Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Gilmour’

Andrew Gilmour’s 2019 report on reprisals: it gets worse but response remains mostly rhetoric

September 23, 2019

UN Human Rights Office). The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent.  Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists. “Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us.  This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said. The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year.  It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations. “Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations. “A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.” He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations.  However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/%5D

However, the ISHR – which has followed the phenomenon much more systematically, made a more detailed and sombre assessment on 19 September: “Beyond rhetoric – States should step up efforts to prevent reprisals”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/] and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/]

It notes that during the second interactive dialogue on reprisals with the Assistant Secretary-General, only Germany and Costa Rica raised specific cases of reprisals in Egypt and Nicaragua, respectively. The Bahamas and the Maldives shared good practices. Other States condemned reprisals rhetorically, expressing particular concern about reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders and LGBTIQ defenders, as well as by Council members.

During the dialogue Germany followed up again on the case of Egyptian lawyer Ebrahim Metwally who was arrested on his way to Geneva to attend a meeting with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He was tortured and has been detained since September 2017. During the first interactive dialogue in September 2018, Germany was the only country to raise concern over an individual victim of reprisals. Costa Rica was the only other country to raise a specific situation of reprisals this year: it expressed particular concern about acts of intimidation and reprisals in Nicaragua.

The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.

The Maldives also told the Council that it is investigating the deaths of human rights defender Yameen Rashid and journalist Ahmed Rilwan to bring the perpetrators to justice; that the defamation law providing imprisonment sentences for journalists was repealed in November 2018; and that an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act is currently considered in parliament, which would guarantee that the Commission can communicate with international organizations. The Maldives agreed with the Assistant Secretary-General that the powerful impact of prevention is through a zero tolerance policy for reprisals and committed to condemn all reprisals as a matter of urgency. The Maldives admitted that that they ‘have seen it first hand and do not want to bear witness to it again!’.

In its statement during the interactive dialogue, ISHR asked the Assistant Secretary-General what steps should be taken to ensure a more comprehensive report to the Council. This came in response to notably missing cases that ISHR submitted implicating Brazil, Russia and the United States.  The Assistant Secretary-General acknowledged ISHR’s leading role in efforts to end reprisals, expressed his concern regarding the situations mentioned, but disagreed with ISHR’s statement that Secretary-General Guterres is pandering to certain States, ignoring victims’ legitimate claims and undermining efforts to protect victims from reprisals. He explained that the particular case raised by ISHR concerning remarks made by the then U.S. National Security Adviser, Mr. John R. Bolton, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo did not fall under the reporting mandate of the Secretary-General as the intimidation related to the International Criminal Court. However, ISHR recalls that the Secretary General’s 2018 reprisals report stated that ‘while recognising the independent judicial character of the International Criminal Court, the Court is regarded as a related organisation in the United Nations’ and cases related to the ICC have been included several times previously, for example:

  • The 2018 reprisals report documented that two defenders in Iraq faced reprisals after attending a preparation meeting for a conference aimed at calling on Iraq to join the Court (para 29).
  • The 2017 reprisals report included Israel in the reprisals report regarding incidents of reprisals and intimidation of defenders engaging with or promoting engagement with the International Criminal Court (para 39).

Read ISHR’s full statement at the interactive dialogue here.

UN human rights report shows rise in reprisals against activists, victims

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc42-beyond-rhetoric-states-should-step-efforts-prevent-reprisals

 

 

Intimidation and Reprisals on UN premises – NGOs ask for more action

September 17, 2019

On 23 August 2019, 23 NGOs wrote to the United Nations to raise concerns over the alarming pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society during sessions of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies. The letter calls on the ASG to raise this issue during his speech before the HRC on 19 September 2019, and urges the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of reprisals are not repeated in the future. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/05/human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

Below is the original text of the letter, as sent to the UN representatives in question:

To: Mr Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; H.E. Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal and President of the Human Rights Council; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Mr Gilmour, 

We, the undersigned organisations, write to raise deep concerns about a consistent pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society from around the world during sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Treaty Bodies. We are particularly concerned by acts of intimidation perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. 

During the 41st session of the HRC, staff of Permanent Missions and individuals wearing non-diplomatic badges, who were later verified as working with UN Member and Observer States, attended our side-events, and blatantly eavesdropped on our conversations, recorded our comments, took photos and videos of the audience, and made threatening gestures and remarks. 

We are all the more concerned as this is not the first time that human rights defenders and other individuals engaging with the HRC have faced acts of harassment and intimidation. Rather, these tactics are part of a consistent and systematic pattern of behaviour that we have unfortunately come to anticipate and expect at every session of the HRC. 

Furthermore, HRDs engaging with the Treaty Bodies also face intimidation and reprisals perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. There have been multiple instances of so-called “GONGOs” – governmental non-governmental organisations – registering for confidential and closed briefings with Treaty Bodies’ members. This allows them to know exactly who among civil society is present during these briefings. There has also been cases of briefings that have been filmed without the permission of NGOs. 

What is more, governments’ support given to GONGOs means that they are often granted consultative status with the UN. On the contrary, independent NGOs continue to be denied the ECOSOC status, demonstrating that reprisals against HRDs also occur within the UN system. In addition, the proliferation of GONGOs both at the HRC and Treaty Bodies, allows them to influence the discourse about human rights in a particular state or region, thus minimising the real issues at stake. 

The aforementioned acts of harassment and intimidation are concerning not only because they create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, but also because numerous human rights defenders who have travelled to Geneva to participate in HRC or Treaty Body sessions have faced reprisals upon their return to their countries as a direct result of this. As such, we take these acts of intimidation very seriously and submit that they may result in further acts of retaliation.

We note with appreciation that the current president of the HRC, his Excellency Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal, addressed some of the issues raised in this letter during the final meeting of the 41st session of the HRC. He expressed his concern that “civil society organisations continue to face intimidation and reprisals” and pointed out that a number of cases had been reported to him, including of verbal harassment and unauthorised photographs taken during side-events. He emphasised that “any acts of intimidation against any individual or group that attempts to cooperate with the Human Rights Council is unacceptable”, and reminded Member and Observer States of their responsibility to ensure that civil society operate in a safe space. 

In addition, in July 2019, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, working in conjunction with the University of Oxford, Tibet Justice Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council launched the report “Compromised Space for Unrepresented Peoples at the United Nations”. Based on interviews and testimonies from 77 HRDs working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples, it identifies a systematic attack on the UN human rights system by certain governments. This is characterised by “blocking tactics […] including deferring ECOSOC status decisions, and intervening in plenary statements, to more overt instances of harassment, intimidation and outright violence, which constitute state reprisals”. Such challenges are compounded for HRDs from minority, indigenous and marginalised groups.

While we acknowledge that HRC presidents, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) reprisals team, the Treaty Bodies’ focal points for reprisals and yourself have all previously raised awareness on this issue, we strongly believe that there is a need to draw further attention to such acts of intimidation and harassment. We further note that to date, the OHCHR has not developed a systematic and practical response to the practices outlined in this letter. 

It is our contention that failure to sanction reprisals on UN premises will only embolden such acts elsewhere. Therefore, we call on you to raise this grave pattern during the presentation of the UNSG annual report on reprisals during the 42nd session of the HRC. We also call on you to urge the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of intimidation do not happen in the future. 

Yours sincerely, 

  1. Access Now 
  2. ALQST 
  3. Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 
  4. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. CCPR Centre 
  8. Committee for Justice 
  9. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
  10. Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
  11. MENA Rights Group 
  12. The Omani Centre for Human Rights
  13. OMCT
  14. Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 
  15. International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE 
  16. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 
  17. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism 
  18. Right Livelihood Foundation 
  19. Rights Realization Centre 
  20. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  21. Statelessness Network Asia Pacific 
  22. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
  23. World Uyghur Congress 

https://unpo.org/article/21663

 

Ending reprisals: side event in Geneva on 18 September

September 13, 2019

I provided already a list of side events at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/09/42nd-session-of-the-human-rights-council-list-of-side-events/]. Here is one that is really crucial: Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts.

It takes place on Wednesday, 18 September 2019, 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm in Room VIII, Palais des Nations, Geneva

The event seeks to provide a space for human rights defenders and experts to shed light on the nature and extent of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN; discuss and expand on the Secretary-General’s report; and consider efforts to date to address reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN as well as ways to further develop and strengthen policies and practices to prevent and address reprisals.

Panellists:

Moderator:  Phil Lynch, ISHR Director

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals (among many): https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

 

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/alert-to-the-human-rights-councils-35th-session-32381?e=d1945ebb90

No naming and shaming on reprisals at 39th Human Right Council session

October 5, 2018

On my ‘favorite’ topic of reprisals [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/ ] the ISHR reported that for the first time, the Human Rights Council had a chance to have a dialogue on the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals on 20 September 2018. Civil society had hoped States would seize this opportunity to denounce States carrying out reprisals against defenders engaging with the UN. Regrettably only one State, Germany, made explicit reference to a case of reprisal in the report. ‘We welcome in particular Germany’s intervention in the dialogue, citing the case of Egyptian lawyer Ibrahim Metwally, detained since October 2017 by the Egyptian authorities’, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR Human Rights Council Advocate. ‘This is precisely what we need more of—States having the courage and conviction to stand up for defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them. What we see now is defenders dissuaded from engaging because the cost is too high. What we need is for States to turn away from repression and attacks, because the cost to them is too high’.

The senior official on reprisals, Andrew Gilmour [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/andrew-gilmour/], presented the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals during the first ever interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council. The report catalogues 45 new cases of reprisals, ranging from travel bans and smear campaigns to arbitrary arrests and detention, inhuman treatment, torture, and killing. The ASG made it clear in his presentation that reported cases are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and spoke of three significant trends:

(1) the systematic denigration of human rights defenders and civil society organizations as “terrorists”;

(2) reprisals often being disguised as legal, political and administrative measures; and

(3) the use of accreditation and security procedures to hinder people from speaking out at UN headquarters and elsewhere.

ISHR delivered a statement during the session citing cases of reprisals against Chinese defenders not included in the report—Wang Qiaoling, Li Wenzu, Cao Shunli, and Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa—and calling for systematic follow-up by the Council on cases in the report.

We are especially concerned, once again, about the high number of Council Members or candidates for Council membership cited in the report, including: Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela,’ said El Hosseiny.

Half of the States cited in the report intervened during the dialogue to deny the allegations against them. While a significant number of States engaging in the dialogue supported the mandate to varying degrees and asked the ASG what could be taken to strengthen it, another group questioned the ASG’s methodology. Still others firmly opposed the work of the ASG on reprisals, including China and Cuba. China said it ‘regrets and objects’ to the report and the mechanism, and its use of ‘unproven information’, which it deems an interference with its sovereignty.

A side event organised by ISHR following the dialogue highlighted the urgent need to improve both the physical and digital security of defenders at risk of reprisals, and for States and the OHCHR to take a stronger position on this issue at a time when powerful States are threatening the UN system and its core values. ISHR in particular noted its disappointment with the low number of States in the dialogue that took due note of the allegations in the report, as opposed to attacking the methodology of the report and the reliability of the information.

Watch the statement here: 

Read ISHR’s full statement to the Council here.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc39-l-states-largely-decline-cite-specific-cases-during-councils-first-discussion-reprisals

Important side event in Geneva on ending reprisals coming up

September 12, 2018

On Wednesday 19 September (16:00-17:30 – Room XXIV, Palais des Nations, Geneva) the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is organizing a side event Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts.

This event seeks to provide a space for human rights defenders and experts to shed light on the nature and extent of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN; discuss and expand on the Secretary-General’s report; and to consider efforts to date to address reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN as well as ways to further develop and strengthen policies and practices to prevent and address reprisals.

Participants: 

  • Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights
  • Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • National human rights defenders

Moderator: Phil Lynch, Director of ISHR (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/)

The event is co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations and the Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the Office of the United Nations.

Download the flyer here

some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

Many HRD issues at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council

September 8, 2018

The 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council is held from coming Monday to 28 September 2018. Human Rights Defenders issues abound. Thanks to the excellent overview of the ISHR I can provide a short summary. To stay up-to-date, follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC39 on Twitter.

Reprisals

On 19 September, the Council will hold its first dedicated interactive dialogue on reprisals. It will engage with the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights (Andrew Gilmour) who as UN senior official on reprisals will present the Secretary General’s annual report on the United Nations’ “the reprisals report”. The dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals was mandated by the resolution on reprisals in September 2017 and provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and demand that Governments involved in existing cases provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. [for some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Other key thematic reports relevant to HRDs

The Council will hold interactive dialogues and consider the reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including on their country visits to Argentina and Sri Lanka, as well as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance including on their country visit to Gambia.

The Council will consider the human rights of indigenous peoples on several occasions: it will hold a panel on the issue (see further below), the annual reports by the High Commissioner,  the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, including on her visits to Mexico and Guatemala, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence will also present his annual report, followed by an interactive dialogue, in addition to discussing the Secretary General report on the prevention of genocide.

The Council will discuss the report of the Secretary-General on capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.

The Council will also discuss the report of the High Commissioner on mechanisms concerned with ensuring the safety of journalists and the Council will consider a resolution on the issue. The first informal consultation is scheduled for 11 September at 15:30.

The Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes will present a set of principles for States, businesses and other actors to protect workers, including the need to protect worker representatives and human rights defenders from reprisal.

Country-specific developments

Burundi. During its 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi (read here ISHR’s analysis of these two resolutions). At the 39th session, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on his final report on Burundi on 11 September from 15:00 to 18:00. The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on 17 September between 09:00 and 12:00. ISHR continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, which clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member of the Council. ISHR joined a group of NGOs in calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. [for earlier posts on Burundi: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/burundi/]

Yemen. Last September, the Council appointed a Group of Eminent Experts to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations of international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict since September 2014. They will present their report followed by an interactive dialogue on 26 September from 09:00 to 12:00. The Council will also consider a report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Yemen and on the implementation of the technical assistance. The Group of Eminent Experts’ report strongly suggests that parties to the armed conflict have perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, violations and crimes under international law. Over 50 civil society organisations have called on the Council to renew and strengthen the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts through the enhancement of its reporting structure and strengthening language on accountability.

China. The 39th session is the final session before China’s Universal Periodic Review. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/15/remember-2nd-anniversary-of-the-death-of-cao-shunli/; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/26/chinas-win-win-resolution-gets-the-votes-in-the-un-council/ and many more]

Other country situations where HRD issues are relevant

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates.

They include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on Syria
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Myanmar
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Ukraine
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Libya
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following two vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
  2. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 39th session

At the organisational meeting the following resolutions relevant to HRDs were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets):

  1. The human rights situation in Yemen (Yemen and a group of countries)
  2. The protection of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Togo on behalf of the African group)
  3. The protection of human rights in the Sudan (Togo on behalf of the African group)
  4. World Programme for Human Rights Education (Brazil, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Slovenia, Senegal,  Philippines, Thailand)
  5. The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom)
  6. The human rights situation in Somalia (the UK and a group of countries)
  7. The safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia)
  8. The human rights of indigenous peoples (Guatemala and Mexico)
  9. The promotion and protection of the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, South Africa)
  10. The human rights situation in Burundi (the European Union)
  11. The human rights situation in Myanmar (the European Union)
  12. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Botswana, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Netherlands, Peru)
  13. The situation of Rohingya muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation)

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  • The high-level panel discussion to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide will take place on 13 September from 10:00 to 12:00.
  • The annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples will take place on 19 September from 9:00 to 11:00. The theme will be the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms will take place on 24 September from 16:00 to 18:00. The theme will be gender integration and human rights investigations: strengthening a victim-centred approach.

Side events. As always there will be many side events concerning HRDs to which I will refer in the future.

——

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc39-key-issues-agenda-september-2018-session

Human rights defenders in Asia suffer reprisals says Gilmour

May 18, 2018

On 18 May 2018 several newspapers – such as The Guardian and Scoop (NZ) – carried a piece by Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights based in New York, which describes with great frankness how human rights defenders in Asia are under attack. To quote liberally:

In February, hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process, environmental activists and human rights defenders were labeled “terrorists” by their own government. The security of the individuals on this list is at stake, and some have fled the Philippines. The UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extra-judicial executions. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he wanted to slap her, and later announced that he would like to throw other UN human rights officials to the crocodiles. The national Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines was threatened with a zero budget and its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is in detention for her advocacy. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/10/there-seems-to-be-no-limit-to-what-duterte-is-willing-to-say-and-may-get-away-with/]

…..If governments in the region can target high profile human rights defenders and those associated with the UN with impunity, what is the message to others at community level who are not afforded the same visibility? ..

In the run up to the 2018 national elections in Cambodia, the Government has cracked down on the opposition, independent media and civil society. ..

In Myanmar, there were reports of violent reprisals by Tatmadaw, the armed forces, against civilians who met with Yanghee Lee, UN independent expert on Myanmar, following her visit to Rakhine State. …..

Bogus accusations of abetting terrorism are a common justification that we hear from governments to defend the targeting of the UN’s important civil society partners. We have countless cases of advocates charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities, or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the state.

I recently met with a group of human rights defenders from across South-East and South Asia about their experiences, which in some cases have been made worse by speaking out or if they share information with the UN. The stories about these reprisals were common – they have been charged with defamation, blasphemy and disinformation. They are increasingly threatened and targeted for their work, indeed some have been labeled as terrorists. There were also accusations of activists being drug addicts or mentally unwell.

Some governments feel threatened by any dissent. They label human rights concerns as “illegal outside interference” in their internal affairs; or as an attempt to overthrow regimes; or as an attempt to impose alien “Western” values.

Opposition to economic development and investment projects seems to incite particular ire. Agribusiness, extractive industries, and large-scale energy initiatives, including those that involve indigenous peoples’ land, often bear the brunt of the backlash.

Women’s rights activists and advocates of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons seem to be particularly targeted. Many are ostracized by their communities, labelled as outcasts, or branded as immoral. Sexual violence is part of this backlash, including rape threats.

Those working for religious freedom have been called ‘anti-Islam’, they and their families threatened or harassed. When advocacy for religious tolerance intersects with that of women’s rights and sexual freedom, the stakes can be even higher.

……

We are taking these allegations seriously, and addressing particular incidents of reprisals with governments. Civil society has to be heard – for the sake of us all.


For more of my posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1805/S00115/human-rights-advocates-in-asia-under-attack.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/18/imprisoned-threatened-silenced-human-rights-workers-across-asia-are-in-danger

 

Repressive governments and Ophelia compete to prevent HRDs to travel to Dublin

October 18, 2017

Andrew Anderson, the executive director of Front Line Defenders, published a piece at the beginning of the Dublin Platform for Human Rights hosted by Front Line Defenders in Ireland

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders

Thwe Thwe Win working on her land near the copper mine in Myanmar. 25 May 2016. Photo: Lauren DeCicca / Front Line Defenders
Thwe Thwe Win is one of the 117 at-risk activists invited to the 2017 Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders who actually made it to the bi-anual gathering of global activists. ….

Like thousands of people trying to get into Ireland on Monday, dozens of our international guests had flights canceled or postponed. Another 11, however, were prevented from attending long before Ophelia hit, banned from leaving home by their governments…..It is an opportunity for defenders typically preoccupied with defending their communities – and surviving the threats that ensure – to spend 72 hours not being physically surveilled by a totalitarian state, threatened at work by an extremist group, or receiving menacing phone calls demanding their stop their activism. It is an opportunity to relax, something activists tend to forget to do. It is also a chance for defenders to learn from their peers around the world. Feminists from Nigeria strategise with Colombians about how to peacefully defend indigenous land from paramilitaries. Emirati human rights defenders chat to Moroccans about the high-tech spying software both their governments recently purchased. Bahrainis lament with Bangladeshis the unrelenting influence of Saudi Arabia in each oppressive state’s policies. Rights activists from most of the former Soviet block tend to tease the Russian about their own governments’ adopting a “copy and paste” approach to many of Russia’s anti-NGO laws.

This year there will be a noticeable gap in our Dublin Castle crowd. Last week, we learned that our Kuwaiti invitee was threatened by state officials not to travel. The Bahraini invited is currently in detention; last time she was there, they sexually assaulted her. The second young Bahraini woman we invited in her place – who boldly took to Twitter to speak out for the former – now has a travel ban. The Saudi activist learned he was on an intelligence surveillance list last week; he rang our Blackrock office to say he was too scared to leave home. The Gulf has been a blackhole of restrictions of freedom of movement for human rights defenders for some time now, but unfortunately that’s not the end of it. Our Syrian colleague has had his passport confiscated by state security in Turkey, and a Ukrainian lawyer has yet to be granted permission to travel.

An activist in Cameroon was arrested for his peaceful activism a few weeks ago – he won’t be joining us this week; he’s in prison. A Cuban human rights defender planned to leave home in Guantanamo City extra early, knowing he’d be stopped at the town’s many American-run military checkpoints – security in Guantanamo is tight. Ultimately, he was never granted the “exit permit” required to leave Cuba. In Colombia, David Rabelo Crespo was recently released from prison after 7 years for a crime he did not commit, but has still been forbidden from travel to Dublin.

Governments world-over know that it is not laws, conventions, or UN resolutions that bring human rights reform to a country – it’s people. They know that activists are only as powerful as their communities, both local and international, and are working harder than ever to ensure that networks of solidarity cannot flourish.

Radical social change – the kind that undermines dictatorships, dismembers racist populist tides, secures indigenous peoples’ rights to their land – has always been born out of collective struggle. It is clear that in preventing our human rights defender colleagues from Bahrain, Kuwait, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Syria, and Bolivia from traveling, the respective authorities are not only vindictive, they are terrified of activists. Authoritarians think that if they lock human rights defenders away – behind bars or travel bans or physical attacks – that we will stop listening, that we will forget them. Authoritarians are wrong……….When governments work hard to silence activists, we must work harder to hear them.” [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/closing-civil-society-space-a-euphemism-for-killing-human-rights-defenders/#more-7208]

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights,made statement on 17 October 2017 which is worth reading in its totality but I copy here only the part on reprisals:

At times – as some of you have experienced or witnessed – engagement with the UN on human rights can lead to reprisals and intimidation. This has been a long-standing concern to the Organization, and we are distressed at the increasing number of such acts. These range from travel bans, threats and harassment, smear campaigns, surveillance, restrictive legislation, physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, denial of access to medical attention, and even killings. Intimidation of human rights defenders is happening all the time. The purpose is to penalize individuals who have already spoken out, thereby also sending a signal to many others from speaking out in future.

Recognising the gravity of this issue, last October the Secretary-General announced that he had asked me to lead efforts to strengthen UN-wide action for prevention of, protection against, investigation into and accountability for reprisals. Many Governments are very supportive, and have offered resources for this endeavor. Our host country Ireland is very strong in this regard. We are trying to get as much information about what is going on, and for this we need your input, and will circulate our email address to help us get it.… I recount a few lines of what I said in my speech to the Human Rights Council three weeks ago as I presented the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals:

We believe the significance of this report goes far beyond the individual cases contained in it. I think we should see these individuals as the canary in the coal mine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all. (…)

It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases to you, the UN membership, of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their respective Governments – was to cooperate with the UN institutions and mechanisms whose mandate of course derives from you, the UN membership. (…)

I salute the extraordinary courage that it sometimes takes for the victims and their families to come forward and share their stories with us, and also the dedication of the civil society organizations who act on behalf of those affected.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

Sources:

Its people and not laws that bring human rights reform to a country

http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22251&LangID=E

United Nations’ Andrew Gilmour: HRDs are like “the canary in the coalmine, bravely singing until they are silenced..”

September 22, 2017

Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights (file). UN Photo/Manuel Elias

On 20 September 2017 the UN reported that a  growing number of human rights defenders around the world are facing reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the United Nations, ranging from travel bans and the freezing of assets to detention and torture, says a new report issued by the world body.

“It is frankly nothing short of abhorrent that, year after year, we are compelled to present cases of intimidation and reprisals carried out against people whose crime – in the eyes of their governments – was to cooperate with UN institutions and mechanisms,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour“We should see these individuals as the canary in the coalmine, bravely singing until they are silenced by this toxic backlash against people, rights and dignity – as a dark warning to us all,” Mr. Gilmour told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as he presented the Secretary-General’s report.

The report, the eighth of its kind, names 29 countries where cases of reprisal and intimidation have been documented; this is higher than the previous highest number of 20. Eleven of the States are current members of the Human Rights Council, a news release pointed out. Some have featured in the annual report on reprisals nearly every year since it was instituted in 2010. [see my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/23/reprisals-at-the-un-more-calls-for-action-no-action/]

Mr. Gilmour told the Council that the problem was much more widespread than presented in the report. “Since this report is limited to reprisals against people cooperating with the UN, the cases covered in it represent only a small portion of a far more generalized backlash against civil society and others challenging State authorities, especially human rights defenders”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/21/assistant-secretary-general-for-human-rights-andrew-gilmour-speaks-very-freely-at-the-united-nations-association-of-the-usa/]

———

Amnesty International has launched a campaign to publicize what it says is a worsening situation for human rights activists throughout the world. The group hopes its “Brave” campaign will persuade governments to keep the promises they made in United Nations treaties to protect defenders of human rights. The organization Front Line Defenders says 281 people were killed in 2016 for defending human rights. In 2015, the number was 156.

Guadalupe Marengo, head of Amnesty’s Human Rights Defenders Program, told the VOA that “In the current context of us-versus-them, of demonization, of full frontal attack actually I would say on human rights, it is crucial that we take stock and that we call on the authorities to stop these attacks immediately.” …….Amnesty says human rights defenders are arrested, kidnapped and killed around the world. It says they are also attacked using online technology. Surveillance tools are used to study their activity. Marengo says campaigns launched on social media tell lies about the activists in an attempt to cause others to oppose them. “They are accused of being terrorists; they are accused of being criminals, they are accused of defending ‘immorality.’” Amnesty International hopes the “Brave” program will show the worsening situation for human rights activists worldwide.

——–

To underscore the point the NGO CIVICUS made a statement to the same (36th) UN Human Rights Council based on a panel discussion on the rights of indigenous people. 

“I read this statement on behalf of 39 human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on indigenous, land and environmental rights from 29 countries who met in Johannesburg, South Africa from 7-9 August 2017 to discuss strategies to advance the protection of indigenous, land and environmental rights activists. Mr. President, 2016 surpassed 2015 as the deadliest year on record for those stood up against land grabbing, natural resource exploitation and environmental destruction. Worryingly, the number of killed has risen to 200 from 185 in 2016 and spread to several countries across the world.

In the current global climate, where repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly is becoming the norm rather than the exception, environmental and land defenders are particularly vulnerable. When we express concerns over the collusion between States and corporate actors, we face opposition – dissent is stifled and criminalised, and our lives are threatened. Often our work is discredited and we are labelled ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-development’.

When we protest peacefully against this attack on our resources and livelihoods, we face violence from state authorities, private security groups and state-sponsored vigilante groups. When we stand up to defend the rights of our communities, we face unfounded criminal charges, unlawful arrests, custodial torture, threats to life and liberty, surveillance, judicial harassment and administrative hurdles, among other actions.

Mr. President, our families are threatened into silence and many of us have had to make the difficult decision to flee our homes and go into exile, retreating from a fight that has become too dangerous. We need global action to counter the threats we face.

We ask the panellists to urge the Council to emphasise the need for all states to ensure that affected communities are adequately consulted, including securing their full consent prior to the development of infrastructure and extractive industries projects. “

Sources:

United Nations News Centre – Growing number of rights defenders facing reprisals for cooperating with UN

http://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/2953-joint-statement-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples

https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/amnesty-human-rights-campaign/3861696.html

Reprisals at the UN: more calls for action – no action

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

ISHR’s latest report to the UN Secretary-General demonstrates again the need for the UN and States to act to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN, and lays out a series of recommendations in that regard. The report documents a disturbing pattern of reprisals against human rights defenders seeking to cooperate with the UN. It includes alleged cases of travel bans in Bahrain in the context of the Universal Period Review this May; disappearances and detention of defenders and lawyers, as well as intimidation of their families in China; and restrictions imposed on NGOs in Egypt.The report welcomes recent positive steps such as the appointment of Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour as the first high-level official on reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights, but highlights that more needs to be done. ‘In the overwhelming majority of cases, steps taken by the State to prevent, investigate or ensure accountability for reprisals have been inadequate or non-existent, and in many States there has been a high-level of impunity’ said ISHR’s Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel, Tess McEvoy. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/05/assistant-secretary-general-andrew-gilmour-appointed-as-the-uns-focal-point-to-combat-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/]

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States. However the UN itself also has a duty to step up. ‘Where States fail to adequately investigate and ensure accountability in relation to credible allegations of intimidation and reprisals, the UN should ensure an international, independent investigation into the case‘, said McEvoy. In the report ISHR called on UN bodies to take a more proactive role in combating reprisals and intimidation, and among other things, urged:

  • The Human Rights Council President and Bureau to clearly outlines steps the Council will take on receipt of information about credible risks of reprisals.
  • Treaty bodies to fully adopt and implement the San Jose guidelines.
  • The Assistant Secretary-General to ensure that rights holders and victims are kept regularly appraised of the status of their case.

     

    On the same day ISHR published a statement to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR calling for a stronger focus on the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and the development of processes to ensure civil society can freely engage without fear of intimidation and reprisal. ‘Civil society is not only necessary for developing recommendations, but is essential for the working towards the implementation of these recommendations. The role of civil society must therefore be protected and enhanced’, said ISHR.

    While recommendations received are often accepted at ‘Geneva level’, implementation of these recommendations on the ground remains patchy. Item 6 on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council provides a opportunity for dialogue on implementation.

    Alleged cases of intimidation and reprisals of human rights defenders engaging or seeking to engage in the UPR have escalated. ISHR received reports of cases in Egypt, India and Venezuela in the past year. Ongoing reprisals in Bahrain  are particularly concerning, including the imposition of travel bans on 27 defenders during the 27th UPR pre-session – including Sayed Hadi Al Musawi – as well as the interrogation of Abtisam Alsayegh in relation to her UN engagement. ISHR’s statement reiterated calls for States to ask advance questions, and make recommendations about the prevention, investigation, prosecution and remediation of reprisals.

    Reprisals against human rights defenders for their engagement with the UPR remain worryingly prevalent,’ said McEvoy. Given civil socity’s fundamental role in the UPR, we call on the President, Bureau and Secretariat to establish an institutionalised reprisals mechanism to prevent, investigate, remedy and promote accountability for reprisals associated with the UPR’, McEvoy continued. These calls form part of ISHR’s broader strategy to strengthen the UPR  which can be accessed hereContact: Tess McEvoy, Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel, and focal point for ISHR’s UPR advocacy, on: t.mcevoy@ishr.ch.

    http://www.ishr.ch/news/report-sg-un-and-states-must-do-more-prevent-and-ensure-accountability-reprisals-0