HRC35 | A Human Rights Council that effectively protects human rights requires free and safe input from civil society


In a statement to the Human Rights Council, ISHR called for concrete action to combat intimidation and reprisals suffered by human rights defenders who engage, or seek to engage, with UN human rights mechanisms.

Targeting of human rights defenders for seeking to engage with the UN is worsening. During the 35th session of the Human Rights Council ISHR delivered a statement highlighting significant gaps in mechanisms intended to protect defenders against intimidation and reprisals.

High-level official on reprisals

The statement reiterated support for the appointment of Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour as the first high-level official on reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights, a much-needed initiative to help combat the growing problem. However, it called for more clarity on the functioning of the mandate.

‘Seven month after the appointment, we await clarity on how best to engage with the mandate,’ said ISHR Programme Coordinator and Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy.

‘This position does let existing UN bodies and mechanisms of the hook in terms of taking action to prevent, investigate and remedy cases of reprisals. Effective collaboration and coordination is integral’, continued McEvoy.

States highlight the crucial role of civil society

ISHR welcomed the statement delivered by the Netherlands, on behalf of itself, Belgium and Luxembourg during the debate. These States made clear that reprisals against defenders directly affect the Council’s work and functioning.

‘Public condemnation by States of intimidation or reprisals against civil society actors is essential. We urge all States to follow this lead and fulfil their duty to combat reprisals’, said McEvoy.

In its statement, the group of States recommend that the Human Rights Council Presidency and Bureau:

  • Publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals.
  • Investigate and follow up on cases of alleged reprisals, and submit such cases to the Office of the Secretary-General;
  • Include regular updates on cases and actions taken during Item 5 general debate of each Council session.

ISHR welcomes these calls: ‘Rhetorical commitments made by the Council President and Bureau are positive steps, however, visible and sustained action to prevent, and if necessary respond and ensure accountability for, cases of reprisals is still lacking’, said McEvoy.

NGO statements interrupted

Regrettably during the debate, the chairing officer and Council Vice President (the Ambassador of Egypt) interrupted several speakers, including the ISHR representative. He asked the ISHR representative to ‘stick to the topic’, without elaborating as to why that was not the case. ISHR’s statement focused on the lack of cooperation with human rights bodies and mechanisms was clearly within the topic of ‘human rights bodies and mechanisms’, particularly as the annual report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms is also considered under this item. Several States, including the above mentioned group of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, had spoken on this topic during the same meeting and were not interrupted. 

ISHR is concerned by the egregious interruption of the ISHR speaker, especially given that the then presiding Chair, a representative of Egypt, has a manifest conflict of interest — interrupting ISHR when the speaker mentioned Egypt by way of example. Together with other NGOs, ISHR has called on the President and Bureau to commit to not abusively interrupt NGOs, and to recuse themselves where there is a conflict of interest.


  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
  • UN Human Rights Council