Humanists calls on UN to stop reprisals against human rights defenders

June 15, 2016

On the first day of the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), called on the UN to do more to protect human rights activists, their right to free expression and their engagement with the UN system itself.

“We thank the High Commissioner for expressing his acute concern about the harassment of civil society organisations and journalists. As he has noted, effective engagement with, and empowerment of, civil society is vital to “give people, including the marginalised, a way to make their voices heard. Yet, some of those seeking to engage with this very institution have been targeted, via intimidation, threats, and reprisals, because they highlight human rights abuses in their own countries. Human rights defenders in China, Cambodia, Kuwait, and Sri Lanka have suffered reprisals. Just this weekend, Bahrain, following a predictable pattern, prevented at least six activists from traveling to Geneva to participate in this Council.

In addition, a number of states have made concerted efforts to exclude specific civil society voices from participation at the UN generally; ahead of a UN meeting on ending AIDS this month, the OIC blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from attending. Freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly are not just rights to be emphasised for individuals across the world within different states, but also for those representing NGOs at the institutional level. Without them, we lose our capacity to stand up for the rights of others and our only current hope of bringing all states to account for their human rights abuses across the world.

This Council has a responsibility to protect those who engage with it from intimidation and reprisals. It also has a duty to ensure the protection of the all-too-vulnerable rights of free expression and assembly. If, as the High Commissioner suggests, civil society engagement can be viewed as a “threshold issue,” it is not at all clear whether this Council currently meets such a threshold…

Plenary of UN Human Rights Council, Geneva

Plenary of UN Human Rights Council, Geneva

O’Casey, IHEU Director of Advocacy,, argued that it is critical that the Council addresses threats suffered by those human rights defenders lobbying the UN once they have returned home.

Her statement in full at: IHEU | IHEU calls on UN to protect human rights defenders

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