Help us #EndReprisals

Call on States to end all acts of reprisal and intimidation against human rights defenders: Join our campaign!

Human rights defenders 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.

Guaranteeing everyone a safe and unhindered access to international and regional justice mechanisms is essential for the latter’s effectiveness and relevance. Engaging with these bodies is a fundamental human right.

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.

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

Yet some States try to escape international scrutiny by raising obstacles – such as intimidation and reprisals – aimed at creating fear and systematically hindering defenders’ access to and cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

What do we want? 

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 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. 

How do we achieve this? 

We are working hard to:

  • Raise awareness of the value of unhindered access to and the impact of reprisals on international and regional multilateral processes among government officials, diplomats, UN experts journalists, and human rights groups.
  • Mobilise diplomatic missions, encouraging them to speak out and raise individual cases of reprisals against defenders at the UN and in other spaces.
  • Push UN experts to take up individual cases and to establish clear protocols on how to prevent and respond to reprisals connected to their work.
  • Encourage governments, activists, and concerned individuals to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders and organisations who are subject to reprisals and intimidation.

What can you do? 

We have worked to support individual defenders and organisations that have endured multiple forms of reprisals and intimidation. You can find out more in the five cases described below. Take action for them now and help #EndReprisals!

Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

  1. Write to State representatives at the UN and urge them to take up the five cases from Belarus, Burundi, China, Egypt, and Venezuela*
  2. Click to tweet a message in solidarity with the individuals or groups described in a specific case

Tweet for Viasna in Belarus Tweet for Jiang in China Tweet for Ibrahim in Egypt Tweet for NGOs in Venezuela Tweet for human rights lawyers in Burundi


*An email will be sent to diplomatic missions to the United Nations in Geneva who co-sponsored resolutions on reprisals: Albania; Andorra; Argentina; Armenia; Australia; Austria; Bahamas; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Botswana; Bulgaria; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czechia; Denmark; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Fiji; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Ghana; Greece; Guatemala; Haiti; Honduras; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Maldives; Mali; Malta; Marshall Islands; Mexico; Moldova; Monaco; Mongolia; Montenegro; Netherlands, the; New Zealand; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Poland; Portugal; Republic of Korea; Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; South Africa; Spain; State of Palestine; Sweden; Switzerland; Timor-Leste; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; United States of America; Uruguay; Vanuatu.

Who are the people behind the cases?

Click on the cases to find out more about the human rights defenders we are supporting within this campaign.

Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’

Belarus

The Human Right Center ‘Viasna’ is a non-governmental organisation actively working for the development of civil society and the promotion of human rights in Belarus, also providing legal aid to people in defending their rights and public interests.

Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’

Belarus

 

Story behind

 

The Human Right Center ‘Viasna’ is a non-governmental organisation actively working for the development of civil society and the promotion of human rights in Belarus. It also provides legal aid to people in defending their rights and public interests.

 

Viasna has a long-standing history of cooperation with the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms, which has increased amid the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and organisations in Belarus. 

 

Due to its engagement with the UN, Viasna has been subjected to continuous acts of harassment and intimidation at the hands of the government, including the raiding of their offices and the arbitrary detention of its members.

 

What happened?

 

Beginning in August 2020, in the context of widespread protests following the Presidential elections in Belarus and the increased visibility of Viasna’s engagement with the UN,  the Belarus authorities intensified their targeting of the organisation’s staff. 

 

Currently, seven Viasna members are being detained because of their vital work for the promotion of human rights, facing charges of ‘organising and financing group actions that grossly violate public order’ and ‘tax evasion’. The members are: chairperson Ales Bialiatski, deputy chairperson Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, the coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers Marfa Rabkova,  head of Viasna’s office in Homieĺ Leanid Sudalenka, and volunteers Tatsiana Lasitsa and Andrei Chapiuk. Rabkova and Chapiuk were additionally charged with ‘rioting’ and ‘involvement in a criminal group’ and Rabkova is also accused of ‘incitement to hostility’ – while in fact they are working so that everyone in Belarus can enjoy their human rights.

 

Viasna participated in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Belarus in November 2020 and in the adoption of the outcomes at the Human Rights Council in March 2021. The organisation also participated in a UN Security Council Arria formula meeting in September 2020 and submitted a joint submission to the Committee against Torture (CAT) in January 2021 ahead of the Committee’s examination of Belarus. 

 

Leanid Sudalenka has submitted the most individual appeals against Belarus to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich have spoken at various UN procedures.

 

On 19 March 2021, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders expressed concern about the increasing crackdown against human rights defenders in Belarus, including against Viasna’s members. 

 

What do we want?

 

We want the case of Viasna to be widely recognised as a series of acts of reprisals related to UN engagement and for its members to be released. We urge States to publicly raise their case during the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

 

Call to Action

 

Join us in calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders! Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

 

Click to tweet

a message in solidarity with Viasna and call on States to take up this case and demand an end to the arbitrary detention of the organisation’s members, so that they can continue their crucial work for civil society in Belarus.

 

Write to State representatives at the UN

and urge them to take up Viasna’s case and those of human rights defenders and organisations from Burundi, China, Egypt and  Venezuela.

Four human rights lawyers

Burundi

Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vital Nshimirimana and Lambert Nigarura are four lawyers, human rights defenders and activists from Burundi. They are prominent and well-respected figures within Burundian civil society and their local communities. 

Four human rights lawyers

Burundi

 

Story behind

 

Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vital Nshimirimana and Lambert Nigarura are four lawyers, human rights defenders and activists from Burundi. They are prominent and well-respected figures within Burundian civil society and their local communities. 

 

They publicly denounced and condemned the use of violence by the Government of Burundi, including following citizens’ protests in 2015, when the former Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza, sought a third term in violation of the country’s Constitution. 

 

Fearing for their safety given the violent targeting of protestors by the Government, the lawyers fled Burundi in May and June 2015. To date, they have not been able to return to Burundi out of fear of suffering additional retaliatory actions. 

 

What happened?

 

In July 2016, the four lawyers provided information regarding human rights violations perpetrated by the government of Burundi to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), during its special review of the State. Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Lambert Nigarura attended the session in Geneva, where they presented a special report detailing the Burundian government’s abusive treatment of political dissidents.

 

Following their crucial participation as civil society representatives at the CAT session, as well as referring the case to the East African Court of Justice, the four human rights defenders were sanctioned by the Burundian courts, without a fair trial and on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations. 

 

Additionally, Bashirahishize, Niyongere and Nshimirimana were summarily disbarred by the Court of Appeals and have not been able to practise law in Burundi since. Nigarura was suspended from practice for one year and banned from sitting on the Executive Committee of the Bar for five years.

 

After the prosecutor initiated the disbarment proceedings against the defenders, the CAT wrote to the government of Burundi stating that they considered the administrative sanctions against the human rights defenders an act of reprisal.

 

On 2 February 2021, three of the four lawyers, Armel Niyongere, Vital Nshimirimana and Dieudonné Bashirahishize, were among a group of twelve defenders sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for ‘insurrection and organising a coup.’ The sentencing also ordered the defendants to pay financial compensation, including the seizure of the financial assets of their families.

 

To date, the lawyers have not obtained a copy of the judgement, making it impossible to appeal further. The lawyers remain disbarred and in exile. 

 

Nonetheless, on 25 November 2021, the East African Court of Justice eventually recognised that the third mandate of President Pierre Nkurunziza was imposed in violation of the Constitution, the Arusha agreement and the East African Community Treaty.

 

What do we want?

 

We want the cases of Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vital Nshimirimana and Lambert Nigarura to be widely recognised as constituting acts of reprisals. We want them to be able to return to Burundi  without fear of threats or imprisonment and to recover their right to practise law in safety. We call on States to publicly raise their cases during the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

 

Call to Action

 

Join us in calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders! Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

 

Click to tweet

a message in solidarity with Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vital Nshimirimana and Lambert Nigarura and call on States to take up their case and demand that their right to practise law and carry out their human rights work safely and effectively in Burundi be restored, so they can continue their vital work in holding the government accountable for its human rights abuses.

 

Write to State representatives at the UN

and urge them to take up Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vital Nshimirimana and Lambert Nigarura’s case and those of human rights defenders and organisations from Belarus, China, Egypt and Venezuela.

Jiang Tianyong

China

Jiang Tianyong is a prominent human rights lawyer and legal rights activist from China. He has been working at the grassroots level to defend land and housing rights, promote the rights of vulnerable social groups and expose the root causes of systemic rights abuses.

Jiang Tianyong

China

 

Story behind

 

Jiang Tianyong is a prominent human rights lawyer and legal rights activist from China. He has been working at the grassroots level to defend land and housing rights, promote the rights of vulnerable social groups and expose the root causes of systemic rights abuses.

 

He defended high-profile cases in China, including clients with HIV, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters and victims of the 2008 milk scandal.

 

Despite being arbitrarily disbarred by the government in 2009, Jiang has tirelessly continued his valuable human rights work to improve the situation in China. He has persisted in denouncing human rights violations in his country and supported numerous well-known human rights defenders unlawfully detained. 

 

What happened?

 

On 21 November 2016 Jiang was forcibly disappeared into police custody on his way home. His disappearance occurred after he met with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights during his country visit to China a month earlier. 

 

In December 2016 four Special Procedures mandate holders released an urgent appeal regarding actions taken against Jiang, including that his disappearance may have occurred, at least in part, in reprisal for his cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.

 

Jiang was subsequently sentenced in November 2017 to two years in prison for ‘inciting subversion of State power.’ In addition to his prison sentence, he was stripped of his political rights for three years. 

 

Jiang formally completed his three-year sentence of ‘deprivation of political rights’ in February 2022. However, he continues to live under effective house arrest in Luoshan. 

 

His movements in the village are carefully monitored by local public security and State security officers from across Luoshan County, and he is not allowed to leave the country, including to reunite with his wife in the United States.

 

Additionally, serious concerns have been raised regarding his lack of access to healthcare, linked to his house arrest. 

 

What do we want?

 

We want the case of Jiang Tianyong to be widely recognised as a case of reprisal related to UN engagement  and for him to regain his complete freedom. We want States to publicly raise his case during the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

 

Call to Action

 

Join us in calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders! Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

 

Click to tweet

a message in solidarity with Jiang Tianyong and call on States to take up his case and demand an end to his arbitrary detention, so he can continue his vital work as a lawyer and human rights defender!

 

Write to State representatives at the UN

and urge them to take up Jiang Tianyong’s case and those of human rights defenders and organisations from Belarus, Burundi, Egypt and Venezuela.

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy

Egypt

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy is a human rights defender and lawyer working on the issue of enforced disappearances. He is a co-founder and the coordinator of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Egypt.

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy

Egypt

 

Story behind

 

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy is a human rights defender and lawyer working on the issue of enforced disappearances. He is a co-founder and the coordinator of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Egypt.

 

The network focuses on assisting families in locating and investigating the fate of forcibly or involuntarily disappeared loved ones. Metwally Hegazy founded the organisaton following the disappearance of his own son in July 2013, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

 

In September 2017, while on his way to Geneva at the invitation of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, he was disappeared for two days, and was subsequently arbitrarily detained. Five years later, he is still in detention.

 

What happened

 

The Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances invited Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy to participate in its 113th session for the examination of Egypt in September 2017, in Geneva. While traveling, the lawyer was disappeared and later arbitrarily detained. 

 

Because of his vital work as a human rights defender, he was charged by the Egyptian government with ‘founding and leading an illegal terrorist organisation, conspiracy with foreign entities or organisations to harm State security, and spreading false information’.In reality,  Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy’s work and dedication has supported dozens of families dealing with anger and grief at their loved ones’ forced disappearance. He was detained in the maximum security section of the Aqrab prison (Tora) and subjected to ill-treatment and torture in detention.

 

Abuses against Metwally intensified and his conditions of detention are extremely poor. Despite suffering from acute medical problems, he has been denied examination by medical specialists.

 

On 14 August 2019, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted an Opinion finding  Metwally’s detention was arbitrary, and noting that his detention amounts to an act of retaliation for cooperation with the United Nations. The Working Group considered that Metwally should be released immediately and receive compensation and other reparations. 

 

On 13 November 2019, Special Procedures mandate holders filed a communication raising concern about the continued detention of Metwally, stressing that he ‘has been detained in conditions which amount to torture.

 

What we want

 

We want the case of Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy to be widely recognised as constituting an act of reprisal related to his engagement with the UN. We want him to be freed, and we call on States to publicly raise his case during the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

 

Call to Action

 

Join us in calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders! Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

 

Click to tweet

a message in solidarity with Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy and call on States to take up his case and demand an end to his arbitrary detention, so he can continue his vital work as a lawyer and human rights defender!

 

Write to State representatives at the UN

and urge them to take up Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy’s case and those of human rights defenders and organisations from Belarus, Burundi, China and Venezuela.

Five civil society organisations

Venezuela

Comité de Familiares de Víctimas del Caracazo (COFAVIC), Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS), Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ), Control Ciudadano and Espacio Público are five non-governmental organisations working for the promotion of human rights in Venezuela.

Five civil society organisations

Venezuela

 

Story behind

 

Comité de Familiares de Víctimas del Caracazo (COFAVIC), Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (OVCS), Centro de Justicia y Paz (CEPAZ), Control Ciudadano and Espacio Público are five non-governmental organisations working for the promotion of human rights in Venezuela. 

 

The organisations have a history of  engaging with UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, a crucial effort given the multidimensional crisis that Venezuela is experiencing, with whom they have  denounced abuses in the country, including with the Fact Finding Mission on Venezuela (FFM) established by the Human Rights Council in 2019. The FFM’s mandate includes the investigation of gross human rights violations in the country since 2014 and relies greatly on valuable information communicated by civil society groups such as those mentioned above.

 

All five NGOs have been stigmatised and discredited publicly and on social media by high-ranking State officials for their collaboration with the United Nations, including and specifically naming the directors of Control Ciudadano, Rocío San Miguel, and Espacio Público,  Carlos Correa.

 

What happened?

 

On 24 September 2020, the website Misión Verdad published an article titled ‘Dismantling the report of the ‘Independent Fact-Finding Mission in Venezuela’: the sources.’ The article named the five NGOs and directors as sources, discrediting them by stating that the allegations against the State were unsupported and accusing them of receiving foreign funding ‘to destabilise the country.’

 

Some information contained in the article was shared on social media by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Subsequently, government officials made public remarks against civil society members, including through institutional media channels and official websites. 

 

On 9 November 2020, Special Procedures mandate holders raised concerns about this public stigmatisation of NGOs, which they said appeared to be acts of reprisals for their cooperation with the UN, including the FFM.

 

On 6 May 2021, the Venezuelan government responded to mandate holders, arguing that references made by actors in public life cannot be considered  ‘harassment’ and, noting that NGOs, as key actors in the democratic debate, are subject to a higher level of scrutiny and should have higher tolerance to criticism. 

 

Public stigmatisation of civil society organisations and human rights defenders following their engagement with the UN is a form of reprisal and intimidation. In this case, authorities with a history of alleged abuses and violations are inciting harassment against legitimate civil society groups.

 

What we want

 

We want the cases of COFAVIC, OVCS, CEPAZ, Control Ciudadano and its director Rocío San Miguel and, Espacio Público and its director Carlos Correa, to be widely recognised as constituting acts of reprisals. We want their public stigmatisation to end. We call on States to publicly raise their cases during the Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

 

Call to Action

 

Join us in calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders! Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

 

Click to tweet

a message in solidarity with Venezuela civil society and call on States to take up this case and demand an end to the stigmatisation of crucial Venezuelan civil society voices

 

Write to State representatives at the UN

and urge them to take up this case and those of human rights defenders and organisations from Belarus, Burundi, China and Egypt.

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. 

ISHR's #EndReprisals database

In order to assist stakeholders with research, analysis and action on cases of reprisals and intimidation, ISHR launched an online database compiling cases or situations of intimidation and reprisals documented by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General since 2010.

  • 709

    Cases of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders engaging with the UN reported by the UN Secretary General since 2010

  • 76

    Countries were cases of reprisals were documented by the UN Secretary-General since 2010

  • 11

    Reports published by the UN Secretary General on intimidation and reprisals

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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