A cornerstone in due diligence policies: The voice of human rights defenders

Panachai Chanta, Coordinator of the Centre on Health Security and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, participating in an HRD training programme organized by UN Human Rights in Thailand. © OHCHR/Todd Pitman

Just weeks after completing a two-week human rights training programme that was organized by UN Human Rights, in Bangkok, Panachai Chanta was employing the skills he had learned and making a concrete impact on the ground. Returning to the northern province of Mae Hong Son, where the local farming community was trying to halt a development project, Panachai led talks with local authorities to stop construction, which was allegedly planned without the consent of the community or any form of public hearing.

“The knowledge that I gained from the Human Rights Defenders School helped me to constructively negotiate with them,” he said. “I told local officials that indigenous peoples have the right to lands and territories that they have traditionally owned and occupied, according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by Thailand and 142 other Member States. I also cited the relevant Cabinet’s resolution on this issue.” Following these negotiations, all parties agreed to halt the project.

UN Human Rights first launched this training programme in 2014. Since then, the Office has equipped over 100 Thai human rights professionals and activists with skills and knowledge that can strengthen their work. 

In order to pursue this objective across the region, UN Human Rights and the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises organized the first UN Pacific Forum on Business and Human Rights. Held in a hybrid format in Suva, in December, the Forum featured sessions on various issues, including climate change and climate justice, the extractive industries, pollution, modern slavery, corruption, HRDs, entrepreneurship and the SDGs. Central to the discussion was a strong recommendation that companies consistently undertake human rights due diligence and consult with HRDs before initiating business activities.

“Human rights and human rights defenders need to be a priority for both States and businesses,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders during the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, held in November. To this end, she urged companies that are launching projects to engage with potentially affected communities and HRDs at the earliest possible stage and called on States to collaborate with HRDs during legislative processes. 

“[Companies] have to keep the door open, even if objections of the defenders might render a project more costly, less profitable or even unviable. Free, prior and informed consent by the community is a must,” she emphasized.

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