good reason to fear for his safety.”

Between January 16 and 27, security guards and soldiers arrested 15 villagers as part of a crackdown on villagers in Yeang commune accused of illegal clearing of state forest land. Fourteen villagers remain in pre-trial detention, including Moeun Mean, and face 5 to 10 years in prison.

The land dispute stems from a concession granted in June 2012 by the Environment Ministry to Metrey Pheap Kakse Usahakam Co. Ltd., an agro-industrial company. The 8,520 hectares in the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary prompted a dispute between Metrey Pheap and over 300 families who claim the right to ownership of farmland in the area. Local authorities said that Metrey Pheap should settle the land dispute with the villagers but also asserted that parts of the land claimed by villagers were within state forest land.

Protracted land disputes resulting from illegal land confiscations by large companies and powerful tycoons with government backing are a major human rights problem in Cambodia. Land seizures for development are carried out without due process or fair compensation for affected individuals and communities, which has spurred local protests. Soldiers, gendarmes, and police have frequently been used to clamp down on protests or arbitrarily detain peaceful protesters.

The European Union currently has a delegation in Cambodia looking into whether Cambodia is in compliance with its “Everything but Arms” program, which provides trade preferences for countries meeting the program’s human rights standards.

“Cambodia does not have a recent history of enforced disappearances, but one-party rule and an increase in land seizures raises alarm bells,” Adams said. “The Cambodian government should promptly produce Sum Moeun and show it is committed to addressing the human rights concerns of the European Union and other governments.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Today, hundreds of thousands of children marched in dozens of countries around the world to send a clear, urgent message: governments should do more to tackle climate change now – not just with words and pledges, but with concrete steps.

A young protester marches in Berlin, Germany, to demand government action on climate change, March 15, 2019.

© 2019 Juliane Kippenberg/Human Rights Watch

What started with the protest of a single Swedish girl – then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg – has now grown into a global youth movement and perhaps the biggest “climate strike” in history.

At the Berlin march today, an estimated 20,000 children chanted and held up posters. Their signs urged “Stop coal” or simply “Act Now!” One poster read: “Fridays no school!? Climate change is much worse.”

I joined the march with my 11-year-old son and his friend and found myself in the midst of thousands of students, along with a few other supportive adults. The sight of these kids and their activism fills me with hope.

Berlin is just one of more than 2,000 locations in 125 countries where children have decided to skip school and join the climate strikes. Students are standing up for climate action in Albania, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, the United States, and many other countries.

Let’s not underestimate these young activists. Student protests have helped shape history – think of youth protests in Apartheid South Africa or the Arab Spring. The children protesting today are making great use of their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, and they are raising awareness of the existential threat posed by climate change.

But the most important question to them is: Will they be remembered as the youth movement that made world leaders finally take action on climate change?

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Video: Mining Companies Exploit Rural Communities in Guinea

Guinea’s fast-growing bauxite mining industry is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Guineans. Mining has destroyed ancestral farmlands, damaged water sources, and coated homes and trees in dust. 

Last week, 13 rural communities in Guinea made public a complaint against the World Bank’s private lending arm over a loan to one of country’s largest bauxite miners, alleging its operations have destroyed ancestral farm lands and polluted vital water sources.

The complaint to the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Compliance Advisor Ombudsman is over a loan made to la Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG), co-owned by the Guinean government and multinationals Alcoa and Rio Tinto.

Human Rights Watch released a report in October 2018 that described how bauxite mining in Guinea threatens the way of life and livelihoods of rural villages. Guinea is the biggest exporter of bauxite to China, the world’s largest aluminum producer.

Since operations began in 1973, CBG has taken land from rural farmers without adequate compensation, exploiting the Guinean government’s failure to provide adequate legal protections to customary land rights. Satellite imagery documents how mining has progressively destroyed local farmlands. “In less than 10 years, I think the land will be exhausted,” said a local farmer, whose village has lost more than 40 percent of its land to mining since 2005. CBG’s expanded operations will now force the farmer’s village to relocate.

The communities are represented by two Guinean NGOs and Inclusive Development International, who say that before the IFC lent CBG $200 million in 2016, it should have ensured the company would fulfill its responsibility to remedy the impacts of mining. The IFC’s loan helped CBG raise more than $1-billion to expand its operations and increase production.

The complaint also alleges that run-off from bauxite mines has polluted local rivers and streams. Human Rights Watch’s reporting showed that CBG has operated for decades without the monitoring mechanisms needed to adequately assess the impact of mining on the quality and availability of water for local communities.

CBG has said that it has improved environmental and social management since receiving the IFC’s loan and will consider any grievance related to past land acquisitions.

Rural communities, however, must overcome enormous challenges to obtain redress from mining companies, not least the massive power imbalance when confronting multinational corporations. This week’s complainants are asking CBG and the IFC to enter an independent mediation process that will provide a more equal platform through which to find a way to address the harms the company has caused.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A boy and a girl work in a small gold mine in Amansie West district, Ghana.

© 2016 Juliane Kippenberg for Human Rights Watch

In the coming weeks, Switzerland’s Council of States has a big decision to take: should Swiss companies be required to introduce human rights and environmental safeguards for their global actions? This month, prompted by pressure from a civil society initiative on Responsible Business, it will consider a bill to do just that.  

Swiss businesses often source their commodities and products from far-flung countries, which puts them at risk of getting caught up in human rights abuses. One example is the supply chain for gold: again and again, human rights abuses are revealed in the gold sector. A report by the Swiss government recently confirmed that the gold mining industry can cause significant harm.

During my investigations in Ghana, Mali, Tanzania and the Philippines, I have seen children and youth dig for gold under the most dangerous conditions in small, informal mines. They work near unstable shafts and use toxic mercury to extract the raw gold from the ore. Some suffer health damage; some have even died in mine accidents. In Eritrea and Papua New Guinea, Human Rights Watch has documented how human rights violations such as forced labor and rape are linked to industrial gold mining.

To ensure that companies do not contribute to human rights abuses through their actions, they should undertake human rights due diligence — that is, take steps to identify and respond to human rights impacts in the supply chain. We recently assessed the steps taken by 13 major jewellery brands, including Rolex, Chopard, and Harry Winston (owned by the Swiss company Swatch). We found that most companies lacked transparency, traceability, and strong human rights assessments.  Rolex does not make any of its sourcing practices public, and Harry Winston publishes only scant information on its due diligence. While Chopard is far more transparent about the origin of its gold and sources from small mines that are regularly checked for human rights compliance, its diamond supply chain is opaque.   

There are numerous voluntary standards and certification systems to better protect human rights in global supply chains. But implementation depends on the will of individual companies, and so has severe limitations. Standards also sometimes fall short of what is called for in instruments such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Guidance by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for the minerals supply chain.

An example from the gold sector is the Code of Practices of the international jewellery association, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). The RJC’s standard falls below what is needed for effective due diligence. Therefore, RJC certification is no guarantee of clean supply chains. Several Responsible Jewellery Council certified companies, including Harry Winston, are doing nowhere near enough for supply chain transparency and human rights protection. The intergovernmental OECD  published a detailed study last year that shows how standards by the Responsible Jewellery Council and other mineral supply industry associations are lagging behind  international guidelines and are not adequately enforced.

Switzerland now has the opportunity to make companies in all sectors responsible for their actions. In June 2018, the National Council passed a bill obliging larger companies based in Switzerland to ensure that their activities abroad respect human rights and the environment. To comply with this, companies need to conduct human rights due diligence. In particularly grave circumstances, companies can also be held liable for the actions of subsidiaries. The National Council adopted the bill in response to the Responsible Business Initiative, a civil society initiative for a corporate responsibility law. The bill reflects key elements proposed by the Responsible Business Initiative, though it is not as comprehensive as the initiative on some issues.

In February, the Responsible Business Initiative and the bill will be considered by the Council of States’ legal commission. The commission should seize this great opportunity and recommend the adoption of a strong bill, obliging companies to protect human rights and the environment in line with international standards.

The adoption of the proposed compromise bill on corporate human rights responsibility would be a big step in the right direction. If this does not happen, the electorate could bring about change through a referendum led by the Responsible Business Initiative. As long as governments leave it up to companies to take voluntary steps, systematic human rights due diligence by companies will remain the exception.
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am