UN High Commissioner for Human Rights under pressure for providing names of human rights defenders

February 10, 2017

There has been a slew of accusations coming from the Government Accountability Project (GAP) – a US based whistleblower NGO – against the UN and in particular the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The latest piece by Bea Edwards is entitled “Trouble at UN OHCHR: Investigate the High Commissioner” (9 February 2017). While I am most supportive of the OHCHR and its successive high commissioners including the current incumbent who has been vocal and courageous in taking on powerful adversaries [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/zeid-raad-al-hussein/ and especially https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/], I have to admit that there are some worrying aspects, especially the latest accusation that a senior official “made a habit of providing the Chinese Government with the names of Chinese human rights activists who applied for accreditation to the sessions of the Human Rights Council before they traveled to Geneva“. UN Watch – known for its anti UN bias – took this issue and even linked it to the death of Cao Shunli [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/cao-shunli/]. The High Commissioner issued on 2 February 2017 a forceful statement entitled “UN rights office categorically rejects claims it endangered NGOs” (see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21139&LangID=E). In this statement it says that “Chinese authorities, and others, regularly ask the UN Human Rights Office, several days or weeks prior to Human Rights Council meetings, whether particular NGO delegates are attending the forthcoming session. The Office never confirms this information until the accreditation process is formally under way, and until it is sure that there is no obvious security risk.” I give both document below but must say that the UN statement leaves open the possibility that Governments are given the names of those who intend to attend before they have left their country.

—————–

Government Accountability Project (GAP):

Under Ban Ki-Moon, the past Secretary General, United Nations management did not react well to the deteriorating credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Trouble in that corner has now been brewing for some years, but it must be immediately addressed if the Office is to maintain any legitimacy at all. Antonio Guterres, the new Secretary General, should place the High Commissioner under investigation for abuse of authority by an independent external body and reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to the prevention of human rights abuse.

The High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein of Jordan, seems willing to politicize the defense of human rights, and when things go bad, as they tend to do, he digs in his heels and doubles down. He doesn’t mediate or reconcile, even when his decisions are clearly wrong….

{I have left out the part that concerns the allegations re child abuse by French UN troops and Anders Compass in order to focus on the human rights defenders aspect} ….

Now Emma Reilly, a mid-level human rights officer and a national of Ireland and the UK, has revealed that a senior official at OHCHR made a habit of providing the Chinese Government with the names of Chinese human rights activists who applied for accreditation to the sessions of the Human Rights Council before they traveled to Geneva. Reilly believes the practice places the activists in danger by alerting their government to their impending travel abroad, where they may disclose human rights violations.  In those cases where the dissidents have asylum in other countries, the danger is to their family members and associates still in China, some of whom have already been imprisoned in an effort to silence the activists. There is ample evidence that the danger is real.

All three of these OHCHR staff members blew the whistle on misconduct, malfeasance, and just plain stupidity. Why would anyone think that reporting to a potentially repressive government the names of citizens about to leave the country for the purpose of criticizing the government is a good idea?

The High Commissioner for Human Rights would; Zeid would. And does. Reilly reported the chummy practice of telling the Chinese government who was about to become a problem, and he did nothing. He didn’t take steps either to protect the dissidents from repression or Reilly from retaliation.

Who would characterize reporting the sexual abuse of children to law enforcement as a leak of confidential information?  Zeid would. He did.

How is this man still in place, even as the whistleblowers at OHCHR are expelled from their jobs? Why doesn’t the UN whistleblower protection policy protect them?

The whistleblower protection policy in place at the time did not protect the whistleblowers because of various gaps in coverage. Kompass reported child abuse and criminal assault, but it was committed by forces under UN mandate, not UN command, so his action was not a protected disclosure at the UN.  This means that UN officials were free to retaliate against him, which Zeid and his cronies did. Brown reported abuse of authority but she was employed on a contract, which OHCHR argues, carries no guarantee of renewal.  And Emma Reilly reported a practice that the Ethics Office determined was not technically misconduct – probably because those who wrote the staff rules thought that no sane person would be stupid and venal enough to deliberately expose dissidents to abuse, and as a result, there is no specific rule against it.

So Zeid has been able to pick off the whistleblowers one by one. The result of this is that people who politicize the abuse of human rights are in charge at OHCHR. These are people who weigh the political costs of protecting dissidents from abuse around the world against the political advantages of abandoning them to their fates.

As of this writing it is common knowledge that human rights defenders have been disabled by the High Commissioner himself because they cannot be sure that he will advocate for them when they are in danger. Principled advocates have been forced out of OHCHR or are about to be.

To restore the credibility of the Office, Zeid himself must be investigated for abuse of authority. He must be accountable for permitting the deliberate endangerment, not only human rights advocates, but also of the legitimacy of the Office established to protect them.

UN rights office categorically rejects claims it endangered NGOs

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly rejects the totally unsupported allegation by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Inner City Press blog that it endangered four Chinese human rights defenders who attended the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2013.

The UN Human Rights Office also objects to the totally unsupported attempt by GAP to link the detention and subsequent tragic death in custody of Chinese activist Cao Shunli to the actions of the Office.

We deplore the efforts by organizations such as UN Watch to take the spurious allegations by GAP a step further. UN Watch tweeted: “Top @UNHumanRights official informed #China of dissident planning to testify @UN. She was detained & died in prison.” This is an outright lie and a deliberate defamation.

The UN Human Rights Office has publicly condemned the fact that harassment, intimidation and reprisals against NGO delegates attending the Human Rights Council appear to have been increasing in recent years – by a number of different States. Specific examples are now routinely and publicly referred to by the President of the Human Rights Council.

The facts surrounding the Chinese human rights defenders’ attendance at the Human Rights Council 2013 March session are as follows:

Representatives of the NGO in question attended the February-March 2013 meeting in Geneva – a regular public event that is televised and webcast. All four of them were residents of Europe or the United States and made public their plans to attend the Human Rights Council session, at several points beginning with a press release on 27 December 2012, when the NGO in question announced it would be co-hosting a public side event at the UN headquarters in Geneva during the Human Rights Council meeting. As is apparent on its website, the NGO is extremely open about its presence at many such events – including ones at venues much less secure than the UN premises in Geneva. Dating back at least to 2010, the same delegates have been regularly attending meetings of the Human Rights Council, which occur three times a year.

Chinese authorities, and others, regularly ask the UN Human Rights Office, several days or weeks prior to Human Rights Council meetings, whether particular NGO delegates are attending the forthcoming session. The Office never confirms this information until the accreditation process is formally under way, and until it is sure that there is no obvious security risk.

Nearer to the start of the sessions, the Office frequently receives an official letter, a note verbale, from the Government of China alleging that the NGO in question is a terrorist organization, and listing specific allegations against the individual delegates it knows are coming and requesting they be denied accreditation. At this point, the Office alerts UN Security, which looks into the allegations. Upon UN Security’s decision that there is no evidence to back up the allegations, the individuals are given the all-clear to enter the UN premises and attend the events they wish to attend. The individuals in question have never been denied entry by the UN on the basis of such allegations.

Additional precautionary measures triggered by the allegations include a warning by the UN to the concerned individuals that such allegations have been made against them, and specific additional vigilance by UN security to ensure no harm comes to the concerned NGO while they are on UN premises.

The inference that the UN Human Rights Office was in some way linked to the detention and tragic death of Cao Shunli six months later is malicious and defamatory, and is not supported by any evidence. Ms. Cao, who was resident in China itself, was detained en route to an NGO event in Geneva. Neither Ms. Cao nor the Chinese authorities approached the UN Human Rights Office about her plans to attend the event and the Office had no knowledge of those plans. There was no communication whatsoever between the Office and the Chinese authorities prior to her detention.

After she was detained, the Office closely followed the matter and drew the attention of the President of the Human Rights Council to Ms. Cao’s case. Subsequently, the President raised her detention directly with the Chinese Ambassador in Geneva as a possible example of reprisal by a State against someone cooperating with the UN or its various human rights mechanisms – a practice which the UN Human Rights Office has frequently and publicly denounced.

GAP and the Inner City Press also refer to a staff member at the UN Human Rights Office in relation to this case, who they assert is a whistle-blower and who they allege suffered reprisals at the hands of the Office. In fact, the staff member has never faced reprisals. The staff member has had her contracts renewed and remains employed by the organization on full pay. She has made allegations against various managers. These have been taken seriously, leading to two separate independent investigations that have been carried out to determine whether or not there is any substance to her allegations. In both instances, the claims made by the staff member were found to be unsubstantiated.

Sources:

Trouble at UN OHCHR: Investigate the High Commissioner | GAP

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21139&LangID=E

2 Responses to “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights under pressure for providing names of human rights defenders”

  1. Alfred de Zayas Says:

    Dear Hans

    this case has no merit however

    should not waste your time on it

    and NEVER cite this anti-human rights outfit called UN Watch

    you lose credibility

    two meritorious cases

    Anders Compass

    and

    Caroline Hunt Matthes <UNHCR

    know the case and can confirm the OHCHR press release by Rupert Colville

    kind regards

    On Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 9:41 AM, Hans Thoolen on Human Rights Defenders wrote:

    > Hans Thoolen posted: “There has been a slew of accusations coming from the > Government Accountability Project (GAP) – a US based whistleblower NGO – > against the UN and in particular the Office of the UN High Commissioner for > Human Rights. The latest piece by Bea Edwards is enti” >


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