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USA: “Rewards for Justice” program violates human rights, say UN experts

14 April 2021

GENEVA (14 April 2021) – The United States’ anti-terrorism program “Rewards for Justice” is violating the human rights of some of the individuals it targets, UN human rights experts* said.

The program, operated by the U.S. State Department, offers money for information about people outside the United States whom the U.S. Government designates as being associated with terrorism, but who have not been charged with any crimes. It also offers money to foreign individuals whom it claims are involved with terrorism if they cooperate with U.S. authorities.

“Many of the people targeted by the Rewards for Justice program have had their due process rights denied,” said Alena Douhan, the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. “Those rights entail the presumption of innocence and fair trial, and the United States is obliged by international law to respect them. By offering money for information that can lead to the capture of these individuals, the program encourages others to participate in the denial of these rights.

“Such offers are reminiscent of wanted posters that target fugitives from justice – fugitives charged with crimes or who have warrants for their arrest,” said Douhan, whose call is supported by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The offers of money to foreign individuals alleged to be involved in terrorist activity or associated with entities qualified by the United States as being involved in terrorist activity – including institutions of Iran, Cuba and many other States – comes with threats to impose sanctions on these individuals if they don’t cooperate with the U.S. Government’s demands. Sanctions imposed against them violate a number of their rights, including the right to work, to freedom of movement, right to reputation, right to life with no possibility to access justice to protect these rights, as well as the right to be forgotten.

“Making an individual carry out tasks against their will under the threat of a penalty for not doing so amounts to forced labour as defined by agreements made through the International Labour Organization, and the United States has accepted that definition,” said Douhan. Forced labour is prohibited by treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States has ratified.

“I respectfully urge the U.S. Government to review its Rewards for Justice Program in order to ensure that its activities are aligned with international law,” Douhan said. “Fighting terrorism is obviously necessary, but it shall only be done with due respect to human rights, international humanitarian and refugee law, in line with the UN Global Strategy on Counter-Terrorism.”

The Special Rapporteur has raised this, along with other issues of concern to her mandate, with the US Government but has thus far not received any response.


*The experts: Ms. Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mr. Muma Malila, Ms. Priya Gopala, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – United States

For more information and media requests, please contact: Mr. Christophe Peschoux ([email protected]).

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