Friday, April 01, 2016

‘International Human Rights Law and Business: Evaluating the Impact of UNGPs’: The ASIL Business and Human Rights Roundtable

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

It was my great privilege to participate in the ASIL Business and Human Rights Roundtable, 'International Human Rights Law and Business: Evaluating the Impact of UNGPs’. It took place at The George Washington University on March 29, 2016, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law--"Charting New Frontiers in International Law." The Roundtable was made possible with the additional support of Susan Karamanian, Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies and Burnett Family Professorial Lecturer in International and Comparative Law and Policy, who made possible access to the wonderful facilities of the George Washington University Law School, and to Nathan Lankford who organized the sponsorship of Miller & Chevalier.

And, indeed, the thrust of Human Rights Roundtable remained true to the annual meeting theme in quite thoughtful ways. Special thanks to the Roundtable organizers Kirsteen Shields and Siobhan McInerney Lankford, the co-chairs of the ASIL Human Rights Interest Group. The HRIG explains its mission this way:
Within the human rights revolution that is affecting and changing the world, the members of the Human Rights Interest Group work in the interface between research and activism, between law teaching and law practice, and between observation and participation. The HRIG provides a means for communication between hundreds of human rights academics, advocates and practitioners before intergovernmental bodies around the world. The group's activities include publishing a twice-annual newsletter, sponsoring panels and lectures on timely international human rights topics, and organizing a human rights reception at the ASIL Annual Meeting. Interest Group members have ongoing opportunities through meetings and the list serve to network with others in the field, discuss issues and recent developments in the field of human rights, build on each other's research and experience, and find partners in the cause of human rights.
The Roundtable was organized in the shadow of what many view as a growing discontent at the UN HR Council since 2013, and with it the move to consider a comprehensive business and human rights treaty. The collective contributions of the group assembled provided a rich and varied set of perspectives that added substantially to the discussion going forward.

The Program  and the Call for Papers (with conference theme) follows.  Please contact the presenters for more information about their presentations.


Human Rights Interest Group, American Society of International Law

Business and Human Rights Roundtable 
‘International Human Rights Law and Business: 
Evaluating the Impact of  UNGPs’ 
29th March 2016 
George Washington University, Washington DC, USA. 
Call for Papers 
Deadline 20th January 2016
The Human Rights Interest Group of the American Society of International Law is delighted to announce that a Human Rights Workshop will take place on 29th March 2016 in advance of the ASIL 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington DC. The Co-Chairs and Executive Committee cordially invite the submission of proposals and abstracts on the theme of Business and Human Rights theory and practice, particular in respect of the UN Guiding Principles of Business in respect of Human Rights.

Roundtable details 
Papers presented at the Roundtable will be selected through a competitive process by the Human Rights Interest Group Executive Committee. The selection process will be based exclusively on the scholarly merit of proposals received and priority will be given to unpublished papers and work in progress. We welcome proposals from practitioners, academics, and graduate students that are attentive to Roundtable theme outlined below. All other interested parties are invited to attend to observe and participate in the proceedings of the Roundtable discussion. 

Theme: The case for acovenant directly binding on corporations?
In 2014, at the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Resolution A/HRC/26/L.22/Rev.1 for the “Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights” was passed. The resolution establishes an open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights. The IGWG’s mandate is to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of “Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises.”
The resolution follows from a statement made the previous year at the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council on behalf of the African Group, the Arab Group, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. Therein it was stated: “We are mindful that soft law instruments such as the Guiding Principles and the creation of the Working Group with limited powers to undertake monitoring of corporate compliance with the Principles are only a partial answer to the pressing issues relating to human rights abuses by transnational corporations. These principles and mechanisms fell short of addressing properly the problem of lack of accountability regarding Transnational Corporations worldwide and the absence of adequate legal remedies for victims.”
Exactly what method of reform the IGWG will pursue is unclear from the 2014 Resolution. Proposals for an entirely new jurisdiction over corporations have been dismissed as suitably radical yet unsuitably unrealistic. Identified avenues for enhanced judicial mechanism include: (i) National mechanisms overseen by regional human rights commissioners (appointed by the UNHRC or the regional human rights courts); (ii) specialised permanent tribunals at a regional level with some level of harmonization across tribunals and judges from the existing regional human rights courts; (iii) the extension of the Rome Statute in the International Criminal Court (ICC) to apply to corporate, as well as natural persons; and/or (iv) a corporate human rights chamber based at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. Yet irrespective of lack of political support, some maintain that a reconfiguration to make corporations directly accountable is unworkable as a system of international law. John Ruggie, former UN Special Representative on Human Rights, asserts that the UN expert group on business and human rights simply needs more time to complete their mandate and for
the impact of the norms to show. 

This roundtable seeks to address some of the inconvenient questions in relation to the UNGPs. In particular:
-Do the UNGPs offer greater protection than that existing under the ICESCR?
-Have they been integrated into domestic jurisprudence and to what effect?
-What are the obstacles to their integration at the domestic level and can these be overcome?
-What is the meaning of ‘due diligence’ at the centre of the UNGPs?
-How does the UNGPs discourse intersect with the extraterritorial obligations discourse?
-Ultimately are stronger mechanisms necessary, as is argued by the newly
-established intergovernmental working group at the UN Human Rights Council?
Call for Proposals and Abstracts. Each submission should include an abstract of the proposed  presentation of no more than 700 words and a short CV, both in English. Applications should be submitted in a WORD or PDF format. They should be emailed to Dr. Siobhan McInerney Lankford and Dr. Kirsteen Shields at Please indicate “2016 ASIL HRIG Roundtable” in the subject line of the email.

Deadline: The deadline for submission of proposals is 20th January2016. The outcome of the selection process will be notified to successful applicants by 1st February 2016

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