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Honduras Government and businesses must ensure protection of rights of people affected by development projects, say UN experts

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GENEVA (29 August 2019) – The Government of Honduras must act now to address the root causes of social conflict and profound distrust in the ability of State institutions to promote a fair and inclusive economy, a team of UN human rights experts* has concluded after a 10-day visit.

All people affected by development projects must have their rights fully respected and protected by the Government and businesses to avoid conflict, said the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

“The majority of conflicts related to large-scale investments results from the systematic lack of transparency and meaningful participation of affected communities in any decisions regarding business activity,” said one of the Working Group members, Anita Ramasastry, presenting a statement of preliminary findings at the end of the visit.

“The right of affected individuals and communities to participate meaningfully in decision making from an early stage is a basic requirement for creating an enabling environment for responsible business conduct. State and companies should realise that listening to all voices helps identify, mitigate and address grievances before they escalate into conflict,” she said.

The experts welcomed the commitment by the Government to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as a critical element for sustainable development. As part of this commitment the experts said there was a need for immediate and profound institutional and legal reforms.

“It is urgent for the Honduran Congress to develop a law on free, prior and informed consent and consultation for indigenous peoples and other communities in line with international standards. The practice of ‘socialisation’ of projects is not equal to meaningful consultation,” said Ms. Ramasastry.

The experts pointed out that identifying and addressing potential and actual harm to people arising from business operations was at the heart of the concept of human rights’ due diligence, set out in the UNGPs. This global standard for government and business action to prevent and address harm to communities and workers clarifies that companies have an independent responsibility to respect human rights even in the context of weak institutions.

“In countries where the ability or willingness of State institutions to protect people from negative impacts of investments and business operations is limited, businesses need to act with extra care and exercise corresponding due diligence to ensure that they do not cause, contribute to or become linked to human rights abuse,” said the other member of the visiting UN team, Dante Pesce.

“Too often companies and investors benefit from corruption and neglect their responsibility to respect human rights. We are encouraged to hear from some business associations a genuine will to shift this approach and improve corporate respect for human rights, understanding that respect for human rights is also good for business. We support such an approach that can inspire members to follow,” Pesce said.

The experts expressed deep concern about the risks faced by environmental and indigenous rights defenders. “The State must act now to put an end to recurring attacks, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, union leaders, indigenous peoples and community representatives who speak out against business-related human rights abuse and large-scale development projects,” the experts said.

There should be immediate action to repeal the provisions in the new draft Criminal Code designed to criminalise dissent and silence those who stand up for the victims of abuse, while reducing penalties for fraud and corruption, they said.

It was also essential to ensure the independence of the judicial system in order to strengthen accountability and access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses by businesses, they said.

The Working Group members echoed the call by another UN expert, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, urging the renewal of the current mandate of the Mission of Support against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) when it expires in January 2020, and the strengthening of its functions and mandate.

The Working Group’s final report, including findings and key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020.

ENDS

(*) The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Mr. Surya Deva, Ms Elżbieta Karska (Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms Anita Ramasastry.

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent human rights monitoring mechanisms. The Working Group reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. The experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, unanimously endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 (resolution 17/4), provide the authoritative global standard for action to safeguard human rights in a business context, clarifying what is expected by governments and companies to prevent and address impacts on human rights arising from business activity.

UN Human Rights, country page –Honduras

For additional information and media requests please contact the Working Group Secretariat:
In Honduras (during the dates of the visit): Ms Federica Morvay, Human Rights Officer, Secretariat of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, tel. (+ 504 9441 2860; email wg-business@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Secretariat of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights: (+41 22 928 8863 email wg-business@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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