Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Global Rights Reports from Colombia at UN Summit on Business-Related Human Rights Issues

A few weeks ago in Colombia, the United Nations convened its first-ever regional gathering to address business-related human rights issues. More than 400 people participated in the event, including representatives from businesses, governments, grassroots and non-governmental organizations. Also in attendance was Lien De Brouckere, Global Rights’ Director of Natural Resources and Human Rights.

The forum was organized by the United Nations Working Group on Business & Human Rights, which is charged with implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a landmark set of global standards ratified by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 that clarified the respective roles of governments and companies to help ensure that companies respect human rights while they operate.  This was the first-ever regional forum and was held in Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín. The results of the forum will feed into the second global forum that the Working Group is organizing in Geneva in December 2013.

After participating in the plenary sessions, Lien said that it was encouraging to hear representatives from companies and governments speak about “human rights” in relation to business activities, which marks progress in the attention companies now give to these issues.  
“To have governments and companies use this language of ‘human rights,’ and to develop policies and speak on public panels to address these issues is definitely a positive development that would not have happened at this scale a few years ago,” she said.
At the same time, she was deeply concerned that the forum failed to capture the realities on the ground for individuals and communities, and that the panels painted a misleading picture that obscured the main goal of protecting human rights for vulnerable and marginalized groups.  None of the panel discussions addressed the fundamental challenges of protecting affected communities’ rights, which include significant asymmetries of power, information and resources between companies and communities.  There was also little participation of affected communities (especially indigenous communities), grassroots organizations, or unions. 

On the third day, however, community groups finally took center stage during a session organized by ACCESS Facility, Futuro Sostenible and Fundacion Cambio Democratico, which addressed the question “What is effective remedy?” During that session, participants from community organizations shared their many (many!) repeated attempts at seeking remedy for human rights abuses, and Lien heard familiar stories from across the continent of the grievances suffered by communities.  At the Tintaya mine in Peru, for example, communities faced land expropriation without compensation, harmful environmental impacts, dangerous company infrastructure, and a lack of benefit sharing by the company with the communities.  At the Marlin mine in Guatemala, communities were not properly consulted about the mine project and were largely opposed to the mine’s operation due to  grave concerns about dangerous metals in the water that could harm the communities’ health and ecosystem.  At Chevron’s oil operations in Ecuador, toxic substances released into the water harmed community health and traditional life, and at Cerrejón’s operations in the village of Tabaco, Colombia, Afro-Colombian communities suffered violent expropriation from their lands. 

Gatherings such as the one in Medellín a few weeks ago have the potential to bear witness to the impacts, harms, and abuses, challenges in the region, in addition to providing a space for participatory dialogue that critically examines issues facing communities and how business and government can prevent those harms.  Lien felt that realizing such potential—whether of bearing witness or engaging in meaningful dialogue—would require some changes, such as bringing more voices into the room, adjusting the format of the sessions, and encouraging companies to view affected communities not as objects but as human beings deserved of respect and dignity.

1 comment:

  1. How come someone from your staff, Pablo Quesada, goes to an international court to testify against a country without any scientific evidence just his opinions? How come Costa Rica is not the focus of "racism" intervention of your organization? How about Argentina and Chile? Pablo Quesada made a fool of himself and a sham of the Interamerican Human Rights Court. If you want to really know what a racist country is read this: . I think this important organization should redefine their focus.