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ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH ITS ADVISORY COMMITTEE AND DISCUSSES THE SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT ON REPRISALS

19 September 2018

The Human Rights Council during a midday meeting held separate interactive dialogues with Katharina Pabel, Chairperson of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and with Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who presented the Secretary-General’s report on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

Katharina Pabel, Chairperson of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, presented the annual report of the Advisory Committee, covering the Committee’s twentieth and twenty-first session, as well as the final thematic report on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights.  The report highlighted the achievements and limitations of regional human rights mechanisms, and it acknowledged the essential role of the United Nations in forging a complementary relationship between regional and universal arrangements.  Ms. Pabel further informed the Council that the Advisory Committee had started working on two new mandates, namely on a global call for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and on the role of technical assistance and capacity building in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights.

In the ensuing discussion with the Advisory Committee, speakers said that regional human rights mechanisms could serve as reference models for Member States and neighbouring regions, and they agreed that the Office of the High Commissioner had a key role in supporting those mechanisms.  Regional arrangements encouraged Governments to recognize international obligations, forcing them to provide their citizens with their basic human rights.  Speakers noted that effective means of cooperation between regional mechanisms and the Human Rights Council needed to be established, including improved communication and the sharing of best practices.  Speakers welcomed the constructive role of the Advisory Committee as the Council’s think tank on human rights and thanked it for the reports that it was producing.

Speaking in the discussion were European Union, Togo on behalf of African Group, Peru on behalf of group of countries, Togo, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, China, Bolivia, Iran, Peru, South Africa, and Ecuador.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: American Association of Jurists, Sikh Human Rights Group, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, Health and Environment Program (HEP) and Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries.

Opening the interactive discussion on the Secretary-General’s report on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, the President of the Human Rights Council, Vojislav Šuc, emphasized the importance of ensuring a safe and open space for those who cooperated or sought to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.  He said any and all acts of intimidation or reprisal against such individuals undermined the effectiveness and credibility of the Council and its mechanisms.   

Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on reprisals against those who sought to cooperate or had cooperated with the United Nations.  The report demonstrated that the magnitude and scope of reprisals was far-reaching: it happened in the field, against those who made the complaints but also against their legal representatives, interpreters, or assistants, and included incommunicado detention, torture and ill treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and even killings.  Acts of reprisals happened “even under our noses in the diplomatic hallways” of New York and Geneva, creating a climate of intimidation clearly intended to deter others from future participation.  The United Nations was working to better understand the scope of such acts throughout the system and intended to do more to effectively and systematically address this issue.  The report included allegations of reprisals against individuals in 38 countries; some were Member States of this very Council and some had been featured in these reports nearly every year since it had been instituted in 2010.  The report was a tool of cooperation and engagement with States and civil society, thus maintaining dialogue was crucial for its success. 

In the interactive discussion, speakers voiced deep concern about the increased number of allegations of reprisals, adding that it was disturbing that the United Nations had documented self-censorship in all regions.  Another concern was the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States to block civil society’s access to the United Nations.  Speakers asked about ways to enhance coordination between New York and Geneva when addressing cases of intimidation and reprisals against civil society, about a vision to ensure a positive system-wide response to reprisals, and about the steps available to States that wished to support victims of reprisals globally.  Some speakers warned that the positive contribution of human rights defenders should not be abused by pseudo-defenders, particularly those who belonged to terrorist and violent extremist groups.
 
Speaking were Togo on behalf of the African Group, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, Denmark on behalf of a group of countries, Slovenia on behalf of a group of countries, Honduras, Montenegro, Germany, France, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, India, Philippines, Croatia, China, Cuba, Tunisia, Uruguay, Hungary, Australia, Georgia, Iran, Costa Rica, Iraq, United Kingdom, Poland, Ireland, Bahrain, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Thailand, Djibouti, Canada, Maldives, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, and United Arab Emirates.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, International Service for Human Rights (in a joint statement with CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation), International Federation of Journalists, Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights House Foundation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia and "Coup de Pousse" Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud ( C.D.P-C.E.N.S).


The Council will next hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on its eleventh session.


Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/39/58).

The Council has before it a corrigendum to the Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/39/58/Corr.1)

The Council has before it the Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the activities of vulture funds and their impact on human rights - Note by the Secretariat (A/HRC/39/59)

The Council has before it the Report of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on negative effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms (A/HRC/39/60).

The Council has before it the Research-based study by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the possibility of utilizing non-repatriated illicit funds, including through monetization and/or the establishment of investment funds, while completing the necessary legal procedures, and in accordance with national priorities, with a view to supporting the achievement of the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, contributing to the enhancement of the promotion of human rights and in accordance with obligations under international human rights laws (A/HRC/39/61).

The Council has before it the Reports of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on its twentieth and twenty-first sessions (A/HRC/39/66).

Presentation by the Chair of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

KATHARINA PABEL, Chairperson of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, presented the annual report of the Advisory Committee, covering the Committee’s twentieth and twenty-first sessions in accordance with resolution 16/21.  During this period, the Advisory Committee had continued to give priority to requests stemming from Council resolutions and had made considerable progress on the mandates entrusted to it.  She also presented a thematic report on one of the eight mandates that the Committee had been working on during the past year.  This thematic report was the final report on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights.  The report identified five regions or areas where regional human rights mechanisms had been or would be established: Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Arab States and Asia.  The first four had regional and sub-regional mechanisms while Asia only had sub-regional mechanisms.  The report highlighted achievements by the regional human rights mechanisms in protecting human rights around the world as well as their limitations.  It acknowledged that the United Nations was essential in forging a complementary relationship between regional and universal arrangements.  The United Nations could strengthen the international legal order by promoting the exchange of jurisprudence between regional mechanisms.  The report took into consideration the role of national human rights institutions and civil society organizations as an institutional bridge between individuals and States.  The report noted that in order to achieve optimal results from such arrangements there was a need to ensure that most States within the region ratified the relevant conventions.  The report recommended stronger commitments, including adequate funding by Member States of the regional arrangements.  Communication and information dissemination between the regional mechanisms was recommended.  It was also recommended that the Office of the High Commissioner play a key role in facilitating the creation of a regional or sub-regional human rights mechanism in Asia and in improving the operation of existing arrangements in other regions, through acting as an information clearing house that provided detailed technical advice on best practices and by creating forums for the exchange of ideas.  All this required the allocation of more personnel and financial resources to the Office of the High Commissioner. 

At the last session, the Committee had made good progress on its six ongoing mandates, including negative effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights.  With regard to studies on activities of vulture funds and their impact on human rights, and on the negative impact of the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin on the enjoyment of human rights, the Council had decided to extend the time to submit the studies.  The Committee had also started working on two new mandates, a global call for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and the role of technical assistance and capacity building in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights.  The Committee had circulated four note verbales to relevant stakeholders to gather views.  The Committee continued to identify proposals for further research, in line with annex to resolution 5/1.  Two new research proposals were submitted, on digital transformation and its impact on human rights, and on economic, social and cultural rights on the agenda of international jurisdiction.  In conclusion, Ms. Pabel said that the current gender balance of the Advisory Committee was shrinking and had to be kept in mind.  The Committee privileged an inclusive way of working and engaged with all stakeholders.  The Committee was seeking input through questionnaires sent out last week.

Interactive Discussion

European Union said regional human rights mechanisms could serve as reference models for Member States and neighbouring regions.  They added that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had a key role in supporting those mechanisms and that their independence needed to be supported and protected.  Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, appreciated that the Advisory Committee undertook broad consultations with regional and national stakeholders.  The African Group reiterated its continued cooperation with the High Commissioner to protect and promote the rights of people in Africa, particularly vulnerable groups.  Peru, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said there was a special relationship between the Advisory Committee, civil society and academics.  They drew attention to the Advisory Committee’s reflection papers which were a source of inspiration and they were also pleased that the majority of the women in the Committee were from their region.

Togo said regional arrangements encouraged governments to recognise international obligations, forcing them to provide their citizens with their basic human rights.  In addition, effective means of cooperation between regional mechanisms and the Council needed to be established, improving communication and best practices.  Pakistan said a number of reports assigned to the Advisory Committee were of great importance, such as the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin, which directly affected the basic human rights of citizens.  Also, the study on racism was equally important considering the rise of fascism in the world and crimes against religious or ethnic groups.  Republic of Korea said the Advisory Committee had provided valuable insight to the Council on various topics such as local governments and human rights, promoting human rights through sports and the Olympic ideal, and leprosy-related discrimination.  It also sought ways the Council could take on and protect human rights.  China welcomed the constructive role of the Advisory Committee as the Council’s think tank on human rights and thanked it for the reports that it was producing.  In March, China had co-sponsored a resolution on promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights to build a new international relationship and shared future.

Bolivia congratulated the Advisory Committee for its tenth anniversary and thanked it for its valuable work.  Vulture funds, non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin on the enjoyment of human rights, rights of peasants, adolescent migrants, and the impact of unilateral coercive measures were just some of the topics that the Advisory Committee had investigated.   Iran welcomed the active role of the Advisory Committee as the think tank of the Council.  As for the nexus between violent extremism and terrorism on the one hand and human rights on the other, the root causes had to be assessed.  Peru appreciated the work undertaken by the drafting committee for resolution 35/33 on national policies and human rights.  The drafting group was encouraged to continue its work on the Sustainable Development Goals.

South Africa took note of recommendations in the report on regional arrangements.  South Africa appreciated that the Advisory Committee had undertaken to conduct a study on appropriate ways and means of assessing racial equality in the world and was ready to provide input.  Ecuador reiterated the importance of the work of the Advisory Committee in carrying out necessary research for the development of human rights.  Reports by the Advisory Committee concerning vulture funds and the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin were welcomed.

American Association of Jurists strongly condemned attacks on members of the Advisory Committee, reiterating that their freedom of expression had to be upheld.  The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was thanked for highlighting the knowledge of the indigenous peoples.  Sikh Human Rights Group noted that the human rights regime was embedded on one regional worldview and urged the Advisory Committee to be radical and widen its scope to see if there were frameworks other than this one to promote and enjoy human dignity, worth and freedoms.  Verein Sudwind Enwicklungspolitik noted that people in Iran suffered not only from the Islamic Republic State which had isolated the country internationally, but also from not being included in any of the existing regional human rights regimes and arrangements, and asked what could be done to address this situation.

Health and Environment Programme encouraged States to provide reports on their efforts to provide technical assistance and support for the fight against violence.  Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries took note with satisfaction of the many facets of the work of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, including on combatting impunity and corruption in the countries in the region.

Concluding Remarks

KATHERINE PABEL, Chairperson of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, in her concluding remarks, ensured the Advisory Committee’s continued cooperation with States and non-governmental organizations.  She informed the Council of a side event taking place with the goal of strengthening the visibility of the Advisory Committee’s work.  To that effect, a brochure and film by students that shared their views on the body had also been created.  The Advisory Committee looked forward to continuing its work in an impartial and balanced way.  Ms. Pabel hoped that the contributions of the Advisory Committee would contribute to the protection of human rights.  

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, thanked Ms. Pabel and expressed on behalf of the Council his deep appreciation for the valuable contributions that the Advisory Committee made to the work of the Council and wished it all best in future endeavours. 

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Secretary-General on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (A/HRC/39/41).

Interactive Dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on the Report of the Secretary-General on Cooperation with the United Nations, its Representatives and Mechanisms in the Field of Human Rights

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, emphasized, in his introductory remarks, the importance of ensuring that the Human Rights Council provided a safe and open space for those who cooperated or sought to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.  Any and all acts of intimidation or reprisal against such individuals undermined the effectiveness and credibility of the Council and its mechanisms, and were wholly unacceptable.  The President firmly reiterated his zero tolerance approach on this issue and the determination to continue to ensure that the work in this Council proceeded without acts of intimidation and reprisal, and called on everyone in the room to take steps to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts.

Statement by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

ANDREW GILMOUR, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York, introducing the report of the Secretary-General on reprisals against those who sought to cooperate or had cooperated with the United Nations, thanked the Council for devoting significant time to the alarming issue of intimidation and reprisals.  Many individuals had been barred from entering this very chamber, he said, because of a travel ban to prevent their participation; because their accreditation was blocked due to their activism; because they languished in detention for sharing information with the United Nations; or because they deferred their participation for the fear of what might happen to them.  As the Secretary-General had stressed in his report, punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations was a shameful act, which ran contrary to the principles of the Organization. 

The report, continued Mr. Gilmour, demonstrated that the magnitude and scope of reprisals was far-reaching: it happened in the field, against those who made the complaints but also against their legal representatives, interpreters, or assistants, and included incommunicado detention, torture and ill treatment, prolonged solitary confinement, and even killings.  But acts of reprisals happened “even under our noses in the diplomatic hallways” of New York and Geneva, creating a climate of intimidation clearly intended to deter others from future participation.  The United Nations was working to better understand the scope of such acts throughout the system and intended to do more to effectively and systematically address this issue, the Assistant Secretary-General stressed.

This year’s report included allegations of reprisals against individuals in 38 countries; some were Member States of this very Council and some had been featured in these reports nearly every year since it had been instituted in 2010.  The report was a tool of cooperation and engagement with States and civil society, thus maintaining dialogue was crucial for its success, said Mr. Gilmour, who was pleased to note the cooperation of a number of States and substantive responses they had provided.  While the majority of cases had been perpetrated by State officials, or at the very least had been condoned by the State, the Secretary-General noted in his report that violations by non-State actors must be taken seriously and that private citizens, corporate actors, and other non-State groups must be held accountable as well.

Mr. Gilmour emphasized three important and disturbing trends in reprisals, citing first the invoking by States of counter-terrorism as the reason to deny individuals or organizations access to the United Nations.  In this context, he expressed particular concern about the systematic denigration of human rights defenders and civil society organizations, the dismissal of an entire category of people seeking to stand up for human rights, as “terrorists”.  The second trend was that reprisals were often disguised in legal, political and administrative obstacles and restrictions, including through selectively applied laws and policies, or the adoption of new and restrictive legislation applicable to those cooperating with the United Nations, thus effectively shrinking the civic space.  The third trend was the use of accreditation and security procedures to hinder people from speaking at the United Nations headquarters and elsewhere, said the Assistant Secretary-General, noting that efforts were ongoing to ensure that transparent and fair criteria were being applied by the Non-Governmental-Organization Committee in decisions on the consultative status of non-governmental organizations with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

It was heartening that the Council had shown great readiness to discuss the issue, but it was disappointing that the scale of the problem was in no way diminishing; to the contrary, the cases presented in the report were merely the tip of the iceberg, a small fraction of the reprisals that the United Nations believed had actually been carried out.  There was a long way to go before this practice was stamped out.

Interactive Discussion

Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, voiced concern about various regions where reprisals were carried out against individuals and groups that sought to cooperate with United Nations mechanisms.  It urged all States to refrain from any acts of reprisals or intimidation against those individuals, and to implement the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.  European Union stated that it staunchly supported civil society as a central pillar of multilateral work.  How could coordination between New York and Geneva be enhanced when it came to addressing cases of intimidation and reprisals against civil society?  Belgium, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, called on everyone to end, investigate and prosecute all cases of reprisals against civil society and human rights defenders.  It was concerned about the use of counter-terrorism strategies to block civil society from accessing the United Nations. 

Denmark, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, voiced deep concern about the increased number of allegations of reprisals, adding that it was disturbing that the United Nations had documented self-censorship in all regions.  Another concern was the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States to block civil society’s access to the United Nations.  Slovenia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, regretted the alarming trend of reprisals against individuals and organizations seeking to cooperate with the United Nations on human rights.  Threats and attacks on them were thus also an attack on the United Nations and on the human rights system as such.  Honduras reiterated its firm will to promote and protect human rights nationally and internationally.  It valued the participation of other actors in the human rights system and it condemned reprisals and intimidation against anyone that wanted to cooperate with the United Nations in that respect. 

Montenegro viewed intimidation and reprisals as violations of the rights of those seeking to cooperate with the United Nations and they undermined the United Nations system as a whole.  Montenegro shared the Secretary-General’s observation that the reporting and documenting of violence based on gender or sexual orientation needed to be strengthened.  Germany said that intimidation and reprisals deprived the world of listening to important voices from the grass roots level.  They were also troubled by the fact that Egyptian lawyer Ebrahim Metwally Hegazy had been detained by Egyptian authorities in an apparent attempt to prevent him from travelling to a session of the Working Group on enforced disappearances.  France called on States to unanimously condemn acts of intimidation and reprisals and guarantee access to justice for those concerned.  There was no security related imperative for those who cooperated with the United Nations to defend human rights.  States should develop judicial, administrative and institutional rights to protect human rights defenders.

Egypt was keen to express its full cooperation with all human rights mechanisms.  In providing information on allegations referred to in the report, Egypt responded to say that those people concerned were perpetrators of punishable offences; their cooperation with United Nations mechanisms did not give them judicial immunity.  Kyrgyzstan emphasized that organizations mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report were not recognised as terrorists.  However, the materials they sent cited ethnic hatred and could have sparked ethnic conflict.  State authorities worked within a strict legal framework and in compliance with counter-terrorist activities.  India noted the large number of non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives from India who were taking active part in the Human Rights Council.  India also highlighted that there were no agreed procedures to examine the alleged cases in the Secretary-General’s report to establish the facts.

Philippines objected to the report’s sweeping allegations on the Philippines, stating firmly that the named “human rights defenders” were not being dealt with on account of their identity and work in defending rights, but for their involvement in illegal drug trade and on matters of terrorism.  Croatia was worried about the fear of reprisals in conflict settings and asked how the United Nations could better engage with all stakeholders to overcome the worrying trend of reprisals against human rights defenders.  China regretted and objected to the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals, which contained unproven information, wrongly portrayed China, and interfered with the sovereignty of the country based on the rule of law, which protected the rights of its citizens.  Everyone who broke the law would be held accountable.

Cuba categorically rejected allegations of acts of reprisals against Cubans as no one suffered detention, intimidation, or harassment as a result of their exercising human rights legitimately, and stressed that the report was yet another example of the use of double standards against countries of the South, which perverted the use of the term “human rights defenders” to designate those acting as mercenaries for the great powers.  Tunisia supported the Secretary-General’s recommendations to all parties and stressed the critical importance of adopting laws and policies protecting those who engaged with the United Nations which was an important method to develop rights-based democratic societies.  Uruguay was seriously concerned about the persistence and increase of acts of reprisals which were mostly perpetrated by States, and in particular about the use of national security discourse to justify such acts, including in Member States of this Human Rights Council.

Hungary said it was surprised to hear about reprisals against civil society in Hungary in the Secretary-General’s report, noting that in Hungary all civil society organizations could freely cooperate with the United Nations and its procedures.  How could a fair assessment of all opinions be reflected in such reports?  Australia shared concerns expressed about the politicization of the Economic and Social Council accreditation process, which was being manipulated to silence voices that some would rather not hear.  Such tactics were unjustified, and they diminished the quality of the United Nations system to the detriment of all.  Georgia reiterated the importance of ensuring a safe environment for all civil society actors.  What was envisioned to ensure a positive system-wide response to the reprisals against civil society representatives?

Iran while recognizing that States had the primary responsibility of creating an enabling environment to respect, protect and promote human rights, said the positive contribution of human rights defenders should not be abused by pseudo-defenders, particularly those who belonged to terrorist and violent extremist groups.  Costa Rica underscored that it was the duty and responsibility of all countries to provide active, fluid and timely cooperation with human rights mechanisms.  Without active cooperation among countries, all efforts of the international community in that regard would be in vain.  Iraq stated that it had always dealt in full transparency with all United Nations bodies, adding that it deeply believed in the role of national human rights institutions and civil society.  At the same time, it regretted that the Secretary-General’s report contained some false information about Iraq.

United Kingdom said that continued acts of reprisals against human rights defenders should be a matter of concern for all members of the Council, and asked what the biggest risk to human rights defenders and civil society was, and how they could be reassured that the United Nations was doing all it could to mitigate the risks they faced.  Poland remained gravely concerned about the continued and evolving nature of reprisals and stressed the need to strengthen the role of the Human Rights Council to ensure that it was a place where States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and others could come freely and work together for human rights.  Ireland said that the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals made an invaluable contribution to the Council’s discussion on the subject and remained deeply concerned about increasing acts of reprisals detailed in the report.  What measures could States adopt to address the question of accountability for acts of reprisals?

Bahrain stressed the importance of allowing all non-governmental organizations to participate in the work of the Council and said that its laws and regulations provided a great deal of protection to all.  Russia said it accorded great importance to the participation of non-governmental organizations, which was guaranteed by the Constitution, and said that a non-governmental organization had delivered a false statement in the Council on the situation in Crimea.  Rwanda had no interest to scrutinize the contacts of its citizens with the United Nations and said that all allegations of acts of reprisals were promptly investigated.  What could States do to ensure that false allegations were exposed as such and that genuine reports were properly addressed?

Thailand noted that the allegations in the Secretary-General’s report pertaining to Thailand were misleading and based on prejudiced facts.  Despite all political challenges, Thailand remained open to engage and fully cooperate with the United Nations system.  Djibouti stated that it had always supported initiatives to fight reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders.  The report implied that human rights defenders in Djibouti were subject to reprisals because of their participation in the Universal Periodic Review, which was a one-sided assessment.  No human rights defender had every been prosecuted in Djibouti.  Canada welcomed the fact that the report had taken into account the particular challenges faced by women human rights defenders, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex human rights defenders.  What steps were available to States that wished to support victims of reprisals globally? 

Maldives said it took seriously any claim of reprisals, intimidation or attacks against journalists and other individuals working to promote and protect human rights in the country.  It was only in the pursuit of justice that such reprisals could be dissuaded and completely eliminated.  Guatemala underscored its commitment to promote and protect human rights nationally and internationally.  Responding to the alleged cases of reprisals in Guatemala, the delegation clarified that those had nothing to do with the individuals’ cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Republic of Korea expressed concern that the space for human rights defenders was shrinking due to political uncertainty and public sentiments.  What could the Council do to help the Assistant Secretary-General work more effectively with States, the United Nations system, and key stakeholders?  United Arab Emirates reminded the Assistant Secretary-General that all cases referred to in the report were not related to reprisals.  All the cases reported had also been the subject of an exchange of correspondence between the Government of the United Arab Emirates and the relevant Special Procedures.

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions noted that any acts of reprisal against individuals seeking to cooperate with the United Nations were unacceptable.  Reprisals were carried out in a variety of forms, ranging from intimidation, threats, physical attacks, travel bans, arbitrary detention, killings and criminal procedures.   Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Inc. welcomed that the report on reprisals highlighted the ongoing reprisals that Bahraini human rights defenders and their families faced.  Over 20 Bahraini human rights defenders had faced travel bans when attempting to travel to the Council sessions.  International Service for Human Rights, in a joint statement with CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, said that the report documented reprisal cases by Council members and candidates, including Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Mexico, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

International Federation of Journalists said that BBC Persian staff and their families in Iran faced an escalating campaign of harassment.  Iran had opened a criminal investigation into 152 BBC Persian staff, freezing their assets and accusing them of conspiracy against national security.  Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association regretted that the Office of the High Commissioner and the Assistant Secretary-General had overlooked complaints made by them against the State of Qatar, although they contained firm evidence of reprisals because of their participation in the Council session, pointing to selectivity.  Human Rights Watch said that in Bahrain, defenders faced charges of terrorism, sweeping travel bans and stripping of citizenship.  In China travel bans and torture were used against activists.  In Egypt, solitary confinement, enforced disappearances and detention were used.

Human Rights House Foundation said that the increased visibility of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists was usually a key component of their security, and in the light of significant challenges in carrying out even basic human rights advocacy in States such as Russia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus, asked how they were addressing reprisals.  Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development believed that the United Nations could significantly contribute to addressing and preventing reprisals through a comprehensive system-wide approach, and asked how United Nations resident coordinators could contribute to protecting human rights defenders on the ground.  "Coup de Pousse" Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud ( C.D.P-C.E.N.S) believed that much information that it had provided was absent from the Secretary-General’s report, including on the situation of human rights defenders in Tindouf and reprisals and intimidation by the Polisario organization.

Concluding Remarks

ANDREW GILMOUR, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York, highlighted the role of the President of the Council in addressing reprisals and intimidation, and thanked him for his firm zero-tolerance stance.  He thanked participants in the discussion for the substantive and thoughtful comments and questions that they had posed.  He welcomed the constructive comments made by the African Group on featuring best practices in future reports, and on how to address accountability at the national level.  Accountability could only be improved if States took prompt measures to investigate all allegations, if they ensured judicial independence in the prosecution of such cases, and if they provided remedy to victims.  Turning to the States that complained that they had been included in the report, Mr. Gilmour explained that the report focused on victim protection, which was not the case with other United Nations reports.  That was probably the reason why it provoked so much reaction from delegations.  Mr. Gilmour clarified that his Office considered the submitted responses by Government in each case, and it summarized their key points in the fairest way.  Mr. Gilmour underlined that the blanket denial by States that reprisals had taken place was a pattern.  The Office did not take allegations of reprisals and Governments’ denials as a blanket truth. 

As for who should be considered as a human rights defender, Mr. Gilmour reminded that States had deliberately not defined who they were because everyone had the right to participate in the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.  The role of human rights defenders was more recognized in Geneva than in New York.  Turning to delegations that objected to the mandate, Mr. Gilmour noted China’s principled position that the mandate undermined national sovereignty.  Cuba’s observation that the mandate targeted only countries of the Global South was not true because the mandate also pointed out to reprisals taking place in countries that did not belong to the Global South, such as Hungary, for example.  On the shrinking of space for civil society, Mr. Gilmour regarded as the biggest threat the use of national security arguments by States.   The countries most involved in working to overcome obstacles to the work of human rights defenders were also those that most often found themselves mentioned in the report, and those that most criticized those reports.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/18/139E