People globally face harsh reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the United Nations on human rights, a “shameful practice,” a major UN report warned. This trend deters others from engaging with the UN and results in “self-censorship.”
The annual report on reprisals of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the ninth of its kind, details country by country cases in two annexes, including allegations of killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention, surveillance, criminalisation, and public stigmatisation campaigns targeting victims and human rights defenders.
It includes allegations of reprisals and intimidation documented in a total of 38 countries. Some of the States are current members of the Human Rights Council. Some have featured in the annual report on reprisals nearly every year since it was instituted in 2010.*
“The cases of reprisals and intimidation detailed in this report and its two annexes represent the tip of the iceberg, while many more are reported to us. We are also increasingly seeing legal, political and administrative hurdles used to intimidate – and silence – civil society,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, the senior UN official designated to address the issue, who will present the report to the Human Rights Council on 19 September 2018.
The report notes that selectively applied laws and new legislation are used to restrict and obstruct organizations that are likely to cooperate with the UN. This includes limiting their ability to secure and maintain funding, especially from foreign donors.
The impact of fear of reprisals is not only visible in the field, where United Nations personnel often encounter people too afraid to speak with them, but also at headquarters in New York, Geneva, and elsewhere, the report says.
The report highlights a “disturbing trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access by communities and civil society organizations to the United Nations.” It notes that a number of NGOs, human rights defenders, activists and experts have been labelled as “terrorists” by their Governments. Reported cases include individuals or organizations being officially charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities, or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State.
“States have frequently invoked counter-terrorism as the reason an organization or individual should be denied access to participation at the United Nations. The real global threat of terrorism notwithstanding, this issue must be tackled without compromising respect for human rights,” the report says.
While the majority of the documented cases were perpetrated, or at the very least condoned, by State officials, violations by non-State actors must also be taken seriously, the report says. Private citizens, corporate actors and non-State groups must be held accountable as well.
The wide scope of reprisals inhibits the UN’s work in many ways, including in conflict settings, when delivering humanitarian assistance or in protecting civilians, and in the development context, where community members who engage on land and resource-related projects frequently encounter a hostile environment.
The report recognises that the United Nations must strengthen the collection of information on acts of intimidation and reprisal, including do more to ensure that incidents experienced by women human rights defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are documented, disaggregated and properly analysed. It also encourages all stakeholders to report allegations of intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights as they occur, to ensure follow-up and action.
“As the Secretary-General has said, we should all be deeply shocked and angered by the extent to which civil society actors suffer reprisals because of their work, including when they cooperate with the UN. But shock and anger must translate into real action. Governments can do much more to stop reprisals, ensure that they do not recur, and hold those responsible to account for their actions,” said Gilmour.
The report calls on States to follow up on the cases included in the present and previous reports and provide substantive responses.
* 29 Countries in which new cases are listed in the report and Annex I (in alphabetical order) are: Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Myanmar, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of).
Follow up/ongoing cases are also included in relation to the following 19 countries (in alphabetical order) in Annex II: Algeria, Bahrain, Burundi, China, Egypt, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.