Help us to #EndReprisals at the UN

We did it! On 8 October 2021, the Human Rights Council adopted a strong resolution on reprisals. Our work to #EndReprisals is not over! 

We did it! On 8 October 2021, the Human Rights Council adopted a strong resolution on reprisals. Thanks to your support we achieved the objective of our campaign!

This is the first time since 2009, that the UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution on reprisals by consensus. The resolution invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly.  Until now, the report has only been presented to the Human Rights Council. The General Assembly is the main policy-making forum of the UN and all 193 States are represented there. Reprisals and intimidation related to cooperating with the UN is a serious system-wide issue and having it discussed at the General Assembly amongst all Member States is crucial to effectively preventing and addressing it.

 

 
Human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives with the UN, safely and unhindered.

Building on this success, on 14 October 2021, the UK delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 80 countries, condemning intimidation and reprisals, and calling on States to prioritise and support the meaningful participation of civil society at the UN.  The joint statement is the third annual such statement to be delivered by the UK at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee. After ISHR advocacy and campaigning, the number of countries signing on increased from last year when 75 countries joined.  By joining the statement, States have affirmed their commitment to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and association; showed solidarity with human rights defenders, civil society actors and victims of violations worldwide; demonstrated their commitment to dialogue, cooperation and the institutional integrity of the UN; and contributed to ensuring that UN bodies and processes are informed by, and respond effectively to, the needs of communities on the ground!

Our work to #EndReprisals is not over until all human rights defenders can freely and safely engage with the United Nations. Join our mailing list to receive the latest updates on intimidation and reprisals at the UN and be involved in future #EndReprisals campaigns. 

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What do we want? 

Human rights defenders work to make a fairer, more sustainable and just world by promoting and protecting human rights. In considering human rights situations around the world, the UN system is profoundly dependent on the information and testimonies provided by human rights defenders who document situations, abuses and violations. They are essential voices from our communities that need to be part of the conversations at the United Nations.

This important role is a key reason why some States seek to systematically prevent defenders from engaging with UN bodies and mechanisms, and to reprimand and punish those who do engage. They do so through repressive tactics that range from administrative hurdles and travel restrictions to intimidation, imprisonment and killings. 

This is not right. Everyone has the right to access and safely communicate with the UN.

We want human rights defenders to have a ‘seat at the UN table’ and be able to effectively and safely engage with UN human rights mechanisms and bodies. We want States and non-State actors to refrain from intimidating or carrying out reprisals against defenders when they engage or seek to engage with the UN. States must take a clear and public position at the UN against intimidation and reprisals and hold their peers to account. We therefore also call on governments States to publicly condemn reprisals and intimidation against those who engage with the UN, and raise specific cases of victims. When intimidation and reprisals do occur, we want  the UN to effectively address these cases, support the victims and push for accountability and redress. 

All you need to know on intimidation and reprisals at the UN

Human rights defenders are essential agents of change. They promote dignity, fairness, peace and justice in their homes, workplaces, communities and countries. They challenge governments that fail to respect and protect their people, corporations that degrade and destroy the environment, and institutions that perpetuate privilege and patriarchy.

For many the United Nations (UN) is the last arena in which they can confront abuses. And yet, here too they are silenced and harassed by governments. Some States intimidate human rights defenders and victims who try to engage with UN human rights bodies and mechanisms to report violations, or carry out reprisals against those who manage to engage. Those governments see these defenders as enemies and their engagement with the UN as a threat to their image and power.

Over the past years, the reported number and severity of intimidation and reprisals cases has increased.

Acts of intimidation and reprisals aim at creating fear or blocking access to the United Nations of people who defend human rights. Reprisals and intimidation take different forms, from travel bans, threats and harassment, including by officials, smear campaigns, surveillance, introduction of restrictive legislation, to physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, denial of access to medical attention and even killings.  

The right to safe and unhindered access to international and regional justice mechanisms, and to be free from any form of intimidation or reprisal for seeking justice, is both a fundamental human right and essential to the relevance and effectiveness of these mechanisms. 

The participation of human rights defenders in the work of international and regional mechanisms makes for better outcomes. Defenders bring crucial information and perspectives regarding human rights situations on the ground and international and regional mechanisms depend on that knowledge and input to make informed decisions.

The UN has developed a number of mechanisms to deal with intimidation and reprisals over the last 30 years. The main mechanism is currently a report published annually by the UN Secretary-General that collects and publishes incidents of intimidation and reprisals documented by the different UN human rights mechanisms or otherwise submitted by victims.

In addition, since 2016, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights has been designated as the senior official to lead the efforts within the UN system to address intimidation and reprisals. You can find more information on the page of the United Nations. 

While this appointment led to an increase in resources and better reporting and follow up, there is still room to strengthen the UN’s response. For instance:

  • there is no clear tracking and follow up system on cases and there has been no long-term analysis after 30 years of UN work on reprisals regarding what is working and what is not;
  • many incidents go unreported and others are excluded;
  • few states have taken a clear, vocal and public stance against reprisals and even fewer have called on their peers to stop these violations ;
  • almost 50% of the current members of the Human Rights Council. the main international body in charge of human rights, have been cited in the last five annual Secretary-general reports for carrying out reprisals;
  • few human rights defenders know about the UN mechanisms to address reprisals and/or don’t know how to use them effectively.

ISHR seeks to ensure that international and regional human rights systems have the mechanisms to prevent reprisals and ensure accountability where they occur. ISHR provides protective publicity to human rights defenders at risk and works to bring cases of alleged intimidation and reprisals to the attention of relevant officials in an effort to press for effective preventative measures and responses.

During the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, between the 17 September and 4 October 2021, States negotiated a resolution that aims to strengthen the response by the UN and States to intimidation and reprisals. ISHR and partners called on States through meetings, letters and on social media to support the resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it. The resolution was finally adopted by consensus on 8 October 2021!

The resolution invites the Secretary-General to bring the issue of intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN to the General Assembly. The Secretary General can now decide to present his annual report on cases of reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. This is  important because the General Assembly is the main policy-making forum of the UN and all 193 States are represented there. Reprisals and intimidation related to cooperating with the UN is a serious system-wide issue and having it discussed at the General Assembly amongst all Member States is crucial to effectively preventing and addressing it. 

Key numbers to remember

ISHR last study on intimidation and reprisals against people engaging with the UN to defend human rights show some key figures to remember.

  • 709

    cases of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders engaging with the UN reported by the UN Secretary General between 2010 and 2020.

  • 31%

    of these cases of intimidation and reprisals are from the Middle East and North Africa region.

  • 50%

    of the current members of the Human Rights Council, the main international body in charge of human rights, have been cited in the last five annual Secretary-general reports for carrying out reprisals.

Play video Situation of reprisals at the UN at a glance

Situation of reprisals at the UN at a glance

Intimidation and reprisals are always unacceptable. Everyone has the right to engage with the United Nations and should feel safe doing so.

Additional resources

Check out our selection of reports and news on intimidation and reprisals against those who engage with the UN.

Reprisals | Human rights defenders who engage with UN continue to be threatened and attacked

The UN Secretary-General released his annual report today on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a very concerning number of threats and attacks aimed at silencing human rights defenders in retaliation for engaging with the UN, with evidence that a number of States have a strategy or systematic approach to obstructing and punishing those who give information, evidence or testimony in relation to human rights.

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