Speech of Debbie Stothard at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

4 December 2012, Geneva

Debbie Stothard is Deputy Secretary-General FIDH & Coordinator for Altsean-Burma.

"Honorable Chair, Members of the Working Group, distinguished participants. Thank you for having me here.

Before I proceed any further, I would like to acknowledge the following people:

Ms Heng Chantha, a 14-year-old Cambodian girl, who was killed on May 16 during a crackdown against villagers trying to prevent their land from being grabbed.

Mr Mam Sonando who was sentenced to 20 years’ jail on October 1 for advocating for the rights of Heng Chantha’s community.

Ms. Venecia Natinga Nestor, who was shot dead in broad daylight on a public highway in the Philippines on June 19 for being a strong voice against land grabbing

Mrs. Juvy Capion, an indigenous leader and her 2 sons Jordan, 13 years old, and John, 8 years old, who were killed on October 18 at their home in the Philippines. Mrs Capion and her husband Daguil Capion opposed mining in the ancestral domain of the B’laan tribe.

Ms. Mao Hengfeng, a Shanghai housing activist and promoter of women’s reproductive rights now serving a sentence of hard labor.

Mr Ismael Solorio Urrutia, the leader of a farmer’s organisation opposing a mining project, and his wife Manuela Martha Solis Contreras who were assassinated on October 22 in Mexico

Mr José Tavico Tzunun, a leader of the indigenous K’iche people opposing megaprojects who was shot dead in his home on June 12 in Guatemala.

Mr Aminul Haque Islam, a 41 year old labour activist from Bangladesh, was assassinated in April after being abducted and severely tortured.

Thai conservation activist Mr Thongnak Sawekchinda,who was shot dead in July 2011.

These men, women and children were killed or jailed because they were trying to stop human rights abuses linked to business activities. In most of the murder cases which took place since the adoption of the Guiding Principles, no one has been convicted for the crimes.

Instead, criminalization and repression of those who seek to address the ill effects of business activities is continuing and seems to be increasing in some areas. Access to justice for those affected has not improved.

It is imperative that this trend of repression be addressed, denounced and halt through this important Forum.

Although the right to an effective remedy for victims is embodied in the UN Guiding Principles, access to justice has not been prioritized. In too many of the situations I have described, those responsible have not been brought to account. Prevailing impunity makes it easier for business entities to forget their responsibility to respect human rights as embedded in Pillar 2.

Company-based grievance mechanisms may be useful for preventing harm and facilitating resolution of minor problems, however, they can in no way replace State-based mechanisms in cases involving egregious violations.

Of course, the best solution for a victim is to have access to an independent court where he/she lives. However, too often, the judicial system where the harm occurs is weak or unable to provide for an effective remedy. This is why we also need to remind home states of multinational companies of their duty to protect and insist that they provide effective avenues to remedy in cases where host states lack the capacity or will to do so.

The UN Working group could explore and recommend how home States, as part of their duty to protect, could facilitate access to justice for victims of human rights abuses in third countries involving corporations under their jurisdiction.

It is a welcome development that implementation of the UN Guiding Principles has become an issue for discussion at national, regional and international levels. However, it is imperative that talk translates to reforms that effectively render corporations accountable and ensure access to justice and reparation for those negatively affected by business activities.

So, before I end, let’s also not forget:

The 34 miners who were killed in South Africa last August in one of the worst shootings since the end of apartheid. And the 2 miners who were shot dead during a wage protest months later, on Oct 31, also in South Africa.

The five villagers who were shot dead last August in Guinea while protesting employment practices of a mining company.

The 450 workers killed in garment factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan in recent months. Incidentally that is half the number of the people in this room

The workers at an electronics factory in China who were pushed to suicide by harsh conditions.

The people I have recalled to you are dead but their voices must still be heard at this important Forum.

Thank you."

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