Our key takeaway: The inter-connections between human rights and climate are crystal clear in the new Human Rights Watch report released this week, that delves into the human rights situation in over 100 countries and territories. In the foreword by Tirana Hassan, Acting Executive Director, Tirana notes that “[t]ime and again, human rights prove to be a powerful lens through which to view the most existential threats we face, like climate change.” The report calls on governments “to regulate the industries whose business models are incompatible with protecting basic rights” and to “urgently work to implement a just transition to phase out fossil fuels and prevent agribusiness from continuing to raze the world’s forests.” The report acts also as a reminder of the strong multiplier role companies can play by standing for strong and open civic space (including freedoms of expression, information, association and assembly) and advocating for protection of frontline communities and environmental defenders.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its 33rd annual World Report (January 2023) (and full report here), summarising human rights conditions in over 100 countries and territories worldwide in 2022:
- Certain themes are nearly universal: The HRW report covers top human rights issues in each country, which are unique and context-specific. At the same time, some themes seem almost ubiquitous, affecting people in the majority of the 100 countries covered by HRW’s research. These include: rights violations against migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, all exacerbated by a spike in global conflict and humanitarian crises; impacts on women and girls; violations related to sexual orientation and gender identity; interlinkages between climate change, environment and human rights; threats and violence to frontline defenders, especially indigenous peoples and women; and serious crackdowns on civic space, civil rights and labour rights, like freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of association and freedom of assembly.
- A key role for business in supporting human rights in the context of climate change: The foreword by Tirana Hassan, Acting Executive Director, highlights a number of key takeaways. “Time and again, human rights prove to be a powerful lens through which to view the most existential threats we face, like climate change. From Pakistan to Nigeria to Australia, every corner of the world faces a nearly nonstop cycle of catastrophic weather events that will intensify because of climate change, alongside slow onset changes like sea-level rise.” “In simple terms, we are seeing the cost of government inaction, a continued assault by big polluters, and the toll on communities, with those already marginalized paying the highest price.” The foreword highlights the timeliness of the UN General Assembly’s 2022 recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and points to "a legal and moral imperative for government officials to regulate the industries whose business models are incompatible with protecting basic rights.” Further, “[t]o stave off the worst effects of climate change and confront the human rights toll at all stages of their operations, governments need to urgently work to implement a just transition to phase out fossil fuels and prevent agribusiness from continuing to raze the world’s forests.” For companies, we can extrapolate the criticality of cooperation and collaboration with governments and other actors to limit climate change; likewise, we also understand the importance of the private sector in incentivising governments to make the necessary changes by supporting pro-climate and pro-just transition policies (not advocating against them).
- Importance of acting against threats to human rights defenders and open civic space: The report underscores the links between weak civil society and weak protection of human rights: “Another year of shrinking real and virtual civic space around the world brings the recognition that attacks on the human rights system are due in part to its effectiveness—because by exposing the abuses and elevating the voices of survivors and those at risk, the human rights movement makes it harder for abusive governments to succeed.” Crackdowns on civil society have broader implications for the ability of companies to operate in these countries with respect for human rights, especially in relation to respecting the human rights of workers, suppliers and communities along the value chain. More specifically, HRW focuses on the weakened civil space that leaves human rights and environmental defenders vulnerable: the people “leading the charge to protect their ways of life and their homes against coal, oil, and gas operations that pollute the water they rely on to cook, clean, and drink, and result in the rising of the seas that engulf the lands where they live.” These frontline communities and environmental defenders are under attack from governments, corporate actors and non-state actors, leading to further environmental degradation that extends far beyond the communities themselves. For example, HRW spotlights the risks to indigenous forest defenders protecting the Amazon, which is an ecosystem of global importance “for slowing climate change by storing carbon.”