UNPO: reprisals on the rise

April 22, 2021

On 20 April 2021, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has told the United Nations that “threats to participation at and cooperation with the United Nations which minority and indigenous communities are presently facing, represent not only matters of individual concern, but also raise concern about whether the United Nations itself will be able to achieve its responsibilities under Article 1 of the UN Charter to ‘respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.’”

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: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

The UNPO submission highlighted how cooperation with the United Nations is becoming increasingly difficult for minority and indigenous rights defenders given the extent of reprisals that such activists face from authoritarian states and the general closing off of space at the United Nations for these activists, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The submission included a selection of individuals cases of threats and reprisals that have occurred in the year between April 2020 and April 2021 as a result of UN-related work of people associated with members of the UNPO, noting however that there are many more such cases that the UNPO was asked not to disclose. The cases included:

  • Family members of disappeared Hmong children in Laos who have been threatened by local authorities because of a case at the UN trying to push the government to find the children;
  • A Khmer Krom activist whose efforts to seek review of his unlawful detention in Vietnam were stymied by the strong possibility that the government would increase the severity of charges against him related to his unlawful arrest;
  • A Iranian Baluch refugee in Turkey, whose family members are repeatedly interrogated and coerced by the security forces in Iran whenever he engages with the United Nations; and
  • A Khmer Krom activist who was recently arrested for doing little more than distribute the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam, a country that refuses to recognize the existence of indigenous popualtions.

The submission further highlighted that these individual cases were indicative of a broader and growing trend for UN Member States to target those who seek to engage with the UN system; a trend which is exacerbated by the failure of states in UN cost countries to adequately protect diaspora communities and other human rights defenders.

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