António Guterres raises the issue of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders

In his annual report published in September, entitled “Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights”, the United Nations Secretary General (SG) António Guterres expresses his concerns about intimidation and reprisals against those seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the UN on human rights. He stresses that “addressing reprisals and intimidation is a priority and a core responsibility of the organisation in a whole”.

Highlighted in the SG report are the many cases of reprisals in countries across the world. These cases outline that individuals and groups, including human rights defenders and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have suffered from serious consequences, such as travel bans, harassment, threats, arbitrary arrests and detention, and enforced disappearances amongst others, for trying to engage with and attend meetings of the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms. By way of intimidation the banking assets of human rights defenders who receive funding from UN human rights bodies or of those who report violations are reported to have been frozen by some Governments. António Guterres mentions that he also received information about legislation aimed at penalising organisations for contacting human rights mechanisms.

The report notes that four representatives of Sudanese Civil Society were intercepted at Khartoum International Airport on their way to Geneva, where they were to participate in UPR Info’s Pre-session meetings of the UPR in Sudan (July 2016).

It is noted that special procedures mandate holders acted in response to some allegations of intimidation and reprisals. However, the SG regrets that some concerns did not receive a reply from the Governments concerned during the reporting period. He reiterates that such practices are unacceptable, and more measures needs to be taken to respond to and prevent these acts. More importantly, he “encourages all stakeholders to report allegations of intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights”. Therefore, the SG points out that it is crucial to follow-up on the cases and to provide substantive responses.

Cooperating with the UN, the UPR, the Human Rights Council and special procedures is not easy task as illustrated in the cases of Cuba, Egypt, India, Rwanda, Sudan, United Arab Emirates or Uganda document in this report. António Guterres “calls on all States to follow-up on the cases included in the present and previous reports and provide substantive responses where they remain outstanding” and “recommends that the Human Rights Council devotes sufficient time to the discussion of this report and to interact with the designated senior official. I also invite the President to orally update the Council on cases brought to his or her attention at each session”.