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Joint Civil Society Statement to the 17th Session of the Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises

(New York) - This is a key moment, at the conclusion of a six-year mandate on business and human rights, for the Council to recommit to its goal of advancing the protection of human rights in relation to business activity. As it considers the final report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Prof. John Ruggie, the Council should take note of the progress achieved under his mandate but it also must recognize that much important work remains to be done to adequately protect individuals from abusive practices, hold those responsible for abuses to account and provide effective remedies to victims. We urge the Council to establish a robust follow-on mechanism to build on and complement the SRSG's efforts in this area and in order to ensure that major gaps in protection are addressed.

In a written statement submitted to the Council on May 16, 2011, our six organizations called for a follow-on special procedure with the ability to perform key functions. That statement has subsequently been endorsed by 49 additional organizations from around the world.

In the brief time allowed, we would like to highlight three priority recommendations.

First, we consider that the Council should base its continued engagement on this topic on the "Protect, Respect, Remedy" framework put forward by the SRSG and adopted by the Council in 2008. In his final report, the SRSG proposes a series of "Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN ‘Protect, Respect, Remedy' Framework." The proposed Guiding Principles provide some useful indication of how states and companies can begin to apply the UN Framework. However they do not adequately reflect or address some core issues, including extraterritorial obligations and responsibilities, the need for more effective regulation, the right to remedy and the need for accountability, in a manner fully consistent with international human rights standards. Thus the Guiding Principles alone cannot serve as an overarching set of standards to address the full range of business and human rights issues. We therefore urge that the follow-on mandate assess implementation of the Framework as a whole, with reference to the proposed Guiding Principles where relevant but also to wider standards, and issue recommendations accordingly.  

Second, we firmly believe that that the Council should assess how the Framework and Guiding Principles are applied in practice, with regard to actual situations and cases, in order to identify relevant issues, inform future action and take into consideration the perspectives and experiences of victims of human rights abuse. The SRSG mandate lacked the standard function of other UN Special Procedures to receive information relating to specific-instances and conduct country visits. The next mandate should remedy this by including an explicit remit to seek and receive information concerning alleged business-related human rights abuses, as well as actual law, policy and practices.

Third, we urge that the Council begin now to explore how it can address major gaps and inconsistencies in legal protection, including but not limited to those related to gross human rights abuse. The SRSG himself has recognized that a multilateral legal instrument on business and human rights may be required to provide greater clarity and enhance protections. We urge the Council to clearly indicate its openness to a future intergovernmental standard-setting process by requesting an analysis of options, for example through a consultative and comprehensive report, in the resolution to be adopted.

In view of the issues remaining to be addressed, the importance of strong expertise in international human rights law, among other qualifications, will be critical to the follow-on mechanism.

We would like to end by thanking the SRSG for his commitment to addressing business and human rights issues and for the progress achieved during his tenure. We look forward to the opportunity to engage with a successor mandate to build on and complement his substantial work.

Amnesty International

ESCR-Net, The International Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

FIDH, International Federation for Human Rights

RAID, Rights and Accountability in Development

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