This guest post, written by my colleague Vani Sathisan, summarises her presentation for the ICJ on Myanmar at the Business and Human Rights Forum in Geneva this December.
At the Business & Human Rights Forum on 2 December 2014, I presented in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on behalf of the ICJ on the State’s role in creating an accountable marketplace. (Vani Sathisan Analysis of International Law and Burma). This panel was part of the UN’s “thematic track on strengthening public policy on business and human rights through national action plans and other measures.” John Morrison from the Institute of Human Rights & Business moderated the panel and other speakers included:
– Alexandra Guáqueta, UN Working Group (Commentator)
– Edgardo Riveros, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ministry of Chile
– Karen J. Hanrahan Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, US Department of State
– Sun Lihui, Director of the Liason Department of China Chamber of Commerce of Metals Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters
– Viviane Schiavi, International Chamber of Commerce.
My statement discussed the State duty to protect human rights and provide access to remedies; the need for greater cooperation between businesses and local communities; and possibilities for home governments to cooperate on business and human rights issues.
The State duty to protect, respect and fulfill human rights is one that is already grounded in international human rights law. Accordingly, the State must adopt and enforce laws – including policies, legislation, and regulations – that are preventative and remedial, and protects the economic, social and cultural rights, the environment and regulates the conduct of business actors. I shared ICJ’s observations from Myanmar and emphasized that without proper investment, land and environmental laws, as well as an effective judiciary to enforce these laws and provide appropriate judicial remedies, development projects risk being counterproductive for sustainable development and the protection of human rights in Myanmar.
What Myanmar needs is a useful legal and institutional framework for organizing and analyzing the obligations that already exist in human rights law.
I discussed some local case studies to underscore the fact that States must not derogate their duty to protect human rights to investors in the name of CSR, and that the government must ensure there is a legal framework for environmental impact assessments, particularly human rights impact assessments, in line with international standards before investment permits are approved.
I noted that despite positive efforts by some Chinese investors in Burma, for example, to increasingly consult with local communities and conduct due diligence, it is still difficult for civil society groups to even schedule meetings with them. Despite recent guidelines by the China Chamber of Commerce for Minerals, Metals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, formally introducing standards for subjects like labour rights, environmental protection and community relations, corporate-related human rights abuse continue to occur in the country. For example, the ESIA commissioned by Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited has critical gaps. More than two years since police forces used incendiary weapons against monks and villagers peacefully protesting the mining project, no one has been held accountable (How the International Community can help Myanmar). In fact, just last month, a woman protestor in Letpadaung was fatally shot in the head and it is unclear whether the police or the mining company’s security personnel shot her.
Evidently, the approval of investments without requisite legal safeguards and enforcement mechanisms has undesirable effects for the country. On the other hand, well-regulated investment may be harnessed to help realise the rights of the people. Regional and global stakeholders must also support this rights-compliant investment culture.
The panel generated much discussion after, which was a great opportunity to debate the extremely important and interesting issues raised by the various panelists.
You can view this panel discussion on the UN’s Web TV here:
For more information on my statement and ICJ’s participation at the Forum, please see:
Vani Sathisan, International Legal Advisor, ICJ Myanmar.