Reprisals on Human Rights Defenders: Need for NGO Action

On 23 January 2019, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement listed States which had carried out reprisals or intimidation including killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests against individuals cooperating with the United Nations on human rights issues.  He said, “The world owes it to these brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information and to engage with the United Nations to ensure their rights to participate is respected.  Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.”  …“Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation of security.”…

The information (provided mostly by NGOs) is collected at the U.N. High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva and is evaluated to see if the information fits into a pattern of continuing human rights violations or if it is an individual event. 

Wadlow presents the States listed by broad geographic region rather than all together in alphabetical order as they are in the U.N. statement as other States in each region may also have human rights violation issues, often inter-related to the State named.  Thus, the list of States is only those which the U.N. is aware that there have been reprisals against individuals who have given information to the U.N. units. 

Middle East

 Bahrain,  Egypt,  Israel,  Saudi Arabia,  Morocco


 Cameroon,  Democratic Republic of Congo,  Djibouti,  Mali,  Rwanda,  South Sudan


 China,  India,  Maldives,  Myanmar,  Philippines,  Thailand

Latin America

Colombia,  Cuba,  Guatemala,  Guyana,  Honduras,  Trinidad and Tobago,  Venezuela


 Hungary,  Russian Federation

Central Asia

 Kyrgyzstan,  Turkmenistan

The impact and increasingly higher profile of human rights informants has left them more and more exposed to a high risk of harassment, repression, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial executions.  Governments are not the only actors.  Depending on the country, there can be gangs, militias, paramilitary and other non-governmental groups who also menace people thought to be giving information to the U.N. or to international human rights organizations

The publication by the U.N. of its list is done with the hope that governments themselves will take positive action to protect.  In some countries, internal security services or police-related “death squads” may act without the knowledge of the highest authorities of the State.  In other States, there is little repression that does not come on orders of the higher authorities. There is a need for representatives of NGOs and also the media to be alert, especially for violations in States which are not otherwise in the news. Active networking remains crucial.

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals, see: