South African HRC Urges UNHRC hold Businesses Accountable for Human Rights Violations

by Melanie Nathan September 23, 2012.

The South African Human Rights Commission deputy-chairperson, Pregs Govender, has called on the United Nations Human Rights Council and governments to hold business to account for human rights violations in the world.

Speaking in Geneva at the 21st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) with the theme: ‘Integration of a gender perspective in implementing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’, Govender used an example of the Marikana tragedy, saying mining companies should ensure that they respect the rights of their workers, families and communities they operate in.

Govender further called on the South African state to account for the role of the police in the tragic killings that left 45 dead.

“Businesses such as mining companies must also be held to account for human rights. Globally economic and trade policy drives poverty, inequality and the vulnerability of women to the abuse of their human rights. We call on all States in the UNHRC to ensure that economic policy, including trade agreements be scrutinised for their negative human rights impact,” Govender said.

Govender cited South Africa’s (SA) infamous arms deal as an example of global corporations having undue influence on the policy priorities of national governments.

“Global corporations have patented even seeds, arguing that this is their intellectual property. This is directly connected to high food prices’.

Quoting the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Food, which shows that there is enough food to feed everyone, she asked why almost a billion people across the world go hungry while the food industry is a highly profitable billion-dollar industry.

Govender urged South African government to speedily ratify the International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The session was presided over by President of the UNHRC, Laura Dupuy Lassere, who noted that Govender “has led important work on the realisation of socio-economic rights such as the right to water and sanitation in SA”.

Govender shared how the SAHRC was integrating a gender perspective in this work and why “it is necessary to connect this to scrutinising the human rights impact of trade agreements and other international economic policies and the impact of industries, such as mining, on women’s access to water and sanitation”. Govender stated that poverty and inequality were key reasons for the lack of rights.

“The overwhelming majority of community participants in the SAHRC provincial hearings on water and sanitation are women who are poor. At the hearings they have been standing up fearlessly. They have demanded answers from Government representatives on why mining companies can be allowed to pollute the water they and their families rely. They share that while they live next to dams they have no access to water. They speak of their daughters reaching puberty and dropping out of rural schools because they have no toilets.”

UNHRC President Lassere said that the panel “will inform the recommendations for future work and opportunities for fully integrating gender concerns and human rights into the post-2015 development framework”.

The distinguished panelists were South African Human Rights Commission’s Deputy Chair Pregs Govender, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdelena Carmona, UN Women’s Director Moez Doraid, Canada Without Poverty’s Leilani Farha and the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality’s Maria Duarte. The panel was moderated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s Radhika Balakrishnan.

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