Posts Tagged ‘intimidation’

Intimidating break-in into the house of Turkish human rights defender Eren Keskin

June 18, 2020

Unknown perpetrators broke into Human Rights Association (İHD) Co-Chair Eren Keskin‘s house yesterday (June 16) to “threaten and intimidate her”, the association has said in a written statement.

Pretending to be burglars, the perpetrators ransacked the house but did not steal anything, according to the statement. The incident happened when Keskin was not at home and the police came to the house and made examinations. It was found after the police’s examination that a ring was taken and left on the table in the living room in what the İHD said was “a message” to the lawyer.

The incident was directly aimed at “threatening and intimidating” Keskin, according to the association. “She is known for clearly and fearlessly expressing her thoughts. For this reason, she often faces investigations and cases that we can call ‘judicial harassment.

“Our association will make the necessary applications nationally and internationally and will closely pursue the case. We remind the government of its duties with regards to the protection of human rights defenders in Turkey and would like to express that the government will directly be responsible for any unfavorableness that may develop.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/28/eren-keskin-in-turkey-sentenced-to-prison-and-more-to-come/

https://youtu.be/HOk0ykxtU-s

Rights Defender Eren Keskin Deposed over Her Tweets from Five Years Ago

http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/225874-unknown-perpetrators-break-into-rights-defender-eren-keskin-s-house

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/home-human-rights-lawyer-eren-keskin-broken

New Report ISHR: Reprisals in the African human rights system

June 16, 2020

On 12 May 2020 ISHR published a new report to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It demonstrates the need for the ACHPR and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the African human rights system. (ISHR’s report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the first annual report of the Focal Point on Reprisals, Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu.)

ISHR’s report documents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals that must be addressed. Cases of intimidation and reprisals featured in the submission range from States maligning and stigmatising defenders to banning them from travel and detaining them.  ‘Such reprisals violate human rights and fundamental freedoms that regional and international systems are obliged to promote and protect. Moreover, they also seriously impede bodies and mechanisms’ abilities to discharge their mandates effectively, threaten their integrity, and undermine the credibility of their work in the field of human rights’, said Adelaïde Etong Kame, ISHR Africa Programme Manager.  

In Malawi and Cameroon, defenders engaging with the ACHPR are threatened, stigmatised, harassed and attacked. In Burundi, increased monitoring by regional and international human rights mechanisms has been met with increased risk, stigmatisation and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In Mauritania, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. In Egypt, defenders engaging with the African human rights system have been maligned, intimidated, and detained. 

The report also documents how recent hosts of ACHPR sessions, in particular Mauritania and Egypt, have hindered and restricted access to the sessions, through visa denials, intimidation, harassment, and undue restrictions at the sessions themselves. ..

ISHR’s submission also documents undue restrictions on accreditation, namely the case of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), who have had their observer status to the ACHPR withdrawn, in violation of the rights of freedom of expression, association, and unhindered access to and communication with international bodies of CAL and its members, on discriminatory bases.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘In that regard, the task for the Focal Point and the ACHPR is now to take up these cases and ensure they are addressed with the perpetrating governments. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators will be emboldened’, said Etong Kame.  

Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the African human rights system, Submission to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, May 2020.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-new-ishr-report-reprisals-related-engagement-african-human-rights-system-must-be

Defending Defenders: Challenging Malicious Lawsuits in Southeast Asia

June 8, 2020

SLAPPs on the increase

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The work of human rights defenders (HRDs) to expose harm by companies around the world has never been more important, but the space to do so is increasingly under threat as unscrupulous companies and governments around the world use the legal and judicial system to harass critics.

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Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are a powerful tool to silence by forcing defendants in a costly fight for their freedom of expression and their organisations’ existence. This year’s Corporate Legal Accountability Annual Briefing by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre provides an in-depth analysis of nine emblematic case studies from Southeast Asia, and outlines the legal framework in which these lawsuits are brought, including emerging anti-SLAPPs regulation. The briefing also examines the legal and other tactics companies have used to silence HRDs; and analyses the legal strategies that lawyers have employed to successfully defend against SLAPPs while highlighting the role that courts have played in the region in either allowing or dismissing SLAPPs.

Key Findings

  • SLAPPs take place in a broader context of judicial harassment. 40% of all attacks on business-related HRDs globally [2015-2019] were judicial harassment, with numbers growing at an annual rate of 48%.
  • Judicial harassment appears to be the tactic of choice deployed by businesses operating in Southeast Asia to punish or silence defenders. Nearly half (44 %) of all attacks against HRDs in South East Asia constitute judicial harassment.
  • We recorded 127 cases of judicial harassment against HRDs in Southeast Asia between 2015 and 2019, including at least 30 SLAPPs, making Southeast Asia one of the most dangerous regions in the world for HRDs facing such threats.
  • In order to effectively fight SLAPPs in Southeast Asia and globally, we need robust legal frameworks that prevent companies from filing SLAPPs in the first place and allow courts to identify, call out and dismiss them as soon as they are filed. To make this happen, governments, businesses and investors, alongside defenders and civil society (and the lawyers who defend them), need to act decisively for the protection of civic freedoms and human rights defenders.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/

Full Briefing

NGOs demand that rules against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are upgraded

January 28, 2020

Journalist Carole Cadwalladr, activist Arlindo Marquês and slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia have all being victims of SLAPP.

. to European Commissioner Vice President Věra Jourová ahead of proposed new laws. The NGOs want to ensure that EThe organisations include the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe

Jourová is preparing legislation which will work to deter such lawsuits.

In essence, SLAPPs are used to silence individuals and organisations that play a watchdog role and hold those in positions of power to account,” they wrote. Naming journalists within the European Union affected by SLAPP, the groups called the lawsuits received by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia one of “the most striking examples which include journalists”. Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia had 47 law suits pending against her at the time of her assassination,” they said. (The Maltese government has refused to ban the use of SLAPP suits in Malta, rejecting a motion by the Opposition in parliament).

The Shift, which works with international organisations to fight the threats against journalists, has also itself faced threats of SLAPP suits twice – one by a Russian banker and another by Henley & Partners, Malta’s concessionaire for the cash for passports scheme. The same firm also targeted Caruana Galizia prior to her assassination. In both cases, The Shift did not back down. Journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who exposed the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal, is also facing SLAPP action, the organisations noted. British co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign Arron Banks is refusing to drop the final two SLAPP lawsuits against the journalist who now started a crowdfunding campaign to cover the massive legal costs.

The organisations said that SLAPP lawsuits are not limited to journalists, but are also targeted at academia, trade unionists, activists, civil society organisations and individual citizens, including human rights defenders. Strong EU anti-SLAPP measures, including legislation and legal funds for victims, at a time when there is no such legislation in force in any EU member state will help protect those who are vulnerable to this type of legal harassment, they said. Such measures would also send a strong political message that the EU is ready to stand up for its citizens and protect fundamental rights,” they continued.

EU legislation must cover everybody affected by SLAPP – 27 NGOs

Sri Lankan Government accused of embarking on process to silence critics

January 22, 2020

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MENAFN in the Colombo Gazette of 13 January 2020 reports that the new Government in Sri Lanka, headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has been accused of embarking on a strategy to “militarize and securatize” Sri Lanka unleashing a chilling process of repression targeting critics and human rights defenders. Two human rights groups, the International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka (ITJP) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) said that with the help of activists in Sri Lanka (who cannot be named for their own safety) they have documented 69 incidents of intimidation and threats both before and after the elections which have targetted journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, plaintiffs, academics and opposition figures. In some cases the threats have been so serious the individuals have fled the country.

The report also illustrates how Gotabaya Rajpaksa has spread his tentacles across the government by appointing many members of his former army regiment to positions of authority and has increasingly militarized the policing and intelligence functions. Those involved in investigating past crimes including fraud have been removed from their posts.

Individuals previously accused of corruption or alleged to be involved in war crimes are now in office again – the ‘deep state’ is out in the open, occupying positions of authority,’ said Bashana Abeywardene of JDS, adding that it’s cast a pall of silence over once outspoken journalists, trades union activists and human rights activists.

On 16 January Amnesty International echoes this in https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa37/1678/2020/en/

Egyptian human rights defender Gamal Eid assaulted

December 31, 2019

On 30 December 2019 Front Line Defenders and others reported that Egyptian human rights defender Gamal Eid was assaulted outside his home on Sunday, 29 December 2019 by up to a dozen men. They beat him and when neighbors tried to intervene, they were threatened at gunpoint. After, the men dumped paint on Gamal Eid and threatened him to stop his human rights work. The human rights defender recognized one of the men as a “state security officer” who was with the men “giving orders and saying this is that he should be ‘disciplined’.”

Gamal Eid is a renowned lawyer and advocate of freedom of expression in Egypt. He is the founder and director of the Arab Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which was established in 2003 to promote freedom of expression, campaign against censorship in the Middle East and North Africa, and provide legal assistance to journalists and internet activists.

According to the ANHRI website, this is the fourth attack on Gamal Eid this year and comes amidst a wider crackdown on Egyptian civil society and human rights defenders. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/18/egypt-court-freezes-assets-of-rights-defenders-and-ngos/]

Following the attack, Gamal Eid released a statement: “I think they do not want to repeat the scandal of torturing Julio Regeni to death, so they resorted to attacking me one time after another, to punish me, silence me and stop me from doing human rights work and my frequent criticism of the gruesome human rights violations, but again, silence and collusion are not our choices.”

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/gamal-eid-assaulted-outside-his-home

Egypt: Rights activist Gamal Eid brutally attacked by security forces

71 countries make first joint statement on reprisals at the Third Committee

November 14, 2019

which followed the GA, reported this unprecedented move: a cross-regional group of countries called on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN. In this joint statement presented to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in Octber 2019, 71 countries (listed below) highlighted that the UN must ensure that civil society organisations and human rights defenders who wish to engage with the UN are able to do so without fear of reprisal or intimidation. That same week the Assistant Secretary-General in his mandate as the senior official on reprisals held an event to discuss the annual reprisals report of the Secretary General.

This welcome move led by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN is in line with the call made, just last month, in resolution 42/28 at the Human Rights Council for the General Assembly to remain seized of all work in this area. ‘The statement highlighted that beyond the immediate impact on victims, these acts of intimidation and reprisals undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN as a whole, including the human rights system,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

The integral role played by civil society and human rights defenders in encouraging openness, transparency and dialogue between people and those in power was also acknowledged. While highlighting positive steps that have been taken by the UN, including the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals and the work done by the Assistant Secretary-General in his mandate as the senior official on reprisals, the 71 countries strongly condemned any act of intimidation and reprisal, whether online or offline, against individuals and groups who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN, and expressed alarm about the growing number of cases.

‘While positive responses by some States to cases of reprisals were acknowledged, critically, the statement acknowledged the primary obligation of States to prevent and address reprisals. Moreover, all States were called on to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts by raising awareness, investigating and ensuring accountability and effective remedy by both State or non-State actors,’ added McEvoy. The statement also made clear the duty of the UN to address reprisals and called on the UN to strengthen the collective response to reprisals.

While we welcome this statement and the leadership of the United Kingdom as a step towards enhanced dialogue on the issue of reprisals at the General Assembly, more needs to be done to protect the right of everyone to communicate with the UN. We echo previous calls for States to step up efforts to address reprisals, including by referring to  specific cases during future dialogues at the UN. [see also my ‘old’: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]

The full statement as delivered is available here. The statement was made by the United Kingdom on behalf of Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, the United States, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga74-71-countries-make-first-joint-statement-reprisals-third-committee

How social media companies can identify and respond to threats against human rights defenders

October 15, 2019

global computer threats

Image from Shutterstock.

Ginna Anderson writes in the ABA Abroad of 3

..Unfortunately, social media platforms are now a primary tool for coordinated, state-aligned actors to harass, threaten and undermine advocates. Although public shaming, death threats, defamation and disinformation are not unique to the online sphere, the nature of the internet has given them unprecedented potency. Bad actors are able to rapidly deploy their poisoned content on a vast scale. Social media companies have only just begun to recognize, let alone respond, to the problem. Meanwhile, individuals targeted through such coordinated campaigns must painstakingly flag individual pieces of content, navigate opaque corporate structures and attempt to survive the fallout. To address this crisis, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube must dramatically increase their capacity and will to engage in transparent, context-driven content moderation.

For human rights defenders, the need is urgent. .. Since 2011, the ABA Center for Human Rights (CHR) has ..noted with concern the coordination of “traditional” judicial harassment of defenders by governments, such as frivolous criminal charges or arbitrary detention, with online campaigns of intimidation. State-aligned online disinformation campaigns against individual defenders often precede or coincide with official investigations and criminal charges.

……

While social media companies generally prohibit incitement of violence and hate speech on their platforms, CHR has had to engage in additional advocacy with social media companies requesting the removal of specific pieces of content or accounts that target defenders. This extra advocacy has been required even where the content clearly violates a social media company’s terms of service and despite initial flagging by a defender. The situation is even more difficult where the threatening content is only recognizable with sufficient local and political context. The various platforms all rely on artificial intelligence, to varying degrees, to identify speech that violates their respective community standards. Yet current iterations of artificial intelligence are often unable to adequately evaluate context and intent.

Online intimidation and smear campaigns against defenders often rely on existing societal fault lines to demean and discredit advocates. In Guatemala, CHR recently documented a coordinated social media campaign to defame, harass, intimidate and incite violence against human rights defenders. Several were linked with so-called “net centers,” where users were reportedly paid to amplify hateful content across platforms. Often, the campaigns relied on “coded” language that hark back to Guatemala’s civil war and the genocide of Mayan communities by calling indigenous leaders communists, terrorists and guerrillas.

These terms appear to have largely escaped social media company scrutiny, perhaps because none is a racist slur per se. And yet, the proliferation of these online attacks, as well as the status of those putting out the content, is contributing to a worsening climate of violence and impunity for violence against defenders by specifically alluding to terms used to justify violence against indigenous communities. In 2018 alone, NPR reports that 26 indigenous defenders were murdered in Guatemala. In such a climate, the fear and intimidation felt by those targeted in such campaigns is not hyperbolic but based on their understanding of how violence can be sparked in Guatemala.

In order to address such attacks, social media companies must adopt policies that allow them to designate defenders as temporarily protected groups in countries that are characterized by state-coordinated or state-condoned persecution of activists. This is in line with international law that prohibits states from targeting individuals for serious harm based on their political opinion. To increase their ability to recognize and respond to persecution and online violence against human rights defenders, companies must continue to invest in their context-driven content moderation capacity, including complementing algorithmic monitoring with human content moderators well-versed in local dialects and historical and political context.

Context-driven content moderation should also take into account factors that increase the risk that online behavior will contribute to offline violence by identifying high-risk countries. These factors include a history of intergroup conflict and an overall increase in the number of instances of intergroup violence in the past 12 months; a major national political election in the next 12 months; and significant polarization of political parties along religious, ethnic or racial lines. Countries where these and other risk factors are present call for proactive approaches to identify problematic accounts and coded threats against defenders and marginalized communities, such as those shown in Equality Labs’ “Facebook India” report.

Companies should identify, monitor and be prepared to deplatform key accounts that are consistently putting out denigrating language and targeting human rights defenders. This must go hand in hand with the greater efforts that companies are finally beginning to take to identify coordinated, state-aligned misinformation campaigns. Focusing on the networks of users who abuse the platform, instead of looking solely at how the online abuse affects defenders’ rights online, will also enable companies to more quickly evaluate whether the status of the speaker increases the likelihood that others will take up any implicit call to violence or will be unduly influenced by disinformation.

This abuser-focused approach will also help to decrease the burden on defenders to find and flag individual pieces of content and accounts as problematic. Many of the human rights defenders with whom CHR works are giving up on flagging, a phenomenon we refer to as flagging fatigue. Many have become fatalistic about the level of online harassment they face. This is particularly alarming as advocates targeted online may develop skins so thick that they are no longer able to assess when their actual risk of physical violence has increased.

Finally, it is vital that social media companies pursue, and civil society demand, transparency in content moderation policy and decision-making, in line with the Santa Clara Principles. Put forward in 2018 by a group of academic experts, organizations and advocates committed to freedom of expression online, the principles are meant to guide companies engaged in content moderation and ensure that the enforcement of their policies is “fair, unbiased, proportional and respectful of users’ rights.” In particular, the principles call upon companies to publicly report on the number of posts and accounts taken down or suspended on a regular basis, as well as to provide adequate notice and meaningful appeal to affected users.

CHR routinely supports human rights defenders facing frivolous criminal charges related to their human rights advocacy online or whose accounts and documentation have been taken down absent any clear justification. This contributes to a growing distrust of the companies among the human rights community as apparently arbitrary decisions about content moderation are leaving advocates both over- and under-protected online.

As the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression explained in his 2018 report, content moderation processes must include the ability to appeal the removal, or refusal to remove, content or accounts. Lack of transparency heightens the risk that calls to address the persecution of human rights defenders online will be subverted into justifications for censorship and restrictions on speech that is protected under international human rights law.

A common response when discussing the feasibility of context-driven content moderation is to compare it to reviewing all the grains of sand on a beach. But human rights defenders are not asking for the impossible. We are merely pointing out that some of that sand is radioactive—it glows in the dark, it is lethal, and there is a moral and legal obligation upon those that profit from the beach to deal with it.

Ginna Anderson, senior counsel, joined ABA CHR in 2012. She is responsible for supporting the center’s work to advance the rights of human rights defenders and marginalized dommunities, including lawyers and journalists at risk. She is an expert in health and human rights, media freedom, freedom of expression and fair trial rights. As deputy director of the Justice Defenders Program since 2013, she has managed strategic litigation, fact-finding missions and advocacy campaigns on behalf of human rights defenders facing retaliation for their work in every region of the world

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/how-can-social-media-companies-identify-and-respond-to-threats-against-human-rights-defenders

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