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4 October 2016

UN Secretary General Announces Mandate to Combat Reprisals

On 3 October 2016 United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of a special mandate to combat reprisals against human rights defenders who work with the UN to address rights violations in their communities.

Human rights defenders regularly report to Front Line Defenders acts of surveillance, arbitrary detention, threats, harassment, physical attacks and torture after participating in international human rights conferences or advocacy. Increasingly, some States take punitive action against HRDs who participate in international rights work, including those organized by the United Nations.

In response to reports of reprisals against human rights defenders, the Secretary General has announced that Assistant Secretary General, Andrew Gilmour, will be given a special mandate to address reprisals against HRDs following their collaboration with international rights bodies and mechanisms.

On an annual basis since 2011, the Secretary General has published a report documenting ongoing intimidation and reprisals against people working with the UN to protect and promote human rights at the local level. HRDs who have contributed to or attended UPR processe, meetings of the UN Human Rights Council, or consultations with UN bodies have received attacks and death threats explicitly tied to their international collaboration. These kinds of attacks are meant to intimidate and prevent local human rights defenders from engaging with international mechanisms that can support their struggle for rights.

The United Nations could not do its invaluable work for human rights without those who cooperate with UN representatives, rapporteurs and other mechanisms. When they are targeted for reprisals, we are all less secure. When their cooperation is stifled, our work for human rights is also a victim. - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

In his report published in August, “Cooperation with the United Nations it’s representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights”, the Secretary General discussed about reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society groups around the world, citing examples in Vietnam, Venuzuela, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Cyprus, Eritrea and China. He stressed that while it is "the primary obligation of the State to protect those who cooperate with the United Nations," the cases in his report confirm that States themselves continue to harass, attack, and detain HRDs and other civil society actors who advocate for human rights at the international level.

Acts of intimidation and reprisal are often perpetrated by government officials of the State itself. I therefore call again on every State to take all measures necessary to prevent the occurrence of intimidation and reprisal, including by raising awareness. I urge governments to send clear messages to all State officials that such acts will not be condoned, and to ensure accountability if they do occur.

Correspondingly, while the initiative is a welcome and necessary step towards protecting human rights defenders from attacks and persecution, the efficacy of the mandate will be evidenced by how quickly, efficiently, and meaningfully the mandate holder is able to review and respond to reports of reprisals from human rights defenders. Critical to this process is the full participation and support of UN member states, who now have an obligation to facilitate Assistant Secretary General Gilmour's access and ability to respond to reports of reprisals.

In response to the announcement, Front Line Defenders Executive Director Mary Lawlor said:

The creation of a mandate to receive and respond to reports of reprisals against HRDs is a welcome and necessary initiative, given the ongoing persecution of activists who work with UN bodies to fight for the rights of their communities. For protection of HRDs to be fully recognised, UN member states must uphold their responsibility to cooperate with the Assistant Secretary General in his new mission. - Mary Lawlor, Executive Director, Front Line Defenders

For more information or to speak with Mary Lawlor, please contact:

Erin Kilbride