On 17 September 2021, the UN Secretary-General released his annual report on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a high number of threats and attacks aimed at retaliating against defenders and discouraging cooperation with the UN.
(Geneva) – A group of UN bodies responsible for monitoring human rights has adopted a significant policy to combat intimidation and reprisals against those who provide information or contribute to the treaty bodies’ work to promote and protect human rights.
The UN treaty bodies are a group of ten international committees of independent experts that monitor State parties’ implementation of the core international human rights treaties and their optional protocols. The Chairpersons of the treaty bodies adopted the Guidelines against intimidation or reprisals (known as the ‘San José Guidelines‘) at their annual meeting from 22-26 June 2015, following sustained advocacy and submissions by ISHR and others, and in response to cases of intimidation and reprisals that continue to arise in the context of their work reviewing countries’ human rights records.
‘Human rights defenders and others who provide information and testimony to the treaty bodies continue to be subject to threats, attacks and reprisals, ranging from the defamation of activists in Venezuela to the arbitrary detention of women human rights defenders in China. These Guidelines mark a potentially important contribution to ensuring that defenders can access and communicate safely with the treaty bodies, free from attacks and reprisals, and to ensuring that States are held to account when such incidents occur,’ said Madeleine Sinclair of ISHR.
The Guidelines emphasise the responsibility of States ‘to avoid acts constituting intimidation or reprisals and to prevent, protect against, investigate and ensure accountability and to provide effective remedies to victims of such acts or omissions’. However, they also acknowledge that the treaty bodies ‘possess a range of means to assist and protect individuals and groups alleging that they have been the object of intimidation or reprisals for seeking to cooperate or cooperating with them’.
The Guidelines provide for the appointment within each treaty body of a rapporteur or focal point on intimidation or reprisals, to coordinate proactive implementation of the policy, which includes receiving allegations of intimidation or reprisals, assessing allegations, and determining the appropriate course of action. Actions in turn can include reactive measures when allegations of intimidation or reprisals are received but also preventative measures to protect individuals or groups at risk. A range of reactive measures are envisioned by the Guidelines, including raising concerns with State officials and relevant UN and regional human rights mechanisms, security measures in case of imminent threats on UN grounds, and exposing instances of reprisals through the media.
‘ISHR welcomes the adoption of these important Guidelines, which recognize the primary duty of the State to prevent and ensure accountability for reprisals but also the obligations of the UN to protect those who contribute to its important work,’ said Ms Sinclair. The Guidelines themselves speak of the treaty bodies’ ‘uncompromising stance against reprisals and their increasing efforts and commitment to prevent them’.
The Guidelines complement and build on a number of policies devised by individual treaty bodies, such as the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture, the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, as recommended by an ISHR submission on the legal duty of treaty bodies to take all such steps as are necessary to prevent and ensure accountability for reprisals.
‘The Guidelines are an important step toward ensuring that defenders can engage and that protection measures do not differ from one treaty body to the next. We urge all treaty bodies to appoint focal points and begin implementing the Guidelines without delay’, Ms Sinclair said.
Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Program Manager and Legal Counsel, on [email protected]
Photo: Emmanuel Decaux, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and Chair of the Meeting of UN Treaty Body Chairs (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)
On 7 September 2021, the International Service for Human Rights facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue with United Nations experts, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss about Business, Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
A new ISHR report maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
ISHR joined 74 civil society organisations from across the world in urging Egypt to release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy, and to ensure that, pending his release, he is granted immediate and regular access to his family and lawyers, provided with adequate healthcare, and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Beyond the discrimination and indignation that ordinary women suffer, indigenous women in Africa continue to be marginalised and denied the full recognition and protection of their rights. Decisively, the long-awaited National Human Rights Institutions’ (NHRIs) Forum organised by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) convened on 8 and 9 April 2021 to discuss the role of NHRIs in promoting the realisation of indigenous women’s rights in Africa. The Forum was convened ahead of the 68th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The result of the deliberations was a final draft Statement on the “Rights of indigenous women in Africa” that will be submitted to the ACHPR.
As part of a response to increased human right violations in the Philippines, over 100 NGOs and individuals called on the Supreme Court for enhanced legal protections for human rights defenders.
The Martin Ennals Foundation has granted Yu Wensheng, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer, the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. Lawyer Yu was among the three finalists to the Award selected by a jury of ten global human rights organisations - among which ISHR -, along with Loujain AlHathloul from Saudi Arabia and Soltan Achilova from Turkmenistan.