Over the past two decades, a consensus has emerged that with respect to international human rights, states have a threefold responsibility: to respect, to protect and to fulﬁl their obligations. These obligations were ﬁrst elaborated in the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and have now been accepted as law by the UN human rights and development mechanisms. The obligation to fulﬁl rights is often seen as two-fold: the obligation to fulﬁl is usually split between the obligation to facilitate and the obligation to provide.
What do these terms mean? The obligation to respect human rights means that governments are forbidden to violate human rights, whether in policy or practice.
The obligation to protect rights means that governments must prevent third parties – non-government entities, including corporations – from violating rights. If they do, the government must ensure that remedies and restitutions are put in place. Finally, the obligation to fulﬁl means that either the governments must make sure that budgets and ﬁnances are adequate for people to access their rights or, in case of conditions brought about by economic downturns or disasters, governments must provide emergency aid for people to access their rights.
Thus governments who have become parties to UN human rights treaties have an obligation to prevent corporations from abusing the rights of the citizen and to force corporations to provide remedies or restitution. Should these not be forthcoming, the government has the onus to itself provide remedies and restitution. The implementation of these obligations can be challenged at the Universal Periodic Reviews and at the examination of governments’ periodic reports to the UN Treaty Bodies.
In the case of the events at Paga Hill, what were the human rights obligations of the PNG Government and where did it fail in its obligations to respect, protect or fulfil the rights of the Paga Hill community?