ISHR welcomes recent efforts by the treaty bodies to address reprisals

29.07.2013

As with other aspects of the UN human rights system, some individuals and organisations engaging with the treaty bodies regretfully experience reprisals and intimidation as a result of that engagement. The Secretary-General highlighted some of these incidents in his 2012 annual report on reprisals, citing cases involving Algeria, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

 

As with other aspects of the UN human rights system, some individuals and organisations engaging with the treaty bodies regretfully experience reprisals and intimidation as a result of that engagement. The Secretary-General highlighted some of these incidents in his 2012 annual report on reprisals, citing cases involving Algeria, Belarus and Kazakhstan. While the UN struggles to devise a systematic response to the issue of reprisals, ISHR applauds recent efforts by the treaty bodies to address it. 

In June 2013, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) addressed allegations of reprisals against two Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provided information to the Committee in November 2012. The Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial in St Petersburg and the Public Verdict Foundation in Moscow were recently charged with violating controversial new legislation that requires NGOs involved in advocacy activities to register as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive foreign funding. The cases cited information submitted to CAT as the basis for the charges. In letters to the Russian Government, CAT voiced grave concern about the allegations and sought assurances that the NGOs will not face any reprisals as a result of their legitimate activities and cooperation with the Committee.

CAT has also previously addressed reprisals in its concluding observations of reviews of State parties’ reports. This includes an earlier review of Russia in 2006. In its concluding observations, CAT recommended that Russia establish safeguards against reprisals in order to protect all complainants, including those who submit cases on torture to CAT through its complaint mechanism. Following a review of Moldova in 2010, CAT expressed concern in its concluding observations that the general prosecutor’s office had sent a letter to the college of lawyers with a recommendation to examine activities of lawyers who were ‘damaging Moldova’s image’ by sending ‘unverified information on torture’ to international organisations’. CAT requested that the letter be publicly renounced and necessary safeguards be introduced to prevent similar abuses.

Notably, CAT also addressed the issue of reprisals and intimidation suffered as a result of engaging with other UN human rights mechanisms. In its November 2012 concluding observations of its review of Tajikistan, CAT expressed concern about reports that human rights defenders, journalists, medical experts and victims of alleged torture and their families suffered reprisals and intimidation as a result of raising concerns with the Special Rapporteur on torture.

CAT has not been alone in responding to reprisals and intimidation against those engaging with it. The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) regularly addresses reprisals in its reports following visits to State parties. Following a 2011 visit to Brazil, the SPT strongly condemned reprisals that took place immediately following its visit. The SPT requested Brazil to launch an immediate investigation, hold accountable those found responsible, and keep it informed of activities to prevent and investigate reprisals and measures taken in relation to those specific cases.

Last year the Human Rights Committee raised allegations of reprisals with the Maldives following reports that NGOs had received threats following their participation in the review of the State party’s report.

In addition to being increasingly vocal on reprisals, some treaty bodies have also started establishing specific mechanisms to address the issue. In late 2012 CAT decided to designate one of its members as a rapporteur on reprisals. This followed the establishment by the SPT in February 2012 of a working group to formulate a strategy to prevent and combat reprisals, and the desisgnation by the Human Rights Committee of one of its members to act as a focal point on reprisals. 

While ISHR welcomes these developments, there is clearly much more to be done to ensure that reprisals and intimidation can be prevented and addressed. In that regard, ISHR and other NGOs have advocated for a strengthened response to reprisals in the context of the ongoing treaty body strengthening process. This includes the designation of focal points on reprisals in each of the treaty bodies that would be responsible for follow-up with the States concerned. ISHR also recently presented a joint NGO submission to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) on its engagement with civil society, including suggestions on how to ensure its working methods protect NGOs and victims from intimidation and reprisals.

Madeleine Sinclair is Legal Counsel with the International Service for Human Rights and leads ISHR’s work to combat reprisals.

Category:

Topic
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)
  • UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies
Country
  • Algeria
  • Belarus
  • Kazakhstan
  • Maldives
  • Moldova
  • Russia