Ban Ki-moon alarmed by attacks on human rights defenders at UPR

On 27 August 2014 United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his annual report on reprisals for “Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights”. He expressed his deep concerns about acts of intimidation and reprisal that human rights defenders are regrettably still subjected to. The report mainly relates cases in African and Asian countries; however, as Ban Ki-moon explains, one should not forget the cases are only the “tip of the iceberg”. Four cases specifically related to the UPR mechanism.
In Cameroon “[s]everal members of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association were allegedly subjected to reprisals following the submission of their report to the United Nations in relation to the second universal periodic review of Cameroon. On 1 July 2012, an assassination attempt against Mr. Jeidoh Duni, legal representative of the Association, was reported”. And a year later, “on 5 July 2013, the Director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, who had contributed to the report of Human Rights Watch that had addressed recommendations to the second review of Cameroon, was found dead at his home in Yaoundé". Although an investigation was opened, “no crime scene investigation or autopsy had reportedly been carried out”. “Subsequently, three colleagues of the deceased were detained in relation to the investigation”.
The situation in China was particularly well documented. "On 18 June 2013, approximately 150 activists demanding civil society participation in the [universal periodic] review process started a sit-in outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On 1 July 2013, the police detained many of the protestors". The reports also cites the case of Cao Shunli, “a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who had been campaigning for transparency and greater participation of civil society in the universal periodic review of China”, while “boarding a flight to Geneva to attend a training session on United Nations human rights mechanisms” was arrested and put in the Chaoyang District Detention Centre by Chinese authorities. There her health deteriorated as the “[m]edication for her liver condition was reportedly taken away”. Ms Cao eventually died on 23 September 2013. During the adoption of China’s UPR report, an NGO was prevented from observing a moment of silence, China claiming that NGOs could only make “general comments” and could not do “anything else”. "A number of other human rights activists and lawyers from several Chinese cities were reportedly interrogated and warned in connection with the [Geneva] training programme. They included Ms. Chen, who was stopped from boarding a flight to Geneva at Baiyun International Airport."
In Malaysia, acts of retaliation were made against “the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Governmental Organizations (COMANGO) after it had made submissions for the universal periodic review". "Following the launch of an online forum entitled 'Facing the threat of liberalism and Shi’ites' on 2 October 2013, the COMANGO began to receive threats daily, including from government officials”. The coalition was declared illegal by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 8 January 2014.
In Viet Nam, Mr. Cau who “had participated by means of an audio message at a side event called ‘Banned civil society voices’ on 4 February 2014, before the universal periodic review of Viet Nam had taken place”, “had been under surveillance since March 2013 and had been detained on 1 January 2014 on suspicion of carrying terrorist materials as he was boarding a plane for Ho Chi Minh City and placed under house arrest […] On 14 April 2014, Mr. Cau was informed by an official of the Thua Thien-Hue police that he would remain under house arrest for the duration of the investigation of his case”.
As a conclusion Ban Ki-moon recalls that “[i]t is primarily the obligation of States to protect those who cooperate with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights and to ensure that they may do so safely and without hindrance” and invites them to act accordingly. He suggests inter alia “[t]o consider the establishment of a national focal point to address acts of intimidation and reprisal". He also calls on the “United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights” to develop their cooperation with relevant stakeholders and to bring “a coordinated and consistent response to all cases of intimidation and reprisal”.

Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré