Sep 17, 2019

OSCE Joins Calls for UN Reprisals Reform


The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has joined two letters in support of a draft resolution on acts of intimidation and reprisals at UN human rights mechanisms, which has been presented on 19 September 2019 at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

On 23 August 2019, UNPO and 22 NGOs wrote to the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights (ASG), the President of the (HRC), and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, to raise concerns over the alarming pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society during sessions of the HRC and Treaty Bodies. The letter calls on the ASG to raise this issue during his speech before the HRC on 19 September 2019, and urges the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of reprisals are not repeated in the future. 

On 9 September 2019, UNPO co-signed a letter in support of a draft resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights at the 42nd session of the HRC. In particular, the draft resolution aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to put an end to acts of intimidation and reprisals. In light of its "Compromised Space" report, in which it calls for attention to these systemic concerns, the UNPO has welcomed the presentation of these issues before the 42nd session of the HRC.

 

Below is the original text of the letter of 23 August 2019, as sent to the UN representatives in question:

To: Mr Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; H.E. Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal and President of the Human Rights Council; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

 

Mr Gilmour, 

We, the undersigned organisations, write to raise deep concerns about a consistent pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society from around the world during sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Treaty Bodies. We are particularly concerned by acts of intimidation perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. 

During the 41st session of the HRC, staff of Permanent Missions and individuals wearing non-diplomatic badges, who were later verified as working with UN Member and Observer States, attended our side-events, and blatantly eavesdropped on our conversations, recorded our comments, took photos and videos of the audience, and made threatening gestures and remarks. 

We are all the more concerned as this is not the first time that human rights defenders and other individuals engaging with the HRC have faced acts of harassment and intimidation. Rather, these tactics are part of a consistent and systematic pattern of behaviour that we have unfortunately come to anticipate and expect at every session of the HRC. 

Furthermore, HRDs engaging with the Treaty Bodies also face intimidation and reprisals perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. There have been multiple instances of so-called “GONGOs” – governmental non-governmental organisations – registering for confidential and closed briefings with Treaty Bodies’ members. This allows them to know exactly who among civil society is present during these briefings. There has also been cases of briefings that have been filmed without the permission of NGOs. 

What is more, governments’ support given to GONGOs means that they are often granted consultative status with the UN. On the contrary, independent NGOs continue to be denied the ECOSOC status, demonstrating that reprisals against HRDs also occur within the UN system. In addition, the proliferation of GONGOs both at the HRC and Treaty Bodies, allows them to influence the discourse about human rights in a particular state or region, thus minimising the real issues at stake. 

The aforementioned acts of harassment and intimidation are concerning not only because they create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, but also because numerous human rights defenders who have travelled to Geneva to participate in HRC or Treaty Body sessions have faced reprisals upon their return to their countries as a direct result of this. As such, we take these acts of intimidation very seriously and submit that they may result in further acts of retaliation.

We note with appreciation that the current president of the HRC, his Excellency Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal, addressed some of the issues raised in this letter during the final meeting of the 41st session of the HRC. He expressed his concern that “civil society organisations continue to face intimidation and reprisals” and pointed out that a number of cases had been reported to him, including of verbal harassment and unauthorised photographs taken during side-events. He emphasised that “any acts of intimidation against any individual or group that attempts to cooperate with the Human Rights Council is unacceptable”, and reminded Member and Observer States of their responsibility to ensure that civil society operate in a safe space. 

In addition, in July 2019, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, working in conjunction with the University of Oxford, Tibet Justice Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council launched the report “Compromised Space for Unrepresented Peoples at the United Nations”. Based on interviews and testimonies from 77 HRDs working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples, it identifies a systematic attack on the UN human rights system by certain governments. This is characterised by “blocking tactics [...] including deferring ECOSOC status decisions, and intervening in plenary statements, to more overt instances of harassment, intimidation and outright violence, which constitute state reprisals”. Such challenges are compounded for HRDs from minority, indigenous and marginalised groups.

While we acknowledge that HRC presidents, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) reprisals team, the Treaty Bodies’ focal points for reprisals and yourself have all previously raised awareness on this issue, we strongly believe that there is a need to draw further attention to such acts of intimidation and harassment. We further note that to date, the OHCHR has not developed a systematic and practical response to the practices outlined in this letter. 

It is our contention that failure to sanction reprisals on UN premises will only embolden such acts elsewhere. Therefore, we call on you to raise this grave pattern during the presentation of the UNSG annual report on reprisals during the 42nd session of the HRC. We also call on you to urge the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of intimidation do not happen in the future. 

 

Yours sincerely, 

  1. Access Now 
  2. ALQST 
  3. Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 
  4. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. CCPR Centre 
  8. Committee for Justice 
  9. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
  10. Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
  11. MENA Rights Group 
  12. The Omani Centre for Human Rights
  13. OMCT
  14. Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 
  15. International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE 
  16. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 
  17. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism 
  18. Right Livelihood Foundation 
  19. Rights Realization Centre 
  20. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  21. Statelessness Network Asia Pacific 
  22. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
  23. World Uyghur Congress 

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Below is the original text of the letter of 9 September 2019: 

Re: Support resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council

 

Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council on cooperation with the UN. The draft resolution aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to put an end to acts of intimidation and reprisals. We urge your delegation to support the adoption of the draft resolution and resist efforts to undermine and weaken it.

Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights at the community, national, regional and international levels, to exercise freedoms of expression, association and to communicate with intergovernmental organisations. States have an obligation to ensure the safety and security of persons seeking to engage with the United Nations, including online, to prevent reprisals by State or non-State actors and to condemn, ensure accountability, and access to an effective remedy where reprisals do occur.

The Human Rights Council has recognised that civil society facilitates the achievement of the purposes and principles of the United Nations and that unhindered access to international and regional processes are indispensable for building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies. The UN Secretary General has acknowledged that partnership with civil society is critical to succeeding in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Civil society ensures that discussions and decisions at the UN are informed by relevant expertise and experience and realities on the ground, and that a full range of perspectives are heard. No person should face harassment, threats, intimidation or attacks for their efforts to uphold human rights and everyone must be confident when cooperating and contributing to the UN that they will not face intimidation or reprisals for doing so. The lack of accountability for victims of acts of intimidation and reprisals presents a grave threat to the credibility, integrity and legitimacy of intergovernmental bodies.

However, human rights defenders and civil society continue to face intimidation and reprisals when engaging or seeking to engage with the United Nations. The Secretary-General's most recent report reveals that intimidation and reprisals are worsening. The 2019 report further reveals that:

  • Acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal systematic patterns, rather than isolated incidents;
  • There is increasing self-censorship by human rights defenders and civil society who decide not to engage with the UN out of fear for their safety;
  • Counter-terrorism measures, national security arguments and restrictive legislation continue to be mis-used by States to block access to the UN;
  • Acts of intimidation and reprisals can take the form of sexual and gender-based violence and take place online and offline;
  • Groups in vulnerable situations continue to be exposed to barriers, threats and violence related to their engagement with the UN.

Despite efforts by the UN and States to address this critical issue, more remains to be done to ensure that acts of reprisals and intimidation are addressed effectively and consistently across the UN system including through preventative and gender-responsive approaches.

The draft resolution aims to draw attention to the worsening trend of reprisals and intimidation and strengthen the responses by the UN and States. It requests the Secretary-General to ensure that the reprisals report is also presented annually to the General Assembly, which will ensure greater attention to the issue and contribute to a more coherent system-wide response across the UN. The draft resolution also encourages Presidents of the Human Rights Council to continue to address reprisals and intimidation, including by providing information on cases brought to their attention at each session of the Council. The draft resolution also calls on States to prevent occurrence of acts of intimidation and reprisals by promoting a safe and enabling environment for those who seek to or cooperate with the UN. Where reprisals and intimidation occur, the draft resolution calls on States to ensure accountability, provide effective remedies, and prevent any recurrence.

We urge your delegation to support the adoption of the draft resolution on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights and to resist efforts to undermine and weaken the draft resolution.

 

Sincerely,

  1. International Service for Human Rights
  2. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  3. World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  6. Child Rights Connect
  7. MENA Rights Group
  8. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) World
  9. Peace Brigades International
  10. The Center for Reproductive Rights
  11. Human Rights Watch
  12. International Commission of Jurists
  13. Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR)
  14. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  15. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  16. Human Rights House Foundation
  17. UPR Info
  18. International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
  19. Insan Haklari Dernegi
  20. Edmund Rice International
  21. Christian Development Alternative (CDA)
  22. Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience
  23. International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Sri Lanka
  24. Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH)
  25. Institut des Médias pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l'Homme (IM2DH)
  26. JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique
  27. Karapatan Alliance Philippines Inc.
  28. Human Rights Movement
  29. Edmund Rice Advocacy Network
  30. Minority Rights Group
  31. Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis
  32. Access Now
  33. International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
  34. Association for Advancement of Legal Right
  35. Robert F Kennedy Human Rights
  36. Social Justice Connection
  37. Franciscans International
  38. Ryan Schlief
  39. Labour,Health and Human Rights Develpoment Centre
  40. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  41. East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
  42. Jousoryemen Foundation
  43. Stichting Global Alliance for LGBT Education (GALE)
  44. Zamara Foundation
  45. International alliance of women
  46. Emonyo Yefwe International
  47. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
  48. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  49. Economic and Social Rights Centre
  50. Nairobi Peoples Settlement Network
  51. Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos
  52. Dominicans for Justice and Peace
  53. Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Association
  54. Youth and Small Holders farmers association
  55. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
  56. World Assembly of Youth
  57. Protection International Kenya
  58. GHR
  59. La'o Hamutuk
  60. International Commission of Jurists- Kenyan Section
  61. Zo Indigenous Forum
  62. Humanists International
  63. Let Girls Learn Kenya Initiative
  64. International Accountability Project

 

 

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/US Mission)