Letter to John Ruggie Re: HRIA - September 24, 2006

September 24, 2006

Professor John Ruggie
UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Business and Human Rights
Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Dear Professor Ruggie

RE: General Principles on Human Rights Impact Assessments

We are sharing with you our collective views on general principles for a human rights impact assessment. These have arisen from a meeting on community-driven human rights impact assessments, convened by Rights & Democracy[1] in Johannesburg, South Africa, 21-24 September, 2006.

When we launched a three-year project in 2004 to develop and test a human rights impact assessment methodology, we knew that the task ahead would not be simple. We had been examining the links between human rights and economic globalization for many years, and debates surrounding foreign direct investment were often at the forefront. Many of the controversies involved mining, oil and gas projects where the viewpoints of local communities, governments and corporations were and remain dramatically different. Yet we believed that a methodology to assess the human rights impacts of such projects within a collaborative framework could make a significant contribution to resolving these complex and reoccurring issues.

While we recognize that investment itself is not inherently good or bad for human rights, experience has shown us that if foreign direct investment projects are to contribute to development, their human rights impacts have to be addressed. Yet we have seen that those who make decisions regarding investment -- namely governments and companies -- generally fail to consider the impacts of their projects on human rights. We have embarked on our project with the assumption that if governments and companies look more carefully at investments’ effects on human rights, people’s rights would be better protected. A missing step in this process was the development and implementation of a methodology for anticipating and documenting human rights impacts.

In order to draw the links between rights and investment, a nuanced analysis is needed, especially in the multifaceted settings surrounding many projects. Looking at human rights means, among other things, looking at indigenous peoples’ rights, at gender-specific issues, at conflict, and at the different contexts in which investment takes place. At the heart of a human rights analysis is the importance of ”recourse,” or, in our case, the requirement that people who are affected by such projects are able to claim their human rights.

The methodology that we are developing is intended to systematize what many communities have been doing informally for a long time - assessing both the positive and negative impacts of projects on their rights. This process is enabling us to develop a set of principles and criteria that we feel are appropriate to the context of a community-driven human rights impact assessment.

At the same time as we are developing this methodology, we are also trying to influence the broader debate on the scope and nature of human rights impact assessments. In light of our work, we are proposing the following set of principles for companies and governments to develop a systematic and credible human rights impact assessment for foreign direct investment that should be embodied in national and international normative and regulatory frameworks:

  1. All FDI projects should be subject to a HRIA commensurate with the anticipated impacts on human rights.
  2. The HRIA should be thorough and comprehensive, addressing all the rights contained in the International Bill of Rights, International Labour Organization conventions, the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and other relevant standards.
  3. The emphasis of the HRIA should be on avoiding rather than on mitigating adverse human rights impacts.
  4. The HRIA should be conducted by a competent body and subject to levels of independent scrutiny and validation that are appropriate to the impacts of the project.
  5. The HRIA should be conducted as early as possible, and ideally at the feasibility stage of a project. It should inform the decision of whether to invest, the location of the investment and the design of the project across all its functions and operations.
  6. The methodology should reflect best practice, and should have as its starting point an assessment of the risks to, and rights of, communities.
  7. The HRIA should address impacts throughout the lifecycle of the project.
  8. The process of developing the HRIA should be transparent and involve affected communities.
  9. The findings of the HRIA should be public and in particular shared with affected communities and relevant regulatory bodies.
  10. The HRIA should be a dynamic tool, reflecting the actual impacts of the project over time, as well as evolving national and international standards, and any changes to the human rights context of the project.
  11. The findings and recommendations of the HRIA should be embodied in a management and implementation plan.
  12. The project's management and implementation plan should be monitored and reviewed by a body that has the competence to do this and that is independent of the company operating the project. Such reviews and plans should be made public.
  13. Governmental and inter-governmental support for the project should be conditional on an HRIA that reflects the above principles, and on compliance with the management and implementation plan.

SIGNED BY (organisations listed for identification purposes only):

For Rights & Democracy
Diana Bronson, Project coordinator

Advisory Committee and Local hosts

Joji Carino
Tebtebba Foundation

Danwood Chirwa
University of Cape Town

Peter Frankental
Amnesty International, International Secretariat

Gillian MacNaughton
Oxford Univeristy

Gabrielle Watson

Usha Ramanathan

Lucie Lamarche
Département des sciences juridiques, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)

Fraser Reilly-King
Halifax Initiative Coalition

Marcus Faro de Castro
University of Brasilia

Jim Freedman

Craig Forcese
University of Ottawa

Baruti Amisi
Centre for Civil Society

Patrick Bond
Centre for Civil Society

Anne Mayher
George Dor
Southern African Centre for Economic Justice

Case study partners:

Jimena Garrote
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)

Ezequiel Nino
Asociacion Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia

Democratic Republic of Congo
Jean-Pierre Muteba Luhunga
Nouvelle Dynamique Syndicale

Jean-Claude Katende
Association africaine de défense des droits de l’Homme (ASADHO-Katanga)

Paulin Kabesa
Institut pédagogique supérieur de Lubumbashi

Odette Ilunga

Greg Walton
University of Bradford, UK

Carole Samdup
Rights & Democracy, Canada

Ms. Zherwina B. Mosqueda
The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc.

Ms. Penelope Sanz
Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue

Mr. Godofredo Galos
Save Siocon Paradise Movement

Catherine Coumans
MiningWatch Canada

Clara Bertha Anglas Rodriguez

Angela Patricia Canales Rivera

  [1] Rights & Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development) is a non-partisan organization with an international mandate. It was created by Canada's Parliament in 1988 to encourage and support the universal values of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions and practices around the world.