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The Role of National Human Rights Institutions to Protect Human Rights Defenders

09.00 – 10.30 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 2 June 2021

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Organised by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)




Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) play a critical role in acting on behalf of victims of human rights violations, advocating for redress and accountability of government and business actors involved in human rights abuses. However, HRDs are also victims of increasingly frequent attacks and acts of intimidation as a result of their work across the region, while simultaneously facing a deterioration of the civic space and rule of law in many national settings, inhibiting their capacity to work effectively and in safety.  National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) occupy a unique position as an interface between civil society, government, the private sector, and the international community. They are independent institutions of the State that are mandated to promote and protect human rights through a range of activities, including human rights advocacy, education and awareness raising, monitoring compliance with international human rights standards, conducting inquiries, and investigating individual human rights violations, among other functions. 

Private sector actors are often participants in violations against HRDs in the Asia Pacific, which take place in various forms, including through outsourced private security firms that intimidate defenders advocating against destructive local development; the exploitation of migrant workers in high-risk industries, such as garment manufacturing, resource extraction, and fisheries; or judicial harassment of HRDs through funded legal action to prevent defenders from speaking out against violations.  Despite these violations, business can and has at times played a positive role to mitigate the risk of violations through the adoption of responsible practices in different parts of their operations.  

NHRIs perform an essential protection function in responding to violations and advocating on behalf of victims and affected communities, but they can also work proactively with governments and the business community to encourage the adoption of ,legistrations, policies and measures to monitor and prevent violations. 

Session Description

The session will introduce the Asia Pacific Forum on NHRIs’ (APF) Regional Action Plan on HRDs, which sets an agenda to strengthen the rights of HRDs across the region and includes a focus on business and human rights. Two NHRIs from the Asia Pacific region will present case studies on how they are working to promote and protect the rights of HRDs in the context of violations committed by the private sector.  The session will also engage members of civil society, to discuss examples of violations against HRDs, and representatives from the business community, to consider how responsible business practice can promote the rights of HRDs by working with NHRIs.

Session Objectives

  • Introduce regional initiatives that support NHRIs to protect human rights defenders against violations by private sector actors.

  • Spotlight some trends, examples of violations against HRDs which have involved the private sector in the Asia-Pacific Region.

  • Highlight case studies on NHRI engagement with government and the private sector that promote the rights of HRDs.

  • Discuss how the business community can develop mechanisms to protect the rights of HRDs and work collaboratively with NHRIs to achieve this objective.




Panellists will consider the following questions, as well as others that may arise from the audience:

  • How does the global business and human rights agenda address the rights of HRDs and the role of NHRIs?

  • How can NHRIs work to protect and promote the rights of HRDs in the context of private sector violations?

  • How the business work collaboratively with NHRIs to promote and protect the rights of HRDs?

For questions, please contact unrbhrforum@undp.org