Ban Ki-moon shines a light on reprisals againts human rights defenders

In his annual report published in August, entitled Cooperation with the United Nations it’s representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights”, the United Nations Secretary General (SG) Ban Ki-moon expresses his concerns about reprisals against individuals and civil society organisations (CSO) collaborating with the United Nations on human rights issues. He stresses “the absolute unacceptability of any act of intimidation or reprisal” against said people and emphasises that States must take action to prevent reprisals.

The SG highlights in his report multiple cases of reprisals in countries across the world. He focuses specifically on Sudan. UPR Info is particularly pleased this issue has been raised due to issues surrounding the March 2016 Pre-session on Sudan that we organised.

The report notes that two human rights defenders / CSO representatives who were meant to come to Geneva, to participate in UPR Info's Pre-sessions related to the 25th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, were prevented from leaving Sudan by officers from the National Intelligence Security Services. Their passports were confiscated and moreover, a travel ban was issued against them. In mid-April, they finally received their passports back however, “at the time of finalization of the present report, no response had been received from the Government.”

Aside from Sudan, the SG also comments on worrying trends of preventing engagement with the HRC, highlighting Morocco. El Ghalia Djimi wanted to come to Geneva to participate to the thirty-first Human Rights Council (HRC) held in February-March 2016. However she was not granted leave due to “a drought in the region that required the mobilization of all local government staff", yet, she was never summoned to the department. The report comments that one might be inclined to believe, that it was to prevent her from joining the HRC.

The report not only contains cases of reprisals, but also provides follow-up information on previously mentioned cases. For example, last year the case of Nawaf al-Hendal, who wanted to take part in the UPR Review of Kuwait in January 2015 was raised. In response to Ban Ki-moon's report the government of Kuwait affirmed that they had lifted his travel ban thus allowing him to engage with the HRC.

These cases offer an illustration on how complicated it can be for individuals and groups to participate in the mechanisms of the UN, notably the UPR, as the cases of Sudan, Morocco, and Kuwait demonstrate. Ban Ki-moon’s report also gives coverage of dangerous and violent reprisals, such as imprisonment or threat of death, which are "of grave concern”. Reprisals and fear of reprisal, dissuade participation with human rights mechanism and collaboration with the UN, and as a result, compromises the work of the UN in the field of human rights. As Ban Ki-moon states: “Such acts not only devastate the lives of the individuals concerned, and their families, but also have a deterrent effect that may undermine future cooperation.” Therefore, he invites “all parts of the United Nations system to report to me more regularly on such cases”, but also “encourage(s) all relevant entities, including international and regional organizations, Member States, national human rights institutions, civil society, academic institutions and all individuals, to continue to make their voices heard and to contribute to the future consideration of the issue by the Human Rights Council and the United Nations system as a whole.”

Photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe