APNED and CEC at the 4th United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, Asia-Pacific.
Asia Pacific Network for Environmental Defenders (APNED) and Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines Inc. (CEC) participated in the 4th United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, Asia-Pacific, last September 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand, with the theme: Harnessing Levers of Change. The event discussed the mechanisms that have worked in promoting business respect for human rights and the environment and the gaps and room for improvement to accelerate progress in this domain.
Session 1: Turning Stones to Diamonds: Pressure points to facilitate access to remedy
In the first session, CEC spoke about the various pressure points (measures likely to trigger actions from business decision-makers) implemented by environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs) against projects that disregard due diligence processes. The organisation cited three cases in the Philippines to illustrate this: The Jalaur River Multipurpose Project in Iloilo, The Agno River Integrated Irrigation Project in Pangasinan Province and The Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon and Rizal Province.
In their findings, local indigenous communities in the affected areas were killed and arrested for opposing the projects and are at risk of being displaced and losing their livelihood. In addition, there was a lack of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) for the indigenous communities at the onset of these projects.
To encourage decision-makers to take action and increase awareness of the situation, the community and local and international organizations utilized barricades, protests, solidarity missions and direct dialogue with leading project proponents. However, despite these measures, the projects are still underway despite the numerous human rights violations and ecological impacts.
At the end of the discussion, CEC called for urgent attention to the business and human rights situation in the Philippines. Furthermore, she encouraged more action in support of environmental human rights defenders.
Session 3: Environmental Defenders as Levers of Change: Supporting Climate Action and Responsible Business Practices.
In this session, APNED shared the key takeaways, trends and recommendations from the 1st Asia-Pacific Environmental Human Rights Defender Forum last November 2021, which 73 organizations attended.
The organization found that resource conflict, development aggression, and repression were the prominent trends shaping the challenges of EHRDs in the Asia-Pacific. Businesses and governments use the pretence of national development to initiate projects that harm the environment and negatively impact communities’ ways of life.
The weak implementation of policies and guiding principles in business and human rights was one of the critical issues observed in the region. The organization also highlighted that the current framework of businesses and government projects is mainly profit-oriented and not for genuine sustainable development. Environmental defenders who oppose these are tagged as anti-development, enemies of the state and terrorists and are subjected to threats and attacks.
At the end of the discussion, the Asia-Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders called for these recommendations to support EHRDs:
1. For a greater appreciation of EHRDs:
- Increase knowledge and awareness of their situation;
- Counter negative perceptions about environmental defenders.
2. Support for EHRDs:
- Increase capacity development of knowledge and skills;
- Help in connecting with networks;
- Provide financial support.
3. Regarding knowledge and awareness of human rights standards, treaties and mechanisms:
- Increase the knowledge from the local to the international level;
- Government-initiated education programs with support from civil society and international organizations.
4. Regarding protection, access rights and public participation:
- Improve and strengthen current policies;
- (For countries lacking) Legislate at the local the international level;
- Create a regional and legally binding policy similar to the Escazu agreement of Latin America.
5. Regarding business and human rights guiding principles and due diligence:
- UN and governments must ensure its implementation;
- Ensure an inclusive process in developing National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights.
6. Strengthen relationships among national to international institutions.
7. Strengthen solidarity, coordination and collaboration of environmental defenders.
Upon presenting these key findings and recommendations, we hope that this will encourage businesses and governments to reconsider their position and policies regarding the impacts of their projects and how they treat EHRDs. The need for responsible business practice, climate action and a just transition to sustainability is now.