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Day 3  |  22 September


Leveraging a Human Rights-Based Approach to Infrastructure Development in Southeast Asia

13:30-14:45 ICT


Southeast Asia has been witnessing a surge in large-scale infrastructure development, including hydropower dams, power plants, reclamation projects, roads, and bridges. The Asia Development Bank (ADB) reported in its 2017 report that Asia will need to invest $26 trillion from 2016 to 2030, or $1.7 trillion per year, in transport, power, telecommunications, and water supply and sanitation if the region were to maintain its economic growth and eradicate poverty. But rather than catalysing development by offering new socio-economic opportunities, infrastructure development in Southeast Asia can—and often has—resulted in significant adverse impacts on human rights and environmental sustainability. A number of challenges continue to hinder the equitable distribution of benefits from infrastructure projects. These include the lack of equal and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders, particularly groups at heightened risk of business-related human rights abuses such as indigenous peoples, women, and persons with disabilities; the lack of transparency and accountability in development-related decision-making that affects communities and the environment; the failure to meet social, environmental and governance standards; and attacks against environmental and human rights defenders. 

This session will examine the diverse pathways that have proved either successful or unsuccessful in reconciling infrastructure development with the protection of human rights in Southeast Asia, as well as the role that different stakeholder groups have in this regard. In the roadmap for the next decade of business and human rights that the Working Group presented to the HRC in 2022 (A/HRC/50/40/Add.3), the Working Group identified enhancing collective action to tackle systemic challenges as a key goal. Accordingly, the Working Group highlighted the essential role of alliances between States and between businesses, as well as multi-stakeholder alliances, which develop collective action founded on business respect for human rights, accountability and meaningful stakeholder engagement to build trust and mobilize effective action. 

Panelists will discuss the challenges, good practices, and lessons learnt in preventing and tackling business-related human rights abuses in the region’s infrastructure sector. They will also reflect on how to ensure access to remedy and the ways in which existing regulatory frameworks could be reformed, in order to address implementation gaps and work towards a human rights-based approach to infrastructure development in Southeast Asia.


The key objectives of this session are to: 

  • Raise awareness of the human rights challenges faced by rights-holders affected by infrastructure development projects across Southeast Asia.

  • Examine the potential gains from integrating human rights and environmental considerations in all stages of infrastructure development and the costs of failing to do so by drawing on the lived experiences of different stakeholders in Southeast Asia.

  • Share knowledge and good practices in promoting a human rights-based approach to infrastructure development, including in relation to critical aspects such as meaningful stakeholder engagement with affected communities as well as preventing and addressing risks to environmentalists, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders and providing for or cooperating in the remediation of adverse impacts by businesses and state-owned enterprises (SOE).

  • Enhance understanding of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other relevant business and human rights standards. 

  • Build an understanding of the national, regional and international mechanisms available to affected stakeholders to prevent and address infrastructure-related human rights abuses.

  • Analyze how different stakeholders can work together to implement the roadmap for the next decade of business and human rights, as presented by the Working Group to the HRC in 2022 (A/HRC/50/40/Add.3).



Guiding Questions

Panelists will reflect on the following questions: 

  • What are the benefits of integrating human rights and environmental considerations in infrastructure projects? What are the costs associated with failing to do so?

  • What does a human rights-based approach to infrastructure development look like in practice?

  • What tools can governments, businesses and communities leverage to support a human rights-based approach to infrastructure development and prevent business-related human rights abuses? 

  • How can rights-holders’ access to remedy be improved in the infrastructure sector? 

  • What are the pathways to building the political will necessary for addressing the regulatory and policy gaps in the financing, design and construction of infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia?


Background Documents

  1. Tenth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: a roadmap for the next decade of business and human rights – raising the ambition, increasing the pace

  2. The Other Infrastructure Gap: Sustainability – Human Rights and Environmental Perspectives

Day1 programme
Image by Fons Heijnsbroek
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