Tuesday, November 30 • 2:00pm - 3:15pm
Increasing the protection of human rights in the face of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation

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Session organized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, in collaboration with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Front Line Defenders, OECD Watch, SOMO, Institute for Human Rights and Business, Publish What You Pay, Swedwatch and the Zero Tolerance Initiative.

Interpretation in English, French, and Spanish

Brief description of the session
Every day across the globe, people bravely speak out against injustice, often at great personal risk. Human rights defenders are at the forefront of promoting and protecting our human rights, natural resources, and shared planet, as well as playing a vital role in drawing attention to the harms created by abusive business practices and monitoring companies’ compliance with business and human rights standards. Human rights defenders are not anti-development, but they are often painted as such and face a range of attacks for merely speaking up against business-related human rights harms, especially in jurisdictions where the rule of law is weak and respect for human rights is lacking.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are one type of attack against human rights defenders. These are civil or criminal lawsuits brought, or initiated, by business actors that divert time, energy, and resources away from human rights defenders’ vital work and infringe upon a range of human rights, including the freedom of expression and of assembly and association. Recent research by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre shows that SLAPPs are a global problem; the analysis identified 355 cases that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs brought or initiated by business actors since 2015. According to this research, the highest number of SLAPPs took place in Latin America (39%), followed by Asia and the Pacific (25%), Europe & Central Asia (18%), Africa (8.5%), and North America (9%). Also, 63% of cases involved criminal charges. Most individuals and groups facing SLAPPs (65% of cases) raised concerns about projects in four sectors: mining (108), agriculture and livestock (76), logging and lumber (29), and palm oil (20).

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights and to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights risks to human rights defenders. Each of these actors has a critical responsibility in stopping the use of SLAPPs to silence and intimidate. In June 2021, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights released the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Guidance on Ensuring Respect for Human Rights Defenders (A/HRC/47/39/Add.2) which included recommendations to States and businesses to address the problem of SLAPPs.

This session will present the global trend of SLAPPs including an overview of the problem in terms of the defenders most affected, the business sectors most commonly involved, the types of proceedings brought, and the common charges. The audience will also hear from defenders being targeted by SLAPPs, as well as find out about the promising initiatives from States and business enterprises to address this growing and urgent issue. The speakers will explore actions that States, and businesses need to take to mitigate and eliminate the use of SLAPPs against human rights defenders.

Objective of the session:
Increase awareness of the scope and nature of SLAPPs globally, the associated human rights harms, and actions that States and business enterprises need to take under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to mitigate this global problem. The session aims to provide an overview of the seriousness of the phenomenon, the negative consequences for the rule of law and democratic order, as well as provide recommendations to States and businesses on best practices for mitigation and redress.

Format of the session:
The session will start with an introduction by Anita Ramasastry, member of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, including the announcement of the recipient of the 2021 Human Rights and Business Award, an annual award "for outstanding work by human rights defenders in the Global South or former Soviet Union addressing the human rights impacts of business in those regions". The recipient will briefly accept the award. Further information about the award and the 2021 recipient will be posted on the session webpage as the award is announced.
Anita Ramasastry will then briefly present the Working Group’s guidance, presented to the Human Rights Council in June. She will also outline the increasing use of legal measures to intimidate and criminalize defenders through SLAPPs, and the Working Group’s reflections on this scourge. She will focus on how the filing of SLAPPs is aimed at silencing human rights defenders’ critical voices, restricting their access to remedy, dampening the appetite of others to speak out, and restricting the freedoms of expression and of assembly and association. The session will then hear from a range of speakers with personal experience of SLAPPs, and different ways to address them.

Key questions:
  • What is the scope and nature of SLAPPs globally?
  • What are the associated human rights harms caused to human rights defenders by their use?
  • What are the positive steps taken by businesses to address such attacks against defenders?
  • What are the challenges that human rights defenders face when trying to defend themselves against SLAPPs?
  • What are different stakeholders doing to address the problem, such as national and regional bar associations, and regional organisations?

Background documents:

avatar for Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry

Special Repesentaitive to Chair on Combatting Corruption, OSCE
Anita Ramasastry is the Henry M Jackson Professor of Law and the Director of the Sustainable International Development Graduate program at the University of Washington. She researches in the fields of business and human rights, anti-corruption, law and sustainable development. From... Read More →

avatar for Emmanuel Umpula

Emmanuel Umpula

Directeur, AFREWATCH
M. Umpula Nkumba Emmanuel, est directeur et fondateur de Afrewatch (AFREWATCH), il est juriste et travaille depuis 2002 à la défense et la promotion des droits de l'homme en RDC et en Afrique sur les entreprises et les droits de l'homme. Pendant son parcours, il a occupé plusieurs... Read More →
avatar for Rebecca DeWinter Schmitt

Rebecca DeWinter Schmitt

Associate Program Director, Investor Alliance for Human Rights
Dr. Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt (she/her/hers) is the Associate Program Director of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, connecting institutional investors and their allies with the tools and strategies to promote human rights and responsible business conduct.Rebecca is an expert... Read More →
avatar for Lady Nancy Zuluaga

Lady Nancy Zuluaga

Coordinadora de proyectos e investigadora legal en el programa de Libertades Cívicas y Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos, Centro de Información sobre Empresas y Derechos Humanos
Tiene una maestría en Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos por la Universidad de Notre Dame y actualmente realiza un doctorado en Derecho en la Universidad de Buenos Aires y una trayectoria en litigio estratégico ante el Sistema Interamericano y ha sido investigadora y... Read More →
avatar for Sutharee Wannasiri

Sutharee Wannasiri

Communities Consultant, Asia, Accountability Counsel
Sutharee Wannasiri currently works as Communities Consultant, Asia with Accountability Counsel, supporting communities to access justice and remedies from environmental and social harms of development finances. She has extensive working experiences in research, public policy advocacy... Read More →
avatar for Mary Lawlor

Mary Lawlor

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
Ms. Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders since 1 May 2020. She was born and educated in Ireland and is an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights. She was the founder and director of Front Line Defenders (2001-2016) and Director of... Read More →
avatar for Leanne Govindsamy

Leanne Govindsamy

Attorney and Head of Programme, Centre for Environmental Rights
Leanne Govindsamy is a human rights lawyer working towards social and environmental justice. As head of the Corporate, Accountability and Transparency Programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights, she utilises legal advocacy and other tools to promote and protect constitutional... Read More →
avatar for Charlie Holt

Charlie Holt

Legal Counsel for campaigns, Greenpeace International
Charlie Holt works as legal counsel for campaigns at Greenpeace International, where he leads the organisation's SLAPP resilience strategy. Until 2019 his work focused on the US, where he worked on two aggressive large-scale SLAPPs targeting Greenpeace and helped set up the anti... Read More →

Tuesday November 30, 2021 2:00pm - 3:15pm CET
Virtual Plenary room