Thu, August 11, 2022


'Human rights defenders vulnerable for reporting to UN'

People globally face harsh reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the United Nations on human rights, a "shameful practice," a major UN report warns.

This trend deters others from engaging with the UN and results in "self-censorship."

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, the senior UN official designated to address the issue, will present the report to the Human Rights Council on September 19.

A total of 29 countries in which new cases are listed in the report are Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Myanmar, the Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.

The annual report on reprisals of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the ninth of its kind, details country by country cases in two annexes, including allegations of killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, surveillance, criminalisation, and public stigmatisation campaigns targeting victims and human rights defenders.

It includes allegations of reprisals and intimidation documented in a total of 38 countries. Some of the States are current members of the Human Rights Council, according to a message UNB received from Geneva.

Some have featured in the annual report on reprisals nearly every year since it was instituted in 2010.

"The cases of reprisals and intimidation detailed in this report and its two annexes represent the tip of the iceberg, while many more are reported to us. We're also increasingly seeing legal, political and administrative hurdles used to intimidate - and silence - civil society," said Andrew Gilmour.

The report noted that selectively applied laws and new legislation are used to restrict and obstruct organizations that are likely to cooperate with the UN. This includes limiting their ability to secure and maintain funding, especially from foreign donors.

The impact of fear of reprisals is not only visible in the field, where United Nations personnel often encounter people too afraid to speak with them, but also at headquarters in New York, Geneva, and elsewhere, the report says.

The report highlights a "disturbing trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access by communities and civil society organizations to the United Nations."

It noted that a number of NGOs, human rights defenders, activists and experts have been labelled as "terrorists" by their governments. Reported cases include individuals or organisations being officially charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities, or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State.

"States have frequently invoked counter-terrorism as the reason an organisation or individual should be denied access to participation at the United Nations. The real global threat of terrorism notwithstanding, this issue must be tackled without compromising respect for human rights," the report says.

The wide scope of reprisals inhibits the UN's work in many ways, including in conflict settings, when delivering humanitarian assistance or in protecting civilians, and in the development context, where community members who engage on land and resource-related projects frequently encounter a hostile environment.

The report recognised that the United Nations must strengthen the collection of information on acts of intimidation and reprisal, including do more to ensure that incidents experienced by women human rights defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are documented, disaggregated and properly analysed.

It also encouraged all stakeholders to report allegations of intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights as they occur, to ensure follow-up and action.

"As the Secretary-General has said, we should all be deeply shocked and angered by the extent to which civil society actors suffer reprisals because of their work, including when they cooperate with the UN. But shock and anger must translate into real action. Governments can do much more to stop reprisals, ensure that they do not recur, and hold those responsible to account for their actions," said Gilmour.

The report called on States to follow up on the cases included in the present and previous reports and provide substantive responses.

Published : September 13, 2018

By : The Daily Star Asia News Network Dhaka