Apr 22, 2022

UNPO Delivers Letter To Reprisals Against Unrepresented Activists and Diplomats at UN Level

UNPO has written a letter detailing the reprisals self-determination activists face for engaging with the UN by their parent states. The letter was delivered to the United Nations Reprisals Secretariat on the 15th April 2022 and demonstrates the various forms of reprisals and obstacles activists may face for merely wanting to participate in the United Nations’s human rights mechanisms or diplomatic arenas.

The cases presented in the letter are merely an indication of wider persecution UNPO member often face when attempting to exercise their rights at an international level. Many activists are under surveillance from authoritarian states when they participate in UN events such as the Human Rights Council and the Minority Forum at the UN, two of the most prominent platforms that allow minority groups as non-state actors to engage with international institutions.

The submission included a selection of individuals cases of threats and reprisals that have occurred in the year between April 2021 and April 2022 as a result of UN-related work of people associated with members of the UNPO, noting however that there are many more such cases that the UNPO was asked not to disclose. The cases included:

  • An Kurdish Iranian activist and language teacher arbitrarily arrested and detained whose family has been targeted following a communications led by six Special Rapporteur mandate holders;
  • The case of two Ahwazi Arab individuals, one forcibly disappeared by the Iranian authorities, and the other denied the issuance of travel documents, as a result of family members interacting with UN bodies and mechanisms;
  • An arrested Iranian Baluch activists whose family members have been intimidated following communication with UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups;
  • A Khmer Krom activist who was arrested for distributing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam, who was again arrested and interrogated following the UN issuing a Joint Allegation Letter on the issue;
  • Ongoing intimidation against the family members of disappeared Hmong children in Laos who have been threatened by local authorities because of a case at the UN trying to push the government to find the children.

The submission further highlights a number of broader and growing thematic trends as it relates to the silencing and suppression of unrepresented peoples.

For instance, the impact of reprisals that such activists face from authoritarian states continued to be compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021. While the restrictions necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic have gradually reduced, 2021 remained a challenging year for civil society participation at the UN. With online meetings remaining the norm, internet restrictions and shut-downs imposed by certain countries naturally impacted the ability of many of the most vulnerable activists to engage with UN mechanisms. At the same time, limitations in technological knowledge and lack of IT equipment also presented obstacles.

The submission also notes how authoritarian countries, particularly Iran, Russia, and China, are undergoing a serious escalation of cross-border reprisals against members of diaspora who have sought safety abroad in Europe. As also illustrated through our Compromised Space Europe campaign, the experience of reprisals by activists who have sought safety in Europe, either directly through harassment and threats, or indirectly through their family members, creates a significant ripple effect on their own and their community’s continued engagement in advocacy and activism. Many have reported that after reprisals have occurred against them or those in their community, they feel less safe to engage with international bodies such as the UN.

In light of the individual cases and thematic areas of concern mentioned above, the UNPO hope that the General Secretary’s report may reflect the developments outlined here. The cases raised in this submission are all indicative of the broader trend towards the stifling of cooperation between minority and indigenous rights defenders and the United Nations human rights mechanisms being undertaken by authoritarian states. The UNPO will continue to document and raise awareness of reprisals targeting our member communities.