CIVICUS urges BRICS to show leadership on Syria, corporate accountability and civil society

News and Press Release
Originally published

Johannesburg. 25 March 2013. Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, urges the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to focus attention on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, corporate accountability and creating an enabling environment for civil society when they meet in Durban for the Fifth BRICS Summit from 26-27 March 2013.

The BRICS mechanism claims to “achieve peace, security, development and cooperation” and contribute significantly to “the development of humanity and establish a more equitable and fair world.” With the agenda of the BRICS meetings widening considerably to encompass various global issues and political developments, CIVICUS urges the five governments to focus on the following issues:

Even as the crisis in Syria has claimed over 70, 000 lives, the UN continues to be impeded in having full humanitarian access in the country. It is estimated by the UN that 4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and 3 million people are internally displaced or are refugees, two thirds of whom are women and children. Extra-judicial killings, rape, torture and displacement are rife. There is a critical need to ensure security, food aid and shelter to the victims of the conflict by the UN which is hampered by restrictions on movement both within and across Syria’s borders.

With the power of transnational corporations belonging to BRICS countries rapidly expanding, concerns are rising about rights violations due to the activities of extractive, agriculture and construction industries. Large numbers of people who traditionally rely on communal land for their subsistence are increasingly being forcibly displaced, particularly on the African continent. Many communities are facing the brunt of environmental damage and climate change directly attributed to the activities of transnational corporations. The UN Secretary General’s report on business and human rights calls for global efforts to bridge existing governance gaps and safeguard protection and respect for human rights in the context of economic activities.

BRICS countries remain challenged in varying degrees with regard to ensuring protection of the core civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly both within their borders and in their dealings with their development partners. This is reflected in the limited civil society participation in the official BRICS events. With the five BRICS countries poised to become major providers of development cooperation and funding, it is critical that they support and advance the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which commits to recognising civil society organisations as independent development actors and assure them an enabling operating environment in line with international standards. Notably, the UN Human Rights Council has through a landmark resolution (co-sponsored by Brazil) passed on 15 March 2013 urged UN member states to publicly acknowledge the role of human rights defenders in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to respect the independence of their organizations and avoid stigmatization of their work.

CIVICUS urges BRICS leaders in Durban to: (i) seek a solution towards resolving the Syrian crisis and ensuring full humanitarian access to the UN within and across Syria’s borders, (ii) devise an action plan to prevent abuses by transnational corporations and implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and (iii) commit to enhanced participation of civil society in BRICS activities and to a civil society enabling environment that respects the following rights: freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to operate free from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure resources and the state duty to protect.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of CIVICUS said: “BRICS leaders have an opportunity to be on the right side of history in Durban and provide a much-needed leadership on key global issues. Let’s hope that the decisions they take transcend narrow political calculations.”