Human Rights Committee responds to NGO calls to strengthen response to reprisals


The effort to combat reprisals has taken an important step forward with the appointment of a member of the UN Human Rights Committee as Rapporteur on reprisals.

(Geneva) - The effort to combat reprisals has taken an important step forward with the appointment of a member of the UN Human Rights Committee as Rapporteur on reprisals. The Committee has acted quickly to implement recommendations made by NGOs, and endorsed by Treaty Body Chairpersons, aimed at a more consistent, systematic and coordinated approach to preventing and responding to reprisals.

At their recent annual meeting, Treaty Body Chairpersons agreed on a series of measures to enhance the treaty bodies' individual and collective responses to reprisals.

'Reprisals or sanctions against those that engage with treaty bodies strike against the integrity of the treaty body system, undermines its effectiveness and are, of course, a grave violation of human rights,' said Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Meeting of Chairpersons.

The measures agreed by the Chairpersons include the establishment of rapporteurs on reprisals, improved coordination amongst treaty bodies, and the definition of a joint policy on reprisals to be approved at the Chairpersons’ next annual meeting.

Several of the recommendations respond to calls made to the Chairs in a joint submission by NGOs, including ISHR, ahead of their meeting. ‘We welcome the fact that the Chairs have responded to civil society calls to improve treaty bodies’ responses to reprisals,' said ISHR’s Pooja Patel. ‘The swift action taken by the Human Rights Committee in establishing its Rapporteur on reprisals is very encouraging and we look forward to seeing the other Committees appoint their own rapporteurs at their upcoming meetings,' she added.

NGOs had also emphasized the need to provide rapporteurs on reprisals with a broad mandate to operate. ‘We are glad to see that the Chairpersons responded to this,’ said Ms Patel. 'They have specified that treaty body rapporteurs should act to prevent, protect against, investigate and pursue accountability for acts of intimidation or reprisals'.

In its own detailed submission on Reprisals to the Treaty Bodies, ISHR called on each treaty body to create a public webpage on reprisals to give visibility to the Rapporteur and provide information on cases, including responses from States to inquiries from the treaty body. Of the three Committees with focal points or rapporteurs on reprisals - the Committee against Torture, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – only CAT has clearly accessible information on reprisals its website.

Sir Nigel Rodley, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, said that he expects information on the new Rapporteur on reprisals to be incorporated in the committee webpage imminently. He also noted the importance of NGOs promoting the appointment and responsibilities of the new rapporteur. ‘We’re counting on pivotal civil society organisations like ISHR and the CCPR Centre, which do so much to stimulate and coordinate NGO participation in our work, to alert people to its existence,' Professor Rodley said.

The importance of civil society to supporting the work of the treaty bodies was also emphasized by Professor Evans in regard to the definition of the joint treaty body policy against reprisals over the next year. ‘Since civil society will be among the beneficiaries of such a policy, it is important that their voices are heard, along with all other stakeholders, in its formation’, he said.

Ongoing cases of reprisals and intimidation show that individual human rights bodies and mechanisms cannot effectively challenge reprisals alone. In emphasising the limitations of the response of the rapporteur to prevent reprisals, for example, Professor Rodley noted, ‘It’s important not to oversell its possibilities to avoid or save people from harm.’

Treaty Body Chairs have identified better coordination and systematization as a vital component to challenging reprisals. Professor Rodley said this is ‘a natural response’ to the General Assembly’s condemnation of reprisals against those engaging with treaty bodies, as expressed in Paragraph 8 of General Assembly Resolution 68/268 enhancing the role of the treaty bodies.

Furthermore, Treaty Body Chairs emphasised that a more effective approach to reprisals amongst treaty bodies is only a piece of the required response within the UN. They have specified that the joint treaty body policy should be part of a more general approach to reprisals by the relevant UN human rights mechanisms.

Stressing this point, Professor Evans said, ‘Combating reprisals is a multi-faceted and multi-level task which will require sustained and mutually reinforcing commitment from the Treaty Bodies, States Parties, civil society and many others. The work of the Treaty Body Chairs will hopefully provide renewed impetus to the work already undertaken, and be an inspiration to others to develop appropriate responses.’

One such response to provide more effective responses to combating reprisals, is the designation by the Human Rights Council of a high-level UN-wide focal point on reprisals. ‘Establishing the focal point still needs the backing of the General Assembly’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.

‘States have prime responsibility to ensure that those exercising their right to engage with the UN are safe to do so,’ noted Ms Openshaw ‘This requires putting in place effective measures at national and regional levels to protect individuals and combat impunity. It also involves taking action to strengthen the capacity of human rights mechanisms to prevent and respond to reprisals’.


Pooja Patel, International Service for Human Rights, Geneva,

Eleanor Openshaw, International Service for Human Rights, New York,

Photo: Sir Nigel Rodley, Chair of the Human Rights Committee - UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras


  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)