Conclusions of Side Event on Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders

October 14, 2013

To launch its new In-Brief on reprisals against human rights defenders, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights organized a side event at the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council. The round table discussion was presided by Prof. Andrew Clapham  The main Conclusions are:

The UN has developed several mechanisms to protect human rights. However, more needs to be done to protect individuals who make use of or cooperate with them. The communications that UN mechanisms receive show that reprisals occur frequently against human rights defenders who use the UN system. Reprisals that impede or prevent individuals from communicating with UN mechanisms violate numerous rights, including the right to communicate with UN mechanisms. They also undermine the authority and integrity of UN mechanisms and the UN system. Action to prevent and sanction reprisals, and protect human rights defenders against them, is justified on both grounds. UN organs are becoming more aware of this problem and the threat that reprisals pose both to protection of human rights and to the authority and purpose of UN protection mechanisms. As a result, there is an opportunity to introduce additional procedures to identify reprisals more precisely, sanction them more effectively, and provide protection to human rights defenders (and their families and associates) who cooperate with the UN system.

In this regard, it will be necessary to clarify the notion of reprisals, the scope of protection against them, and the burden of proof. The human rights treaty provisions that explicitly address reprisals could be a starting point for such work. Action to address reprisals should focus on two aspects. It should establish the principle that every person is entitled to communicate with UN mechanisms, including human rights mechanisms.

Secondly, norms and mechanisms that protect individuals from violence, threats of violence, harassment, and constraints on freedoms of opinion, expression and association should specifically address reprisals against individuals who cooperate with the UN system. The right to communicate with UN mechanisms is a vital component of the human rights framework. It provides an essential recourse, both in bringing human rights violations to light, and assisting victims to obtain an effective remedy. Effective action requires the development of specific mechanisms for dealing with individual cases; and a continued broader effort to strengthen respect for human rights and the human rights system. Recommendations include:

  • reinforcing action at domestic level;
  • strengthening judicial efforts to investigate allegations of reprisals;
  • introducing immediate response procedures to protect victims of reprisals;
  • the establishment of programmes to protect victims following the model of national witness programmes.

The proposed creation of national and international focal points mandated to collect and investigate information on, and act against, alleged reprisals could lay the foundation for a more comprehensive approach. These mechanisms could benefit from the adoption of guidelines on how to identify and address cases of reprisals as well as from guarantees ensuring response effectiveness. Current discussions in the treaty body system and in the Human Rights Council offer an opportunity to devise an integrated approach, that will sanction violations associated with reprisals, and give human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN protection from such human rights violations.

full document at:

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4 Responses to “Conclusions of Side Event on Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders”

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