human rights & business (and a few other things)

New Publication on “Resources Grabbing and Human Rights”



Brill has just published a new book entitled Natural Resources Grabbing:an International Law Perspective, edited by Francesca Romanin Jacur, Angelica Bonfanti and Francesco Seatzu. Dr Jérémie Gilbert and I have contributed a chapter on “Resources Grabbing and Human Rights: Building a Triangular Relationship between States, Indigenous Peoples and Corporations.”

The chapter explores the notion of permanent sovereignty over natural resources and outlines the ambiguous status of the right to freely dispose of natural resources as both a right of the state (under a number of UN General Assembly Resolutions) and a right of the peoples (under Article 1  of the two 1966 International Covenants). While the ambiguity remains under international law per se, developments in two distinct human rights areas shed some light on the issue.

First, the rise of indigenous peoples’ rights at the international level suggest that at least those peoples have some rights over resources found on the land they live on.  Article 32(2) of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples exemplifies this. It establishes that “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

Second, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which the UN Human Rights Council endorsed in June 2011, establish a corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Under this framework, corporations are expected to ensure they do no harm, and they “should avoid infringing on the human rights of others” (Guiding Principle 11).  Guiding Principle 12 states that the human rights covered include those listed in the International Bill of Human Rights (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and both 1966 Covenants).  The official commentary of Guiding Principle 12 further states that “business enterprises may need to consider additional standards” and refers to “United Nations instruments [that] have elaborated further on the rights of indigenous peoples.” In practice. this means that corporations are now expected to play a role in the realisation of human rights, which includes the right to freely dispose of natural resources, especially but not only, when the project is likely to impact indigenous peoples.

The chapter concludes on the idea that while the international human rights legal framework  does not expressly outlaw resources grabbing, it clearly calls for dialogue between states, corporations and indigenous peoples to address the issue.

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