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Human Rights Defenders & Civic Freedoms

HRDs’ work is essential to the business and human rights movement because of their critical importance for ensuring corporate responsibility and accountability. Yet, attacks on them are growing. This hub brings together news on these advocates and communities - specifically on land, environmental and labour defenders, guidance for companies and investors, and supportive business actions. It also links to our database of attacks and interview series.

We all have the right and the responsibility to promote human rights and to safeguard democracy and its institutions. Human rights defenders are those of us that actively do so. Around the world, civic freedoms and human rights defenders (HRDs) are increasingly under attack and the environment in which civil society can operate freely is narrowing. This phenomenon is taking place not just in countries that are led by repressive or autocratic governments, but also in established democracies. In particular, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of information, and the right to privacy, are under increasing attack. Both companies and defenders have a shared interest in the full respect of civic freedoms, characterised by non-discrimination, transparent and accountable government, and freedom from corruption.

Prioritisation of business interests over interests of communities and workers is one of the key challenges faced by defenders. HRDs who confront business interests – be it human rights lawyers, labour activists and unionists, land and environmental defenders, anti-corruption activists or human rights journalists – are among those defenders most at risk. They are key agents of change, and they contribute greatly to safeguarding human rights and ensuring corporate responsibility. This portal collects the latest news on struggles and victories of these defenders, public company actions and policies in support of defenders and civic freedoms, guidance for companies and investors, and developments related to the two most targeted groups - labour rights defenders and land and environmental defenders. It also links to our database of attacks and our interview series, where defenders share their strategies, victories, and recommendations and business representatives share their perspectives on protecting civic freedoms and human rights.

The responsibility of businesses to respect human rights not only entails a negative duty to refrain from violating the rights of others, but also a positive obligation to support a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in the countries in which they are operating. Discharging this duty requires consultation with defenders in order to understand the issues at stake and the shortcomings that impede their work.
Mr Michel Forst, former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

Featured stories & campaigns

Saudi Arabia: Supporters of detained women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathoul call for Dakar Rally boycott

Human rights activists and supports of detained women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathoul called for a boycott of the Saudi Arabia hosted Dakar Rally. The event, during which racers will pass close by the prison where al-Hathoul is held, has been accused of "sportswashing" -allowing Saudi Arabia to host a major sporting event to detract from its human rights record.

Sir Henry Brooke Awards for Human Rights Defenders 2020 assigned to Dina Meza and Reinaldo Villalba Vargas

The winners of the 2020 Sir Henry Brooke Awards are Dina Meza, a Honduran journalist who exposes human rights, environmental and labour abuses, and Reinaldo Villalba Vargas from the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective (CCAJAR), which provides legal representation to environmental defenders and promotes agrarian, water and energy justice in Colombia. As a result of their work, they face harassment and intimidation on a daily basis.

Colombia: Indigenous Guard of Cauca wins the 2020 Front Line Defenders Americas Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk

The Guardia Indígena de Cauca - Kiwe Thegnas (Indigenous Guard of Cauca - Defenders of Life and Territory) has been named as the 2020 Americas Regional Winner of the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. Indigenous communities in Colombia face multiple forms of violence resulting from the presence of armed actors, the drug trafficking economy and multinational exploitation.

Explore further: Database of attacks on HRDs & HRDs Interview series

The Resource Centre collects data on attacks on defenders that are targeted because they raise concerns about business sectors and operations. Collecting data about attacks on defenders is important in order to analyse patterns of violence, identify at-risk business sectors and geographic areas, and provide support to targeted individuals and groups.