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The problem of business operation in conflict (and weak governance) zones remains a key issue for framing the business, legal, political, economic, and societal risks of operating in the face of conflict or in the absence of the state. It was therefore with great anticipation that I read the UN Working Group for Business and Human Rights Report to the UN General Assembly "Business, human rights and conflict-affected regions: towards heightened action" A/75/212 (21 July 2020).
The Report's focus is quite specific and quite pragmatic:
In the present report, the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises clarifies the practical steps and outlines practical measures that States and business enterprises should take to prevent and address business-related human rights abuse in conflict and post-conflict contexts, focusing on heightened human rights due diligence and access to remedy.
101. Alongside conflict minerals is a trend towards general mandatory human rights due diligence regulations. Both underscore the importance of the advisoryrole of States in conflict-affected markets, as well as the need for robust policy coherence, including in development finance and reconstruction
102. This expansion of mandatory due diligence means that the issue of business in conflict-affected regions should gain traction faster, including an expectation of heightened due diligence. The lessons learned of implementing conflict minerals regulations across multiple jurisdictions offers insights transferable to a broader set of policy issues in conflict-affected regions. The process exemplifies a point made in the 2011 companion report on State policies. States are more inclined to adopt policies which do not put their own businesses at an unfair disadvantage. Multilateral standard setting is likely critical to ensuring that States move forward in the fulfilment of the State duty to protect human rights in conflict settings.
103. Therefore, States should consider, and business should support, the establishment of a multilateral and multi-stakeholder forum to share and build on existing practices in the context of conflict and peacebuilding. This could also be an opportunity to consider an international agreement clarifying risks, prohibited activities and modes of liabilities with respect to business in conflict or other high-risk situations, such as clarifying the types of gross human rights abuses that are prohibited.
104. To States:
• Home and host States should use their key policy tools and levers to ensure that business engages in conflict-sensitive heightened due diligence when operating in conflict-affected areas. This may include linking access to export credit, investment approvals and access to investment finance, to demonstrable heightened human rights due diligence.
Embassies and investment-related and trade-related functions should
provide conflict-sensitive advisory services and tools to the private sector,
including to small- and medium-sized enterprises, to assist them in
respecting human rights in conflict-affected settings.
States should develop appropriate guidelines for business engagement in
peacebuilding settings to ensure that businesses operate with respect for
human rights and conflict-sensitivity.
States should encourage multilateral institutions dealing with peace and
security issues to promote business respect for human rights through the
proactive engagement of business actors in peace and security processes
that concern them.
States should ensure that transitional justice mechanisms include all actors,
including economic actors, and ensure that the role of business is fully
considered within such mechanisms, consistent with core principles of
transitional justice such as accountability, reparations and guarantees of
non-repetition, as essential parts of effective remedy.
States must actively pursue cross-border investigations and prosecutions of
international crimes committed by corporate actors as part of a
commitment to access to effective remedy.
States, under the auspices of the United Nations or other international
processes, should develop guidelines for human-rights based engagement
with armed non-State actors.
The United Nations, in particular its peacekeeping, peacebuilding and
mediation pillars, should develop a strategy on business, peace and security
that embraces the Guiding Principles as a foundational component.
The United Nations should ensure that an appropriate level of awareness is
incorporated into its peace and security pillar on the issue of business, human
rights and conflict, including by disseminating information about news, tools
and research both within and outside the United Nations system, and by
organizing regular awareness-raising sessions for staff and Member States.
The United Nations should establish robust interagency cooperation to
ensure that all its entities confronted with a business presence in their
operations in conflict-affected contexts do not work in isolation and share
existing knowledge with the United Nations system.
The United Nations peace and security pillar should strengthen its own
knowledge and capacity and develop, in cooperation with relevant entities
within and outside the United Nations system, basic tools and specific guidance
notes and thematic briefs, for peacekeepers, mediators and peacebuilders.
Seek advice from embassies and investment and trade-related functions to
receive conflict-sensitive advisory services and tools to assist them in
respecting human rights in conflict-affected settings.
Engage in heightened human rights due diligence that incorporates tools
from atrocity prevention and conflict prevention to augment their existing
due diligence frameworks.
Develop operational-level grievance mechanisms that have a conflict-
Commit to active engagement with local communities and groups in conflict
and post-conflict settings.
Ensure that a gender-responsive approach is used to develop heightened
human rights due diligence and in grievance, remedy and transitional
Actively participate in truth and reconciliation processes and provide
reparations and guarantees of non-repetition as part of their commitment
to building peace.