Zero Tolerance for States that take reprisals against HRDs – Let’s up the ante

March 13, 2014

States that commit or tolerate reprisals against #HRDs for cooperation with #UN should loose their voting rights says@thoolen is what Michael Ineichen twitted about my intervention in a meeting in Geneva  organized by the ISHR. on 11 March. And that is basically correct. However, a bit more explanation of my rather ‘extremist position’ may be in order:

The topic of reprisals against persons who cooperate (as witnesses) with the UN and its various office holders has been raised by many, including this blog. [see: and] When at the very well-attended side event organized by the International Service for Human Rights in the margin of the UN Council of Human Rights, the issue of reprisals came up again, I said that the international community is perhaps a bit too timid in its reaction to the increase in reprisals against Human Rights Defenders who testify to or cooperate with the United Nations. I stated that ‘messing with witnesses’ is considered by judges in almost all legal systems as an extremely grave thing. Or taking another analogy from legal thinking: a crime is considered a ‘qualified crime’ or ‘aggravated crime’ (and punished more severely) when certain circumstances are present, including when there is a dependency link between the victim and the perpetrator (think of murder or rape by the a custodian, a teacher or a doctor).

The resolution establishing the new Human Rights Council – replacing the previous Commission – states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” And one of the novelties touted was that the General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. 

The chilling effect that reprisals can have – especially when met with impunity – is potentially extremely damaging for the whole UN system of human rights procedures and will undo the slow but steady process of the last decades. Taken together with the above-mentioned seriousness of the aggravating character of reprisals, a powerful coalition of international and regional NGOs could well start public hearings with the purpose of demanding that States that commit reprisal be suspended.

If States can lose their right to vote in the General Assembly if they do not pay their fees for several years, there is in fact nothing shocking in demanding that States, who persecute and intimidate human rights defenders BECAUSE they cooperate with the United Nations, are not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the UN human rights body.


15 Responses to “Zero Tolerance for States that take reprisals against HRDs – Let’s up the ante”

  1. […] In its message of 22 April 2014 the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights refers to its submission – together with Child Rights Connect, the Center for Legal and Social Studies, FIACAT, the International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism and Al-Karama – identifying ways in which the Committee could better facilitate access and engagement by NGOs. ‘ISHR welcomes this development, which sends a clear signal that the Committee takes the danger of reprisals seriously and understands the need to address this threat,’ said ISHR’s Heather Collister, but she rightly points out that cases of reprisal will continue to occur as long as there is no means of holding States accountable for the safety of the defenders who engage with regional or international human rights systems. See my earlier post advocating stronger measures against States that take reprisals:… […]

  2. […] Council in case of serious reprisals against human rights defenders who coöperate with the UN. […].  The backdrop to this admittedly far-reaching proposal is that when the Council was created […]

  3. […] OMCT and FIDH (within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) in cooperation with the ISHR organise on 16 June (16:00-17:30, room XXII, Palais des Nations – Geneva) a side event on Attacks and Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders, focusing on the issue of reprisals and accountability. As readers know by now, I believe that this is the topic which the human rights movement HAS TO TAKE more serious lest all progress of the last decades will be lost. My blog contains quite a few posts on reprisals (, but the key one is:…. […]

  4. […] [see also my post:…] […]

  5. […] The UN itself should strengthen the protection of defenders and prevent violations against them, including through the ‘Rights Up Front’ initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals, and by strengthening its institutional response to cases of reprisals against those who for cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. The need to prevent and ensure accountability for reprisals is particularly important given the Special Rapporteur’s finding that international and regional human rights mechanisms are increasingly being turned to and relied upon by defenders either to complement and strengthen domestic advocacy efforts, or because democratic institutions and the rule of law are weak or non-existent at the national level. [see also my ‘old’ post:…] […]

  6. […] strongly that this issue is one of the most crucial facing the human rights movement. See e.g.…. Now it turns out that Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at the Human Rights House Foundation […]

  7. […] of the UN Human Rights Council go too far (see e.g. in the case of persistent reprisals…). On Wednesday 29 June 2016, the two leading human rights NGOs, Amnesty International and Human […]

  8. […] Many of my earlier posts relate to reprisals:, including:… […]

  9. […] June 23, 2017 “The UN and States must take visible and sustained action against acts of intimidation and reprisal against those engaging or seeking to engage with the UN“, says the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in two reports issued on 22 June 2017.  Unfortunately, the NGO community (the main victims of the practice of reprisals) finds it difficult to come up with new ideas on how counter the trend while States continue to block the participation and input by human rights defenders. [ see:…and] […]

  10. […] I have published many posts on the issue of reprisals [] starting with… […]

  11. […] ‘We call on the President of the Council to request updates on the cases from Iraq, Libya, Russia, Turkmenistan and Yemen, as there has been no response from the States concerned,’ said Nolan. For an older post on reprisals, see:… […]

  12. […] The ISHR states that reports of cases of reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. [see in this context one of my earliest posts, still sadly relevant:…%5D.. […]

  13. […] While we welcome this statement and the leadership of the United Kingdom as a step towards enhanced dialogue on the issue of reprisals at the General Assembly, more needs to be done to protect the right of everyone to communicate with the UN. We echo previous calls for States to step up efforts to address reprisals, including by referring to  specific cases during future dialogues at the UN. [see also my ‘old’:…%5D […]

  14. […] In order for the international human rights system to function to its fullest potential, human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives regarding situations on the ground. However, many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN. Although this study by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) dates back to 3 may 2020 , I still want to refer to it because reprisals is one of the most importatnt topics covered regularly in this blog [see and… […]

  15. […] In a submission to the United Nations Reprisals Office, the unit within the UN’s human rights infrastructure that deals with instances where UN Member States have targeted or threatened human rights defenders for their work with the United Nations, the UNPO provided information to inform an upcoming UN Secretary General report on reprisals. Sewe also my ‘old’ post:… […]

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