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TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun14/04)
26 June 2014
Third World Network  

EU aims to scuttle treaty on human rights abuses
 
New York, 24 Jun (IPS/Thalif Deen) -- When the United Nations began negotiating a Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations (TNCs) back in the 1970s, the proposal never got off the ground because of vigorous opposition both from the powerful business community and its Western allies.
 
But a move to resurrect this proposal - through the creation of a new international legally-binding treaty to hold TNCs accountable for human rights abuses - has been gathering momentum at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, which concludes Friday.
 
Still, it has triggered the same political replay of the 1970s: strong opposition from business interests and Western nations, this time specifically the 28-member European Union (EU).
 
Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum Europe, told IPS there is a heated debate in the UNHRC about establishing an intergovernmental working group to negotiate the proposed legally binding instrument on TNCs.
 
"So, the current discussion is not about the substance of a code of conduct or treaty but on the process," he added.
 
There are currently two draft resolutions tabled at the UNHRC session in Geneva: one sponsored by Ecuador and South Africa asking the UNHRC to establish an intergovernmental working group: a proposal supported by developing nations of the Group of 77 (G77) and a coalition of more than 500 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
 
A second draft resolution, sponsored by Norway, Russia, Argentina and Ghana, supports the existing working group on business and human rights and asks for extending its mandate by another three years: a draft also supported, among others, by the United States and the EU.
 
Martens, who co-authored a recent study on "Corporate Influence on the Business and Human Rights Agenda of the United Nations," said "corporate actors have been extremely successful in implementing public relations strategies that have helped to present business enterprises as good corporate citizens."
 
He said they have also given the impression of "seeking dialogue with governments, the United Nations and decent concerned stakeholders, and able to implement environment, social and human rights standards through voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives."
 
Martens said the UN's much-ballyhooed Global Compact and the UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights became prime examples of an allegedly pragmatic approach based on consensus, dialogue and partnership with the corporate sector in contrast to regulatory approaches to hold corporations accountable.
 
Alberto Villarreal, trade and investment campaigner at Friends of the Earth Uruguay, told IPS that by recognising environmental activism in all its expressions as a legitimate defence of human rights, "we can contribute to the struggle of environmental rights defenders and keep them safe."
 
The London-based Global Exchange, an international human rights organisation, has put out a list of the "top 10 corporate criminals", accusing them of being complicit in violations of human rights and the environment.
 
The companies identified include Shell/Royal Dutch Petroleum, Nike, Blackwater International, Syngenta, Barrick Gold and Nestle.
 
The charges include unlivable working conditions for factory workers, lack of worker's rights, pollution, child labour, toxic dumping, unfair labour practices, discrimination, and destruction of indigenous lands for mining and oil exploration.
 
Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said many countries support tabling a resolution for a binding treaty, but the EU has warned that if it gets adopted it will refuse to discuss it.
 
"The EU is therefore effectively boycotting the UNHRC and standing up for corporate interests instead of human rights," she added.
 
Asked if there would be a decision at the current UNHRC session, Schaik told IPS, "We are unsure if this issue will be resolved on Friday."
 
She said the EU's "very obstructive approach" means it will not participate in the intergovernmental process of creating a treaty if the resolution is in fact adopted, "thereby effectively undermining the democratic decision- making process at the United Nations."
 
Schaik said the Norwegian resolution states that there should be a discussion on the issue of access to remedy, judicial and non-judicial, for victims of business-related human rights abuses on the agenda of the Forum of Businesses and Human Rights.
 
Effectively that means that at this week's session, there will be a discussion, but there are no consequences or follow-up plans for what happens after that, she added.
 
Schaik said Ecuador proposes to "establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights."
 
This means there will be a new instrument which will state obligations for transnational companies, which is obviously much more far reaching than a discussion at a forum at the United Nations, she said.
 
The study on the human rights treaty, co-authored by Martens, focuses specifically on the responses by TNCs and their leading interest groups to the various UN initiatives, specifies the key actors and their objectives. It also highlights the interplay between business demands and the evolution of the regulatory debates at the United Nations.
 
The study provides an indication of the degree of influence that corporate actors exert and their ability, in cooperation with some powerful UN member states, to prevent international binding rules for TNCs at the United Nations.
 
Meanwhile, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has urged the UNHRC to promote the adoption of clear and binding rules on online surveillance and censorship. "Businesses sell technology to authoritarian regimes that allows them to carry out large-scale online surveillance of their population," the group said.
 
In a statement released this week, the Paris-based organisation said this technology has been, and still is, used in Libya, Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia to arrest, imprison and torture. The companies that provide this technology cannot claim to be unaware of this, it added. +
 
Chile: Vows to dispel lingering shadow of dictatorship
 
Santiago, 24 Jun (IPS/Marianela Jarroud) -- Chile has made a commitment to the international community to improve human rights in the country and erase the lingering shadow of the dictatorship on civil liberties.
 
Making progress on women's sexual and reproductive rights, reforming the controversial anti-terrorism law, guaranteeing the human rights of indigenous peoples and universal access to education and health are among the promises Chile made to the United Nations in June.
 
"We see that Chile is constantly taking steps toward the fulfilment of its obligations," Amerigo Incalcaterra, the regional representative for South America of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IPS.
 
On June 19, the country underwent its Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism overseen by the UN Human Rights Council, for the second time in 2014. At its appearance before the Council in Geneva, Switzerland, the Chilean government formally accepted 180 of the 185 recommendations made by the 84 member states, and turned down five.
 
Chile is one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, and is one of just six nations in the world where abortion is banned under any circumstances. Divorce was only approved in 2004, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) community is still fighting for legal recognition of same-sex couples.
 
Education and health are deeply stratified, generating a spiral of inequality that this country of over 17 million people is clamouring to see reversed.
 
Native peoples like the Mapuche lack constitutional recognition in Chile and have engaged in confrontation with the authorities and powers-that-be for decades, seeking restitution of ancestral lands that were taken from them.
 
The Human Rights Council's recommendations were addressed earlier this year by the right-wing government of President Sebastian Pinera (2010-2014), only weeks before he left office in March. Pinera accepted 142 recommendations, rejected 13 and "took note of" another 30, which he said he could not commit to fulfilling because they depended on securing congressional approval.
 
"‘Taking note of' these recommendations was a new departure in international law because recommendations must be accepted or rejected," Paula Salvo, principal lawyer for the National Human Rights Institute (INDH) which took part in the session in Geneva, told IPS.
 
On May 30, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet sent a written "correction" to the earlier report, in which she accepted 180 recommendations and rejected five.
 
Among the five not accepted were two from the Vatican, on the rights of the human person from conception and the protection of traditional family identity, and another on Bolivia's right to an outlet to the Pacific ocean.
 
According to Incalcaterra, Bachelet viewed many of the recommendations rejected by her predecessor as a part of her government programme, including the decriminalisation of therapeutic abortions in the case of foetal in-viability, danger to the life of the mother and rape.
 
A bill to allow termination of pregnancy in these cases will be debated in parliament in the second half of this year.
 
Incalcaterra, whose regional headquarters are in Santiago, said that the UN recognises that abortion is "a complex, health-related issue", while the Human Rights Council asks states to legislate for "at least these three cases" of abortion.
 
As well as legalising therapeutic abortions, the government promised to reform other laws inherited from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, like the anti-terrorism law, which is enforced virtually exclusively against alleged offences by Mapuche indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their traditional lands.
 
This law imposes high penalties, dual trials by civilian and military courts and "faceless" witnesses, among other anomalies. The government promised not to use the law against Mapuche people and to respect their human rights.
 
Another remnant of the dictatorship that still endures 24 years after the return of democracy is that any case involving military personnel, whether as victims or accused, can be tried in military courts. Under the promised reform, military personnel accused of common crimes will be tried in civilian courts and in future no civilian will ever be tried in a military court.
 
Hernando Silva, a researcher for Observatorio Ciudadano (Citizen Observatory), told IPS that his organisation is pleased that the state has accepted these recommendations, and is hoping that "they are implemented once and for all, and not just recognised."
 
"It is not the first time that Chile commits itself to legislate about military courts or the anti-terrorism law" without anything happening to bring it about, he said.
 
"Bachelet herself promised to stop enforcing the anti-terrorism law against the Mapuche people during her first term (2006-2010), but did not deliver," he added.
 
Silva stressed that "this time, she needs to fully live up to her human rights obligations."
 
Incalcaterra said that there is no legal compulsion to fulfil the Human Rights Council's recommendations, but he pointed out that "all work done at the international level is based on good faith."
 
"When you undergo this exercise, in dialogue with other states, and you agree to recognise the recommendations as appropriate, obviously you have to go back in four years' time and report on what you have done," he said.
 
The goal of the Universal Periodic Review, he said, is to promote the human rights of all people living in a country.
 
"We should see it as additional support to help states to establish public policies, improve their legislation where necessary, create institutions if they are lacking, devote resources, collect statistics and analyse them, organise campaigns, etcetera," he said.
 
Chile's fulfilment of its commitments will be reviewed in four years' time. The INDH has a role as the state supervisory institution and in its view there are urgent needs, such as the ratification of certain international human rights treaties.
 
A government human rights agency, a national plan and more human rights education are also needed. For the many victims of the dictatorship who have not received reparations, the INDH believes a permanent assessment agency should be established for pending cases, and legal and social advice should be made available to torture victims.
 
INDH lawyer Salvo told IPS that "the government must create a permanent review mechanism for the UN recommendations," because from now on "the challenge is internal."

 


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