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Intimidation and reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations in the field of human rights

 “Intimidation and reprisals affect not only the individuals and groups directly impacted, but are alarming also for the message they send to other actors and individuals, whether from government or civil society, who wish to engage with the United Nations and express their views freely.”

— Secretary-General António Guterres, (A/HRC/39/41, para.79)

About acts of intimidation and reprisal and human rights

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Over the past years, the reported number and severity of reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups engaging with the UN have increased. They take on different forms, such as:

- Travel bans
- Threats and harassment, including by officials
- Smear campaigns
- Surveillance
- Introduction of restrictive legislation
- Physical attacks
- Arbitrary arrest and detention
- Torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence or denial of access to medical attention
- Killings  

The UN – and particularly its human rights bodies and mechanisms – relies on the cooperation of the people it serves. Individuals and groups provide valuable on-the-ground insights and information, alert the UN system to evolving situations, and push for relevant action to be taken. The freedom to engage with the UN is a basic exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights of all, and must be respected and protected. When those engaging with the UN face intimidation, threats, imprisonment and worse for doing so, we all lose, and the credibility of the UN is damaged.
Read more about acts of intimidation and reprisals.

OHCHR’s work on intimidation and reprisals

In 2016, after expressing deep alarm over the increase in reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN, the Secretary-General designated the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights to lead the efforts within the UN system to address the issue. Andrew Gilmour first served in this role (2016-2019), followed by Ilze Brands Kehris (2020-present).

With OHCHR’s support, the Assistant Secretary-General engages the United Nations system, Member States and other stakeholders and advises the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner on how to strengthen UN-wide action for prevention of, protection against, investigation into and accountability for reprisals. Key aspects of OHCHR’s work includes systematic collection of information and reporting from all parts of the UN system, as well as guidance and support for a coordinated and firm response. 
Learn more about OHCHR and the UN’s work on acts of intimidation and reprisals | How to submit information on reprisals

Latest reports

Annual report on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights [2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015]

Latest news

More press releases and statements

Calls for input

Annual report of the Secretary-General
Deadline for 2021 report: 15 April 2021


Good practices to prevent and address reprisals

Feature stories


Date: October 2019
Title: Intimidation and reprisals for cooperation with the UN: Examining trends 2016-2019
Call to action: Watch on UN WebTV

Date: September 2018
Title: Stop reprisals for cooperation with the UN on human rights
Call to action: Watch on YouTube