The International Service for Human Rights has highlighted the role of human rights defenders in its submission to Ireland’s consultation on a national action plan on business and human rights. Based in Geneva, the organisation works with human rights defenders to strengthen and build their capacity, including in relation to corporate accountability for human rights abuses, and it seeks to ensure that they are protected from “intimidation, harassment, attacks and restrictions associated with their work”. Human rights defenders who work to prevent violations in the context of business activities:
face significant risks to their lives and livelihoods on a daily basis as they work under the threat of extrajudicial killings, abductions, surveillance and intimidation.
The International Service for Human Rights emphasises that Ireland’s national plan must take the work and risks faced by human rights defenders into account. It notes that certain human rights defenders working on corporate accountability are organised in collectives or communities, and that accordingly “collective protection measures” may be needed.
Specific recommendations made in the submission include that:
- All relevant human rights defenders, affected communities in home or host countries, human rights experts and civil society organisations are fully consulted and able to participate in all stages of development, implementation and review of Ireland’s NAP
- The substance of the NAP must also provide for the protection of human rights defenders and communities against attacks, threats, restrictions and reprisals associated with business activities and operations, in home and host countries
- Constructive business engagement with human rights defenders should be encouraged by the NAP at all stages of business operations and in all aspects of implementation of the Guiding Principles
- Encourage and support the review of legislation that restricts and threatens human rights defenders, and the adoption of specific laws and policies that recognize and protect human rights defenders and their legitimate work, as well as laws and policies that guarantee free, prior and informed consent of communities affected by business. These processes should be undertaken both in Ireland and in States in which Ireland has diplomatic representation or business interests or operations, with the participation of civil society and taking into account international good practice.
Ireland is commended in the submission for its previous work in supporting human rights defenders, specifically the implementation of the EU Guidelines on the Protection of the human rights defenders. The International Service for Human Rights is seeking to ensure that Ireland’s commitment to protecting human rights defenders becomes part and parcel of its implementation plan for the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights. It is not clear to date whether Ireland has undertaken such a wide-ranging consultation as is proposed, but this submission nevertheless highlights the critical importance of human rights defenders in advancing the business and human rights agenda.