The UN Human Rights Council – the highest body in the UN tasked with overseeing human rights law – has just finished meeting in Geneva. In a statement, a group of indigenous peoples’ organisations and non-governmental organisations urged the Council to urgently consider, and provide guidance on, the human rights obligations of multilateral finance institutions, an issue of key importance as these institutions review and update their safeguard systems.
The petitioning organisations point out that many of these multilateral finance institutions “regard human rights as a political issue for states, and refuse to accept that they have, at a minimum, a responsibility to ensure respect for human rights in the activities they support”. This position is inconsistent with the global consensus on development, for instance, as expressed in the Final Declaration of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals Declaration, which stress that respect for human rights is fundamental to development activities and initiatives.
Multilateral finance institutions are organisations which are established by – and continue to be controlled by – states. Those same states have direct obligations under international human rights law, both under laws that they have ratified and under international customary norms. As the statement to the Human Rights Council points out: “The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has consistently stated that the obligations of states that are parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) extend to state action as part of inter-governmental organizations”.
To appropriately address the requirements of their own obligations to respect human rights law, the statement proposes that these institutions develop human rights due diligence instruments and processes which could assist in ensuring that their investments do not lead to human rights violations.
It is now in the hands of the UN to provide guidance to these institutions to ensure that their policies and operations respect human rights.
To read the full statement to the Human Rights Council click here.