Reprisals reach even an international NGO attending the Human Rights Council in Geneva

June 13, 2016

This blog has always had a keen eye out for reprisals against human rights defenders as I believe strongly that this issue is one of the most crucial facing the human rights movement. See e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/. Now it turns out that Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), received a death threat during the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council (in March). Evidence strongly suggests that a diplomat working for the Russian Federation in Geneva and attending the Human Rights Council made this threat [see confirmation in link at the end of this piece].

HRHN - network logo

On 13 June at the opening of the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, The President of the Human Rights Council, Choi Kyonglim, addressed this threat and reprisals in general, and underlined the importance of enabling civil society`s active participation at the Human Rights Council.

HRHF takes this threat and the climate of increased reprisals against human rights defenders seriously, and we welcome the action taken by the president of the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, each individual State of the United Nations must hold their representatives responsible for acting in line with the States responsibility to protect human rights defenders, in international fora and at home” said Maria Dahle, Executive Director of HRHN. “This death threat – delivered at the very UN institution mandated to address such reprisals – by a representative of the Russian Federation. This action should at least lead to the concerned diplomat being suspended from work at the Human Rights Council.

Five international NGOs underlined the seriousness of the threat and called on the Human Rights Council, in a letter sent Monday 6 June, “to ensure that this case of reprisal is fully and promptly investigated and effectively remedied.” These five organisations were Human Rights House Network (HRHN), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, and World Organisation against Torture. 

[On Thursday 24 March 2016, during the adoption of the resolution on human rights defenders, an account sent a tweet directly to Florian Irminger, the tweet contained a disturbing graphic and was accompanied by a written threat on his life. The account of the individual making this threat, which is now closed, included a succession of tweets and a photo that show the individual was closely monitoring the debate and vote on the Russian-led amendments to the human rights defenders resolution. Based on investigations by Human Rights House Foundation, the evidence strongly suggests that the twitter account from which the death threat originated belongs to an accredited representative of the Russian Federation, working at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office in Geneva. HRHF is known for raising the deteriorating human rights situation in the Russian Federation, and has done so systematically at the Human Rights Council. The threat came at the exact moment when Russia was presenting amendments against the resolution on the protection of human rights defenders at the Human Rights Council. It then voted against the resolution. Russia also voted against the resolution on human rights defenders adopted in Autumn 2015 by the UN General Assembly in which the Assembly stated that communication technologies and social media should not be used to intimidate human rights defenders.]

Source: NGOs urge action following threats at the Council – Human Rights House Network

An article in the NYT of 14 June makes the point that it was indeed sent by Russian diplomat who later claimed it was meant as a joke (!). Anonymously?<

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