Posts Tagged ‘anti-reprisals focal point’

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

 

Human Rights Defenders issues at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council

September 5, 2019

As usual the International Service for Human Rights has come out with an excellent preview of  key issues on the agenda of the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, starting on Monday 9 September 2019. And – also as usual – I provide here an extract of the key elements affecting human rights defenders more directly. The 42nd session will consider issues such as reprisals, indigenous peoples, death penalty, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances. To stay up-to-date on the whole session: follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC42 on Twitter. Side events will the subject of a separate post.

Reprisals

On 18 September, the ASG for Human Rights will present his annual Reprisals Report  (report on the cooperation with the United Nations) in his capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/05/assistant-secretary-general-andrew-gilmour-appointed-as-the-uns-focal-point-to-combat-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/]

It will be interesting to see the difference with the first such interactive dialogue in September 2018 [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/no-naming-and-shaming-on-reprisals-at-39th-human-right-council-session/]. Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution at this session which aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to end to acts of intimidation and reprisals.

The ISHR states that reports of cases of reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. [see in this context one of my earliest posts, still sadly relevant: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]..

Other key thematic reports

The Council will consider on 13 September two reports on the death penalty: the report of the UN Secretary General on capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, and the summary report of OHCHR on the biennial high-level panel discussion on human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty, in particular with respect to the rights to non-discrimination and equality. The Council will also consider a resolution on the issue.

The Council will hold dedicated debates and consider the reports of several mandates relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, such as:

  • The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery will present her report on current and emerging forms of slavery and country visit report to Italy on 9 September.
  • The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will present a report on public policies for effective investigation of disappearances, as well as its annual report and country visit report to Ukraine, on 11 September.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence will present his report and country visit report to Sri Lanka on 11 September.
  • The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will present its annual report and country visit report to Bhutan on 13 September.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples will present her annual report and country visit reports to Ecuador and Timor-Leste on 18 September. The Council will also consider during the same debate three reports of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Country-specific developments

China: The harassment, surveillance, and mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the People’s Republic of China continues to be the most pressing issue with regards to China for the international community to address.

At the same time, China has continued its crackdown on human rights activists: Jiang Tianyong a victim of reprisals for his engagement with UN experts, has been ‘free’ for six months, but remains under heavy-handed surveillance. Citizen journalist Huang Qi was sentenced to 12 years, despite serious health concerns.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/chinas-cyber-dissident-huang-qi-get-12-years-jail/]. Grassroots activist Ji Sizun died in custody [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/15/in-memoriam-chinese-human-rights-defender-ji-sizun/] while Chen Jianfang, recipient of the Cao Shunli award, is being held incommunicado in an unknown location. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/12/cao-shunli-a-profile-and-new-award-in-her-name/]

Saudi Arabia: The September session provides an invaluable opportunity for the Council and States to follow up on the joint statement delivered on behalf of 36 States by Iceland [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/22/why-iceland-led-the-un-resolution-on-the-philippines/] During the June session, a broad range of cross-regional States called for accountability and guarantees of non-recurrence during the discussion of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions’ report on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

ISHR calls on States to advancing a HRC resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country and calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and to drop all charges against them.

Egypt: ISHR remains deeply concerned about the situation of human rights defenders in Egypt ..ISHR recalls that defenders who engaged with Egypt’s UPR in 2014 have since then faced travel bans, closure of NGOs, assets freezing, and are facing up to 25 years imprisonment in the ‘NGO Foreign Funding case no. 173.’ ISHR also recalls that individuals and communities who engaged with the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing during her visit in September 2018 faced systematic reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/21/un-pulls-anti-torture-conference-from-egypt-to-seek-other-regional-venue/]

Venezuela: Several Venezuelan human rights organisations and international NGOs think  are calling on States to create an investigation. On 10 September, the High Commissioner is scheduled to provide an update to the Council, as a follow up to her report delivered in July. She is expected to outline further deterioration in the situation in the country.

Burundi: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing on 17 September. Burundi continues to refuse to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. ISHR calls on States to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry.

The Burundian Government suspended one of the last remaining independent civil society organisations (PARCEM), suspended the operating license of the Voice of America, revoked the license of the BBC, and forced at least 30 international non-governmental organisations to cease their activities. On 17 July 2019, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the 32-year prison sentence against HRD Germain Rukuki. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]

Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar and the international fact-finding mission on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar on 17 September as well as the presentation of the report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar on 10 September. Among other things, the FFM sheds light on the economic interests of Myanmar’s military and the strong connections between the Tatmadaw and businesses and investors.

Enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Nicaragua on 10 September

Interactive dialogue on the oral update by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan on 16 September

Interactive dialogue on the updated written report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on 17 September

Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine on 24 September

Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Libya on 25 September

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports: During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on – inter alia – Albania, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Qatar.  ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. It publishes briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed a candidate for the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.

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

  1. Arbitrary detention (mandate renewal, France)
  2. Technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights (Arab Group)
  3. Contemporary forms of slavery (mandate renewal, United Kingdom)
  4. Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights – ‘the reprisals resolution’ (Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Uruguay).
  5. Human rights and indigenous peoples (mandate renewal of the SR, Guatemala, Mexico).
  6. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Guatemala, Mexico).
  7. Promoting international cooperation to support national human rights follow-up systems, processes and related mechanisms (Brazil, Paraguay).
  8. The question of the death penalty (Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Republic of Moldova, Switzerland).
  9. World program on human rights education and training (Slovenia)
  10. Technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey).
  11. Human rights situation in Yemen (Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands)
  12. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Situation of human rights in Burundi (European Union)
  14. Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia (Japan)
  15. The right to privacy in the digital age (Brazil, Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Mexico)
  16. Assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights (Somalia, United Kingdom)
  17. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in the Sudan (African Group)
  18. The human rights situation in Venezuela (Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru)
  19. Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (the Organization of Islamic Cooperation)

——

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc42-key-issues-agenda-september-2019-session

 

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

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

Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour appointed as the UN’s focal point to combat reprisals against human rights defenders

October 5, 2016

The problem of reprisals against human rights defenders has been the subject of quite a few posts in this blog [see my earlier posts: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/]. On 3 October 2016 the SG of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, finally unveiled details about the long-awaited focal point against reprisals. This is a much-needed element to help combat the growing problem of governments preventing human rights defenders from engaging with the UN or punishing and even imprisoning them when they do so.

Assistant Secretary General, Andrew Gilmour, will be given a special mandate to receive, consider and respond to allegations of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and other civil society actors engaging with the UN. In announcing the appointment Mr Ban said  ‘These courageous individuals are often our only eyes and ears in extremely tough environments – and we owe them our best possible support’. ‘I have decided, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to designate my new Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Mr. Andrew Gilmour, to lead our efforts within the UN system to put a stop to all intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the United Nations on human rights,’.

recent report by the SG shows that reprisals take many forms, including travel bans, the issuance of arrest warrants on terrorism charges, detention and torture, surveillance, death threats, attempts to frame activists for criminal acts, defamation, and intimidation.  In several cases defenders are tarnished as ‘terrorists’ or ‘traitors’, contributing to perceptions that engagement with the UN is an act of betrayal. In some cases reprisals have led to individuals fleeing their country, in others, to death.

This is an extremely welcome development. The ability of people or organisations to provide evidence or submit information or complaints to the UN is not a privilege – it is a fundamental right enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and it must be protected,’ said Ms Sinclair, ISHR’s legal counsel.

Source: Ban Ki-moon appoints high-ranking official to combat reprisals against human rights defenders | ISHR

NGO Forum preceding the April session of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

April 22, 2015

ISHR-logo-colour-highpublished on 21 April “KUMULIKA – THE AFRICAN COMMISSION MONITOR” which describes the NGO Forum that was held from 17-19 April prior to the 56th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). It involved close to 200 civil society participants from the continent. As usual. the NGO Forum followed the practice of holding a series of panel discussions combined with smaller special interest discussion groups, over the course of which recommendations and resolutions were developed to put to the Commission at the upcoming session. You can find more detail in that Newsletter but some key elements are:

Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting civil society space and preventing reprisals: side event by ISHR on 19 September; also as webcast

September 15, 2014

Protecting civil society space and preventing reprisals: National and international developments and next steps” is side event that will be held on Friday, 19 September 2014 from 9.15 to 10.45 am in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Room XXIV.

Opening remarks Olivier de Frouville, member of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and member-elect of the UN Human Rights Committee

Panelists:

  • Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights
  • Stephania Kulaeva, Director, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial, Russia
  • Patricia OBrien, Ambassador of Ireland to the UN
  • Eleanor Openshaw, Reprisals Advocacy Manager, International Service for Human Rights
  • Mothusi Bruce Rabasha Palai, Ambassador of Botswana to the UN TBC

Moderator: Michael Ineichen, Human Rights Council Advocacy Director, ISHR

The event will be webcast at www.ishr.ch/webcast. You can also follow the event on Twitter @ISHRGlobal, using the hashtag #ProtectCSS.

If you would like to attend but do not have UN accreditation, please email information[at]ishr.ch before 12 noon on 16 September.

via Protecting civil society space and preventing reprisals: National and international developments and next steps | ISHR.

for earlier posts on reprisals, see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/

THF and ISHR produce new video on reprisals against human rights defenders

August 28, 2014

In this new video produced by ISHR and True Heroes Films [THF] you hear about 4 cases (from Russia, China, Sri Lanka and DRC) of reprisals against human rights defenders who have bravely engaged at the UN. It would seem that the political costs of silencing and intimidating HRDs is not high enough for certain States to desist from this terrible practice. [for more posts on reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/]

ISHR-logo-colour-highTHF_LOGO

 

New UN High Commissioner should be the “Human Rights Defender-in-Chief”

August 11, 2014

(re-issued for technical reasons)

My reference last week to an interview with the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/michel-forst-new-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-gives-indication-of-his-priorities/] seemed well appreciated judging from the number of views. Therefore I now refer you to a piece by the Director of the ISHR, Phil Lynch, of 16 July, who addresses the incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein as the “human rights defender-in-chief “, saying that he has a particular responsibility to protect human rights defenders, especially so when they face intimidation and reprisals for their efforts to seek accountability at the UN for human rights violations. Read the rest of this entry »

New UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be the “human rights defender-in-chief”

August 11, 2014

My reference last week to an interview with the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/michel-forst-new-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-gives-indication-of-his-priorities/] seemed well appreciated judging from the number of views. Therefore I now refer you to a piece by the Director of the ISHR, Phil Lynch, of 16 July, who addresses the incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein as the “human rights defender-in-chief “, saying that he has a particular responsibility to protect human rights defenders, especially so when they face intimidation and reprisals for their efforts to seek accountability at the UN for human rights violations. Read the rest of this entry »