Vance Center leads Business and Human Rights Discussion with Bar Associations from Latin America and the Caribbean at UN Forum

The Vance Center for International Justice, a program of the New York City Bar Association, held a virtual session: “Bar Associations and the Business and Human Rights Agenda: A Regional Vision 10 years after the Guiding Principles” on October 4, 2021 as part of the United Nations’ VI Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The session brought together more than a dozen bar associations from Latin America and the Caribbean and focused on the role of lawyers in the implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles), the intersection between the Guiding Principles and the ethical responsibility of lawyers, the role of bar associations, and the experience of bar associations that have adopted the Guiding Principles. The session concluded with a discussion between representatives of the bar associations to reflect on the current and potential leadership of these organizations in the implementation of the Guiding Principles in the region.

Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, Programs Director at the Vance Center, moderated the session and led the discussion with the following panelists:

  • Alejandra Parra, Head of BHR practice at Kunstmann Spiess – Abogados
  • Douglass Cassel, Counsel, King & Spalding
  • Maria Noel Leoni, Regional Manager for Latin America, BHR Resource Center
  • Samantha Rowe, Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton
  • Sylvia Marchili, Partner, White & Case LLP

Some of the key issues discussed at the session included challenges that bar associations and lawyers in the region face in engaging with the Business and Human Rights (BHR) agenda including 1) difficulty ensuring that soft law principles, such as the Guiding Principles, are properly applied; 2) lack of knowledge of the Guiding Principles by lawyers; and 3) the fragmentation of BHR practice in the region. Participants also identified good practices such as courts in the region that have looked at the Guiding Principles in deciding cases and bar associations that have introduced guidance on BHR. Looking forward, participating bar associations agreed to work to ensure that there is greater awareness of the Guiding Principles among their members and collaborate in the dissemination of the Guiding Principles while encouraging dialogue between bar associations and civil society on this issue. The Vance Center will publish a report of the session in the coming weeks.

The session was organized by the Vance Center’s Human Rights and Access to Justice Program’s Business and Human Rights Initiative. Launched in 2015, the Business and Human Rights Initiative (“the Initiative”), draws on the expertise of law firms in the United States and abroad to contribute to the continuing development of best practices in BHR. As part of this initiative, the Program has advised international NGOs and organized conferences on these issues

Since the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, lawyers have been recognized as playing a crucial role in the implementation of the Guiding Principles. In addition, recently, there has been a growing trend of implementation of the Guiding Principles in national and regional laws, which has generated greater interest on the part of lawyers. Therefore, the role of bar associations in providing guidance to attorneys in navigating these new legal concepts has never been more important. The Vance Center led discussions within the New York City Bar Association that culminated in the creation of the City Bar’s Business and Human Rights Working Group in 2019 and the adoption in 2020 of a Policy Statement on Business and Human Rights that endorses the Guiding Principles.


About the Vance Center

The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association advances global justice by engaging lawyers across borders to support civil society and an ethically active legal profession. The Vance Center is a unique collaboration of international lawyers catalyzing public interest innovation that brings together leading law firms and other partners worldwide to pioneer international justice initiatives and provide pro bono legal representation to social justice NGOs.