UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances appoints focal point on reprisals


The Committee on Enforced Disappearances has become the latest treaty body to create a rapporteur on reprisals, responding to a call from ISHR and other NGOs.

 Emmanuel Decaux, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances - UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

(Geneva) - The UN's Committee on Enforced Disappearances has recocognised and responded to the issue of intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders by creating a rapporteur on reprisals, responding to a submission made by ISHR and other NGOs.

‘ISHR welcomes this development, which sends a clear signal that the Committee takes the danger of reprisals seriously and understands the need to address this threat,’ said ISHR’s Dr Heather Collister.

The creation of the role comes after ISHR, together with Child Rights Connect, the Center for Legal and Social Studies, FIACAT, the International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism and Al-Karama, made a joint submission to the Committee identifying ways in which the Committee could better facilitate access and engagement by NGOs. Among the key recommendations made by the NGOs was that the Committee should appoint a focal point or rapporteur on reprisals.

‘Reprisals are a critical threat to NGO engagement with the UN human rights system’, said Dr Collister. ‘Threats, harassment, and attacks serve to silence the voices of NGOs and deprive human rights bodies of vital sources of information. Unfortunately cases of reprisal will continue to occur as long as there is no means of holding States accountable for the safety of the defenders who engage with regional or international human rights systems.’

'While a rapporteur cannot by any means guarantee the safety of the defenders who engage with the Committee, it does provide a systematised means of following-up with State delegations in cases where defenders have suffered reprisals. It sends a message that States will be held to account for the safety of their nationals who attempt to engage with the Committee,' Dr Collister said.

The appointment of a rapporteur on reprisals comes after other UN treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture and the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture also took concrete steps to better protect human rights defenders who contribute to their work.

Despite this progress, however, there is still much work to be done.

‘We look forward to working with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to ensure that the rapporteur fills his or her role as effectively as possible,’ said Dr Collister. ‘As an initial step the details of the rapporteur should be clearly posted on the Committee’s website, as should the process that the rapporteur will follow when cases of reprisal are reported. The Committee should ensure that any follow-up, including with delegations, does not place the defender in further danger.’

The Committee also responded to other recommendations made by ISHR, including a call for it to clearly set out that the reason behind its current good practice of holding meetings with NGOs in private is to protect against reprisals.

‘We welcome this statement of principle which makes it clear that the Committee understands the importance of continuing to hold these meetings in private, and in turn gives some security that the practice will continue,’ said Dr Collister. ‘In addition we are pleased to see that based on this principle, the Committee has now extended the practice of closed meetings with NGOs to its work at country level.’

Furthermore the Committee has explicitly set out that defenders who submit information to it at any point may choose to do so confidentially in order to protect them from reprisal.

Other important points on accessibility made in the submission include the need for the Committee to ensure that the methods it develops for participating in and accessing its work, whether in person or remotely, are accessible to everyone including persons with disabilities. The Committee has committed to doing this ‘within its power’.

The steps taken by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances in response to the submission are set out in its revised document on engagement with NGOs. They show a readiness to take NGO concerns seriously, particularly in the crucial area of the safety of those defenders who engage with it. While much work remains to be done, ISHR looks forward to continuing to engage with the Committee to address the safety and accessibility of NGO engagement. 

Contact: Dr Heather Collister on h.collister@ishr.ch or +41 799 20 38 05

Photo: Emmanuel Decaux, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances - UN Photo/Amanda Voisard


  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)