The firm makes a global impact on the capacity of Human Rights Defenders

12 Jun 2018

Simmons & Simmons has produced a highly innovative and unique Human Rights Defenders Toolbox for Peace Brigades International (PBI). The Toolbox comprises a range of fact sheets on specific legal topics which will be disseminated to human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world to assist with their imperative work. The Human Rights Defenders Toolbox is the first centralised online resource for rural communities and lawyers.

This ground-breaking project has seen lawyers from Simmons & Simmons tap in to expertise on business and human rights to help strengthen the capacity of HRDs and vulnerable communities. The Toolbox provides a platform to engage a range of stakeholders (including the diplomatic corps, corporate actors, governments and non-governmental organisations) with the aim of encouraging companies to adopt more responsible business practices and to reduce business-led human rights abuses.

The fact sheets focus on the obligations of companies to respect human rights, as set out in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The launch could have a global impact as the Toolbox draws on international law and has universal application.

The project was initiated by Colombian lawyers from the Lawyers Collective José Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR) with the support of PBI UK, which works for the defence and promotion of human rights. Former president of CCAJAR and human rights lawyer, Luis Guillermo Pérez visited the UK and met with PBI UK and UK based lawyers from Simmons & Simmons to consult on the production of these fact sheets.

Since the 2016 Colombian Peace Accords, CCAJAR has observed an upward trend in violence against HRDs caused by an increase in threats from conflicting business interests. PBI and CCAJAR (PBI’s Colombian partner) have experienced how the aggressive pursuit of extractive, agribusiness, and infrastructure projects has put many HRDs at risk. CCAJAR has identified an urgent need for organisations to assist HRDs to build their capacity so they can act as watchdogs to ensure that companies adopt responsible business practices. By increasing the knowledge of HRDs and vulnerable communities, this project will contribute to building a strong civil society necessary to protect human rights in the face of competing corporate interests.

Speaking about the launch of the Toolbox, team lead and supervising associate at Simmons & Simmons, Victoria Channing, said:HRDs face many challenges in their work to protect the rights of communities that would otherwise have no access to advice or support. Simmons & Simmons, in conjunction with PBI UK, has produced an HRD Toolbox comprised of easy-to-understand fact sheets on distinct topics that help HRDs to identify which international human rights instruments apply to their cases, how these instruments interlink and, crucially, what steps can be taken to further the causes of their clients.

PBI UK Director, Susi Bascon also commented:I am delighted to see this Toolbox being launched on a year when we mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on HRDs and we celebrate the contribution that HRDs make to uphold the rule of law, despite the ever-growing risks they face. By creating this Toolbox Simmons & Simmons lawyers are not only sharing their expertise and in-depth knowledge, but they are also providing HRDs at risk and vulnerable communities with essential tools for them to advocate, report and tackle the root causes of conflicts originated in the context of business and human rights.

The Simmons & Simmons team consisted of supervising associate, Victoria Channing who led the project, with the support of David Sandy, Olga Hancock, Rocio Barrero, Chris Owen, Nicola Dyke, Daniel Gritten, Alejandra Escalada, Adam Bristow, Tom Bowen, David Fitzpatrick, Shaun Clay, Sarah Macpherson, Emily Crisp and Eve Emery.

The Toolbox, which will contain 16 fact sheets, will be released on 12 June 2018 English on the firm’s elexica site, followed by a Spanish release in September2018.

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