The role of key UN human rights mechanisms in addressing intimidation and reprisals for cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights

Special Procedures

Addressing acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations in the field of human rights is a priority for special procedures. They have consistently raised their concerns about this unacceptable practice individually and as a system. Special procedures not only address allegations of acts of intimidation and reprisal in relation to cooperation with them but with the wider United Nations system, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

As a result of the growing attention given to this phenomenon and the increasing instances of intimidation and reprisals observed by mandate holders, they agreed during the 22nd Annual Meeting of Special Procedures, held in June 2015, to consolidate and enhance special procedures' response to this unacceptable practice by establishing a coherent framework for action, the main points of which can be found below.

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Treaty Bodies

Individuals or groups have also faced acts of intimidation and reprisals from concerned Governments for their engagement with the treaty bodies, including by way of submission of information in the context of examination of the States parties’ reports or submission of individual complaints, or participation in a dialogue with treaty bodies. The treaty bodies have strongly condemned such acts. With a view to address the issue in a coordinated and harmonized manner, the treaty body Chairpersons adopted specific Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals (“San José Guidelines”) in June 2015. According to the Guidelines, the Committees may adopt either preventive or protection measures to prevent and respond to such acts.

The treaty bodies have appointed rapporteurs, focal points or working groups on reprisals and intimidation. The rapporteur is in charge of aligning different approaches within the treaty bodies, as well as making effective proposals towards an appropriate course of action. Some rapporteurs specifically address the issue of reprisals against individuals or their representatives or family members who have submitted individual complaints to the treaty bodies under the respective complaints procedures. The Committees, or their rapporteurs, focal points or working groups, carry out communications with the individuals affected and the States parties concerned to prevent such risks, and to ensure national protection of the individual or group alleging intimidation or reprisals by the relevant State party. They may request the State party to provide information and follow-up on the implementation of protective measures.

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Human Rights Council

The question of intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights has been discussed by the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council for many years, including through the adoption of resolutions on the issue. The outcome of the Human Rights Council review in 2011 states that “The Council strongly rejects any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals and groups who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, and urges States to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts.”

The role of the President of the Human Rights Council is to ensure that the Council proceeds with the appropriate level of dignity and respect in its work to promote and protect human rights, which implies that Members of the Council and all observers, including non-governmental organizations, must be able to contribute freely to the Council’s work and that of its subsidiary bodies and mechanisms.  When incidents of harassment of civil society representatives are raised, the President reacts, including through public statements, meetings and exchanges of letters, with the delegation of the States concerned.