New handbook on borderless nature of human rights

FIAN International has contributed to a comprehensive new handbook on extraterritorial human rights obligations (ETOs) for human rights practitioners and scholars.

Human rights abuses by transnational corporations or foreign states frequently occur across borders. ETOs are strongly enshrined in international and regional human rights law and mean that states have a legal responsibility towards people outside their borders in certain circumstances.

However, many states still refuse to acknowledge these obligations, despite clear evidence that their trade agreements, development cooperation, digitalization, financialization and climate policies – as well as businesses based on their territories – are causing human rights abuses abroad.

The Routledge Handbook on Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations brings together authors from a range of human right backgrounds, from activism to academia, and calls for further action from states to enforce ETOs. The handbook begins with the theoretical foundations of ETOs and their enforcement in different universal or regional human rights systems. It goes on to discuss ETOs from a variety of perspectives including migration and refugee protection, financial assistance and sanctions, investment and trade, peace and security and the environment.

FIAN International holds the Secretariat of the ETO Consortium, a global network of some 170 CSOs and academics, and contributed two articles that are grounded in FIAN’s work.

In ETOs and biodiversity: A right to food perspective on the intersection of human rights and environmental law, Philip Seufert and Sofía Monsalve Suárez explain the close connection between human rights and biodiversity, and how this relates to states’ obligations beyond borders. Seeds are a case in point: “On many occasions, rich countries impose draconian intellectual property rights in other parts of the world through trade agreements, which restrict peasants’ and Indigenous Peoples’ right to save, use, exchange and sell seeds. This, in turn, undermines their critical role as stewards of biodiversity,” explains Seufert.

“Human rights law and environmental law have developed in a somewhat disconnected way, but in the face of the deep biodiversity crisis we need to apply a more a holistic understanding. This implies, critically, to effectively protect the rights of those communities who maintain a close relationship with ecosystems. Effectively regulating transnational corporations is central in this context.”

A second article by Roman Herre and Stephan Backes, Financialization of development cooperation: ETO responses, depicts a very concerning shift away from “conventional” public development cooperation. The new context involves a wide set of new actors and approaches such as funds and fund management companies, financial intermediaries, increased market-based funding of official development assistance and massively growing development finance institutions (DFIs). European DFIs for example increased their investment volumes by well over 300 percent in only 13 years. This is what is meant by the financialization of development cooperation.

From an ETO perspective, this contributes to a growing lack of accountability. The increasing number of financial actors in development cooperation activities or projects, combined with opaque investment networks makes it increasingly difficult to identify duty-bearers and co-perpetrators of human rights abuses. Roman Herre cites an example he has worked with:

“The financial investor Agrivision Africa is involved in large-scale land grabbing in Zambia, amounting to almost 20,000 ha. The opacity of actors involved in this case is telling. It has received $10 million in financing via the Africa Agriculture Trade and Investment Fund (AATIF) co-established by Germany’s state-owned development finance institution Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW),” he said. “When we first went to Zambia neither the German embassy in Lusaka, nor the local authorities and affected communities where aware of the German involvement. Human rights based accountability becomes almost impossible this way.”

The publication of the Pandora Papers last year also revealed how the German Development Bank DEG, a subsidiary of KfW, is linked to money laundering, non-transparent financing in tax havens and the financing of multi-billionaires, highlighting the urgent need for transparency in public development finance institutions.

“To comply with their human rights obligations, states have to actively contribute to disclosing information of financiers involved in any type of investment projects within the scope of official development cooperation, in a way that these can be held liable in case of adverse human rights impacts,” adds Herre.

Ten years after the adoption of the Maastricht Principles of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which clarified that states do in fact have extraterritorial obligations under international law, this new handbook builds on that work and provides a valuable resource for human rights practitioners and scholars.

Read the Routledge Handbook on Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations by clicking on the image below