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Conflict-affected areas

In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, John Ruggie (Former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General) stated that: “[t]he worst corporate-related human rights abuses occur amid armed conflict over the control of territory, resources or a government itself – where the human rights regime cannot be expected to function as intended and illicit enterprises flourish”. (A/HRC/14/17)

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) recognise that business activities in conflict-affected and high-risk areas increase the risks of enterprises fuelling conflict. International humanitarian law applicable to business in conflict-affected areas include, for instance, the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and The Arms Trade Treaty.

Business may contribute to, or facilitate, human rights abuses committed by other actors, such as security forces or armed non-state actors. For instance, tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold are metals found in most household electronic appliances. However, they are often mined in conflict areas, such as Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and have consequently earned the term ‘conflict minerals’. The purchase of conflict minerals contributes to human rights violations including summary executions, forced labour, rape, and finances armed rebel groups who contribute to ongoing violence in the region. (Human Rights Watch Report, The Curse of Gold). In 2013, internally displaced farmers in Colombia faced killings, intimidation, threats, and further forced displacement from paramilitaries, when trying to reclaim their land, where oftentimes paramilitaries acted on behalf of businesses seeking to evict rightful landowners. (Human Rights Watch Report, The Risk of Returning Home). Companies have also been accused of being complicit with military dictatorships by enabling the torture and disappearance of trade union members and workers, including in Brazil and Chile. More recently, a number of multinational corporations have been sued for allegedly aiding and abetting “terrorist operations against Americans in Iraq”. In other cases, shipping companies have also contributed to human rights abuses in conflict-affected regions by transporting weapons, including in breach United Nations sanctions. For instance, in 2016, Egyptian authorities discovered more than 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades in a ship that set sail from North Korea, with a North Korean crew, but flew a Cambodian flag under the “flag of convenience” doctrine, a tactic intended to avoid international attention. The cargo was destined for Egyptian buyers. According to the United Nations, this was “the largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.


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What National Action Plans say on Conflict-affected areas