States must support stronger action on reprisals at UN General Assembly

23.06.2014

States must support stronger action to combat intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN by pushing for the endorsement of a Human Rights Council resolution on the issue by the UN General Assembly in New York, ISHR said in a statement to the Council today.

(Geneva) - States must support stronger action to combat intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN by pushing for the endorsement of a Human Rights Council resolution on the issue by the UN General Assembly in New York, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

Last September, the Human Rights Council passed an important resolution calling for the UN to appoint a high-level focal point with a mandate to prevent and promote accountability for threats and attacks against people in association with their engagement with the UN. Action on the resolution was deferred, however, by the UN General Assembly, which has given itself until September 2014 to decide whether such a focal point is necessary. In the meantime, a number of regional mechanisms have taken action to provide better protection to those who contribute to their work, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, which resolved in May 2014 to appoint its own senior focal point on reprisals.

Delivering a statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw said, 'The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has led the way in designating a reprisals focal point, while the European Court of Human Rights has developed strong jurisprudence which makes it clear that the prohibition against reprisals is absolute.'

'A more robust, coordinated, comprehensive and systemic UN response to challenge reprisals is urgently needed. Simply put, the current ad hoc methods employed by different mechanisms and bodies do not adequately uphold the right to communicate with the UN in the field of human rights. They tolerate impunity for those that perpetuate intimidation or reprisals, and undermine the integrity of this Council and the UN as a whole.'     

A number of States also welcomed the African Commission's leadership, with Hungary noting that they hoped this initiative would lead to similar initiatives by other regional organizations, and encourage States in supporting the establishment of a UN system-wide focal point.

Speaking after delivering the ISHR statement, Ms Openshaw said that the issue of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders remains pressing.

'Over the last two weeks ISHR has been privileged to work with over 20 human rights defenders from all around the world who look to the Human Rights Council and the UN more broadly to provide protection and redress for human rights violations. Regrettably, many of them told us that, far from providing protection, their engagement with the UN can actually lead to further violations, as they face retaliation and reprisals from both State and non-State actors at home,' Ms Openshaw said.

'Several also spoke of colleagues who were not prepared to engage with the UN for fear of attack, and with good reason. We know of egregious cases of reprisals against defenders engaging with a range of mechanisms and bodies – the case of Cao Shunli is very much in our minds this session,' Ms Openshaw said.

Ms Openshaw said that such cases and testimony are evidence that 'Attacks against those that cooperate with the UN are an attack against the UN itself. Every defender deterred from engaging with the UN weakens the human rights system and betrays individuals seeking international human rights protection.'

‘Last September, the Human Rights Council agreed on the need for a UN system-wide focal point as a response to the inadequacy of current ad hoc methods employed by different mechanisms and bodies. The focal point will contribute to ensuring defenders and others can engage with the UN without fear of threat or attack. The UN’s integrity and credibility as an international human rights system is open to question if it fails to protect those that engage with it,' said Ms Openshaw.

‘Every member State of the United Nations has an opportunity and responsibility during the current General Assembly session to show it is serious about ending violence and intimidation against that that struggle for human rights, by ensuring the UN significantly steps up its response to reprisals,’ Ms Openshaw said.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw on e.openshaw@ishr.ch

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • UN General Assembly
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Country
  • Hungary