Sep 29, 2023

Transnational Repression : Addressing a Growing Global Concern

Over the past eight years the UNPO has been actively documenting instances of transnational repression, a pressing global concern in which authoritarian states attack and intimidate activists and diaspora located abroad. We are pleased to observe a growing number of organizations, international actors, and journalists acknowledging the gravity of this issue and utilizing our research to enhance awareness even further. 


Among this increased attention, the Geneva Observer has highlighted the UNPO's efforts in addressing transnational repression and the threats faced by diaspora refugees and unrepresented diplomats from countries like Russia, China, and Iran.

In response to the growing prevalence of this practice, both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have initiated the drafting of reports aimed at addressing this issue. This underscores the critical necessity for the United Nations to urgently address this matter.

The UNPO’s Compromised Spaces project has investigated and advocated the issue of transnational repression and extraterritorial reprisals since 2016. Over the past 8 years, we have been monitoring the growing scale and severity of transnational reprisals committed by authoritarian states, predominantly Iran, Russia, and China, against diaspora communities, refugees, dissidents, human rights defenders, civil society, and ethnic minorities who reside in Europe.

Our reports find that European states rarely take the necessary action to protect these vulnerable groups and address these human rights and rule of law violations. The UNPO’s latest research involved the collection of 24 testimonies of victims of reprisals from Iran, Russia, and China in Europe between December 2021 and June 2022. In addition to highlighting potential avenues of redress available to victims, the UNPO is also campaigning for better coordination and response mechanisms by European States.

In light of these concerning developments, the UNPO recently met with the Geneva Observer, an independent, non-profit online media outlet founded by journalists, which specializes in comprehensive coverage of international relations, human rights, and global affairs ( On 21 September 2023, the Geneva Observer published a compelling article on the recent renewed global attention on transnational repression.

In discussing transnational repression, the Geneva Observer defines the practice as “governments reaching outside their borders to brutally silence their critics among diasporas and exiles”. The article then underscored the growing consensus that transnational repression is steadily on the rise, and often perpetrated by authoritarian countries aiming to silence critics outside their borders. Citing a June 2023 Freedom House report, the Geneva Observer outlines that 854 direct, physical incidents of transnational repression, committed by 38 governments in 92 countries, have occurred since 2014. A recent escalation has become apparent, directly attributed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, resulting in Russia intensifying its transnational repression not only in Ukraine but also extending its reach into Central Asia and Europe.

The Geneva Observer further delves into the UNPO's project focused on transnational repression, with a specific emphasis on the vulnerability of human rights activists in Geneva and other UN host cities. The article also addresses the issue of refugee espionage. It presents insights gathered from their interview with UNPO Secretary-General, Mercè Monje Cano, highlighting concerns related to transnational repression in the context of Geneva. These concerns stem from the substantial presence of activists who are vulnerable and lack representation, yet actively advocate or seek refuge in these locations:

“Of all the UN’s cities, Geneva is particularly concerned, given the presence of the Human Rights Council,” Mercè Monje-Cano, UNPO’s Secretary General, told The G|O. “This is where some of the most vulnerable and defenseless people come, often victims of egregious abuses. In light of this growing threat, there is a pressing need for better coordination and increased vigilance among nations and international bodies. Geneva, being the human rights capital of the world, must take a lead in safeguarding the rights and safety of those who come here.” Political or refugee espionage is a criminal offense in Switzerland, UNPO notes in its country survey.” (The Geneva Observer)

As this important topic continues to draw growing global attention, the UNPO appreciates and welcomes the increasing efforts made by national governments and regional institutions to address and recognize these critical issues.

The UNPO is pleased that the European Parliament has recently highlighted their strengthening of practices through a draft report. The draft report specifies a provision on transnational repression, with Article l stating that the European Parliament should “identify and close down any avenues that currently facilitate transnational repression efforts by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including in the European Union and in particular those targeting diaspora communities, in cooperation and coordination with like-minded partners.” ( ) We also note that the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has recently published a provisional version of draft resolutions and recommendations on transnational repression as a growing threat to the rule of law and human rights.

The UNPO strongly emphasizes the critical need to recognize transnational repression as a global issue and advocates for the UN and other international bodies to take proactive steps to address it.