Sep 24, 2021

UN raises alarm about Hmong reprisals in UNPO case

The UN Secretary General has brought attention to the alarming pattern of reprisals perpetrated by Lao PDR against the indigenous Hmong community. The UNPO have been urgently calling on the international community to respond to the severe escalation of violence by Laotian government forces against the Hmong community in light of the atrocities suffered. The UN report similarly calls out reprisals from Iran and Vietnam, where serious acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and protesters have had a severe impact on self-determination movements. In it’s recent Compromised Space report, the UNPO depicts how these trends of State reprisals have been exacerbated in light of Covid-19, with the effective silencing of voices of unrepresented diplomats in UN spaces.

On 17 September, the UN Secretray General sent a report to the UN Human Rights Council on reported cases of reprisals against individuals and organizations for seeking to cooperate, or having cooperated, with the UN and it’s mechanisms in the field of human rights was published. The report presents information gathered between May 2020 and April 2021 concerning allegations of intimidation and reprisals from 29 State actors. Recognizing the crucial role of civil society and human rights defenders in enriching decision-making, the UN Secretary General condemned all acts of intimidation and reprisal by State and non-State actors, and affirms it’s commitment to ensuring the safety of civil society space.

The recent situation of the Hmong community, who have seen a stark increase in persecution from the Laotian government in recent times, is one of the cases duly highlighted by the UN. Following a communication by special procedures in August 2020, relatives of four members of the Hmong community who were forcibly disappeared in March 2020, including women, have been the subject of threats and intimidation by the Laotian army. Furthermore, it was reported that, on 8 March 2021, Mr. Chue Youa Vang, a 63-year-old male, and a relative of two of the disappeared, was killed by a group of Laotian soldiers in the forest while attempting to escape. A disturbing photo of Mr. Vang’s body was taken by the soldiers and disseminated among the Hmong community.

The UN Secretary General expressed “serious concern about what appears to be reprisals against the relatives of the disappeared in apparent retribution for having complained about their disappearance to UN Special Procedures” and that “the fear that the army is spreading among the Hmong population in the area appears to be deliberately intended to isolate these communities, many of whom are already living in militarised villages, under tight security surveillance, to severe links with their members who have fled in the forest, and with the outside world, including UN human rights protection mechanisms”.

With similar patterns of reprisals targeting indigenous and minority communities observable across the globe, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) have published a number of reports over the past years calling attention to the extensive and alarming challenges Unrepresented Peoples worldwide face when engaging with UN mechanisms.

Earlier this year in a submission to the United Nations Reprisals Office, the UNPO highlighted to the UN that "threats to participation at and cooperation with the United Nations that minority and indigenous communities are presently facing, represent not only matters of individual concern, but also raise concern about whether the United Nations itself will be able to achieve its responsibilities under Article 1 of the UN Charter to 'respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.”

The UNPO submission highlighted how cooperation with the United Nations is becoming increasingly difficult for minority and indigenous rights defenders given the extent of reprisals that such activists face from authoritarian states and the general closing off of space at the United Nations for these activists, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, through the Compromised Space campaign, the UNPO have been reporting on concrete instances of unrepresented diplomats facing reprisals both at the UN level and within other international or regional bodies. The 2019 report Compromised Space: Bullying and Blocking at the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, details how unrepresented diplomats and advocates of marginalized communities too frequently face harassment and intimidation from State actors, which resort to a range of “blocking” tactics to silence their voices. The 2020 report Compromised Space and Undiplomatic Immunity, builds upon the previous report, with a focus on the impact of Covid-19 on the ability for unrepresented diplomats to engage UN Human Rights Mechanisms. Finally the 2021 report Compromised Space: Foreign State Reprisals Against Unrepresented Diplomats in Europe highlights the recent increase in reprisals obserced in Europe and a concurrent failure by European states, including those hosting the U.N. and other international and regional bodies, and the EU to recognize the scope and severity of the issue.

The UNPO are continuing to document and raise awareness of reprisals targeted at advocates of unrepresented peoples, aiming to build international support to condemn and respond to these individual cases and ensure governments are providing greater protection to victims and holding perpetrators responsible accountable.