Reprisals are calculated steps by states to prevent activists from exposing human rights violations

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Statement during interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary General on Reprisals

We thank the Assistant Secretary General for presenting this essential report which shows that acts of reprisals are not aberrative, but rather are calculated steps taken to prevent human rights defenders from exposing human rights violations. The UN depends on information from the ground in order to fulfil its mandate of protecting human rights. Every act of reprisal, those detailed in this report and the countless others that go unreported, is a direct challenge to this.

But reprisals continue unabated, without accountability, and with a direct impact on the efficacy of the UN as a whole. We are particularly concerned to see council members listed in this report.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the Philippines, particularly, show patterns of reprisals. We remain deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention and treatment of Ms. Samar Badawi and Ms. Loujain Al-Hathloul following their engagement with CEDAW. In the Philippines, we are seriously concerned by the attacks and threats against CIVICUS member Karapatan. Last week, FIND, a Philippines group advocating for the right of families of disappeared, was smeared by a representative of the government online following a side event highlighting the situation – and this was by no means the first time that human rights defenders have been attacked within this building for engaging with the Council. We echo the report’s recommendation that states commit to addressing reprisals in practice through the universal periodic review mechanism. However, we note that a number of cases outlined in the report actually came as a direct result of engagement with the UPR process: the cases of Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh in Viet Nam; of staff members of the international non-governmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders; of the New Generation of Human Rights Defenders Coalition in Kazakhstan; and of Malaysian human rights defender Mr. Numan Afifi. 

The report shows reprisals at every stage of engagement, including attempts by state representatives on the Economic and Social Council to block accreditation of NGOs working on human rights. This pre-emptive weakening of civil society engagement with the UN represents yet another deliberate curtailment of civic space. 

We ask the Assistant Secretary General: what possibility does he foresee for real political costs and accountability for states that engage in reprisals, particularly those who are repeat perpetrators? 

And how can the UN and its related bodies take action to protect human rights defenders on the ground?



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