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Oral presentation by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights of the report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives, and mechanisms in the field of human rights

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Mr. President, Excellencies,
Dear friends,

I am honoured to present to you this year’s report of the Secretary-General on intimidation and reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations and to once again engage in our dialogue. 

During this session, the Council will adopt the biennial resolution on reprisals and will have the opportunity to renew and strengthen its commitment to prevent and address the issue.

I thank this Council for your continued attention to reprisals and for Member States’ support to my role as the senior official designated by the Secretary-General to lead UN system-wide efforts to prevent and address reprisals. 

I also thank the President of the Council, as well as his predecessors, for their continued practice of clearly addressing these issues and raising allegations with the representatives of the countries concerned. 

This sends an important message on the Council’s zero-tolerance against reprisals.   

Excellencies,

Despite ongoing efforts, regrettably, the number of reported acts of intimidation and reprisal by State and non-State actors remains high and their severity is very concerning.

The report before your bears witness, once again, to the scope and breath of intimidation and reprisals due to cooperation or attempted cooperation with the UN.

As in past years, I draw your attention to the recurrent allegations of repeated incidents of reprisals which may signal patterns.

In addition, when multiple United Nations actors raise concerns about the same cases or situations during a reporting period, that can point to the severity and widespread nature of the incidents – or both. That requires the attention and deserves the engagement of all United Nations entities.

This year’s report includes 40 countries in all regions1. Fourteen are current members of this Council. And many of countries listed have featured in almost every annual report.

The global trends documented this year are also similar to those identified in previous reports, but with new emerging tendencies.

First, evidence of self-censorship has increased. By that, I mean the choice from the very outset or later on not to cooperate with the United Nations - or to do so under conditions of anonymity - due to fear of reprisals.

Alleged victims requested anonymous reporting in two thirds of the Member States included in the report and with new cases in Annex 1, a significant growth compared to one third in the previous year.

Furthermore, the report documents instances where individuals declined or limited cooperation with the UN due to fear of reprisals in almost one fourth of the Members States in the report.

I see as particularly problematic the prevalence of anonymous reporting among victims of reprisals for cooperation with the Security Council and its peace operations, as well as among representatives of indigenous peoples engaging with the United Nations bodies. They mentioned fear of further reprisals also against relatives or co-workers.

Second, online and offline surveillance of those who cooperate or attempt to cooperate with the United Nations was reported in half of the Member States included in the present report.

We also observed an increase in physical surveillance by State actors, which may also be linked to the return to in-person forms of engagement with the United Nations.

Third, almost forty-five percent of the Member States included in the report continued to apply or enact new laws and regulations concerning – in particular - civil society, counter-terrorism and national security, which punish, deter or hinder cooperation with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms.

These legislative frameworks represent severe obstacles to long-standing human rights partners of the UN worldwide, and were used to outlaw some of them during the reporting period and to raid their offices, and question threaten or try their staff. The report also documents the mass dissolution of civil society organizations under NGO regulatory frameworks, and the enactment and development of new restrictive laws, and the negative impact that both have on the ability and willingness of individuals and groups to carry out their work, including their cooperation with the United Nations.

Furthermore, beyond allegations of individual cases of reprisals, the report also identifies in eleven Member States a generalised climate of fear of reprisals for cooperation with the UN, an overall reluctancy to cooperate or the impact of measures that resulted in self-censorship, anonymous reporting, and in some instances limited interaction with the UN.

It is worth mentioning that this has been documented in contexts marked by an ongoing crackdown on civil society and their organizations, human rights violations against them and greater government control.

As in previous years, several human rights defenders and civil society actors continue to serve lengthy prison sentences, face legal proceedings on terrorism, national security or other charges, and face additional obstacles to their cooperation with the UN including travel bans.

In this regard, I would like to note recent developments concerning the situation of some individuals included in this and previous years reports.
I acknowledge the release from prison of Mohammed El-Baqer in Egypt in July and of Nguyen Bac Truyen in Viet Nam earlier this month.  The two human rights defenders spent several years in prison for their human rights work and their cooperation with the United Nations.
While we welcome their release, we would recall that they should have never been imprisoned for their work in the first place, least of all for their cooperation with the United Nations.  I call on these and other States concerned to release those arbitrarily detained in similar situations.   
Excellencies,

It is worth mentioning that the annual report of the Secretary-General on reprisals only includes allegations that the UN has been able to verify in accordance with the methodology of the UN Human Right Office.

That means that the absence of reported allegations or their decrease in certain contexts is, unfortunately, not necessarily a positive sign. 
As I mentioned earlier, in many countries, the civic space and the protection of the basic rights and fundamental freedoms needed to engage with the UN have increasingly come under attack, both online and offline. That includes in long‑standing democracies.

In such global context, it is becoming increasingly difficult to properly document, report and respond to reprisals incidents.  UN entities confront serious challenges when it comes to verifying reprisals’ allegations or obtaining the informed consent to act and/ or report on the incidents due to the real risks and dangers faced by those concerned.

Once again, this year’s report has identified with concern the specificity and severity of acts of reprisals against women and girls, which represent half of the victims in this year report.

Most of them are human rights defenders targeted for their cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and peace operations, but there are also a significant number of judicial officers and lawyers subjected to reprisals for their cooperation with the UN on accountability.

For engaging with the UN and their human rights work, these women faced intimidation, harassment and threats, including against their children.  They were subject to surveillance and smearing campaigns, online and offline. Most threats had a gender dimension and included sexualized content. In one particularly egregious instance, a victim was raped in reprisals to her relative’s cooperation with the UN.

Women were also arbitrarily arrested, sentenced to long-term prison terms or continued in detention, awaiting trial for years now. Some had their nationality arbitrarily withdrawn, passport confiscated and were banned to exit the country; others had to leave temporarily or seek asylum abroad due to the risks faced.

Indigenous Peoples, and in particular Indigenous women, were the target of intimidation and reprisals before, during or after their participation in United Nations forums.

I welcome the engagement of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in addressing incidents with the governments concerns and look forward to further cooperation on this matter.   

Excellencies,

I know I have painted a gloomy picture of a very serious situation. But some good practices from both Member States and UN entities give us hope.

When it comes to the Member States, I thank those who engaged with us in the preparation of this report.

I particularly welcome that some Governments specifically addressed the allegations presented to them, including in the form of investigations into reported threats, and the assessment and provision of protection measures to those concerned. 

I am also grateful to those who shared good practices through the questionnaire circulated by our Office.

On the legal front, one Member State reminded that it included an aggravated circumstance of liability when the offence is due to the humanitarian and human rights work of the victim aggravated in its Criminal Code. This could include cooperation with the United Nations.

Some States have expanded specific programmes for victims, including support to emergency assistance grants, safety and security training, and have provided practical guidance and resources to their diplomats.

Other good practices referred to the promotion of civil society participation in intergovernmental bodies and UN mechanisms, as well as the support to safe online cooperation with the UN including by fostering digital literacy and ensuring online privacy and safety.

From the UN side, since the designation of the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights as the senior official to lead the United Nations response to reprisals, our Office has supported all UN bodies in their efforts, including by developing practical guidance and tools.

Existing good practices include a strong focus on prevention based on clear zero-tolerance messages, awareness-raising initiatives and the wide dissemination of information on reprisals and how to report incidents.  We provide guidance and tools adhering to the “do no harm” principle, with strong focus on respect for confidentiality of the information and privacy of victims and risk mitigation measures and support coordinated protection responses to incidents of reprisals.

Some UN entities have strengthened their response by putting systems in place to identify, document and address allegations; have reviewed working methods and adopted dedicated protocols or guidelines to prevent and address reprisals and designated focal points at the technical or expert level.

We- the United Nations - are determined to live up to our collective duty and responsibility to prevent and address intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the organization.

It is the honour of our Office, and mine in particular, to continue supporting and guiding the entire United Nations system on this critical issue. 

As we celebrate this year’s seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rekindle with its spirit that brought the world together once, I invite this Council and all UN Member States, to renew your political commitments and pledge your support, including financially, to our efforts to prevent and respond to reprisals.

We owe it to those who put their trust in us.

Thank you.



[1] Algeria, Afghanistan, Andorra, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, the Russian Federation, South Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), and Yemen, as well as the State of Palestine.
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