People in 42 countries, including Sri Lanka, faced reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the UN on human rights, a new report says, highlighting a number of disturbing trends over the past year.
The annual report by the UN Secretary-General details how people – mainly victims of human rights violations, human rights defenders and journalists – suffered reprisals and intimidation by States and non-State actors. This included people being detained, targeted by restrictive legislation and surveilled both online and offline.
All the cases highlighted in the report happened between 1 May 2021 and 30 April 2022 and involved individuals and groups who cooperated with UN human rights mechanisms, or used UN procedures to share information, testimonies and seek redress for human rights violations and abuses.
People who tried to cooperate with the UN or were perceived as doing so were also affected. In a third of the countries named in the report, individuals and groups either refrained from cooperating or only agreed to report their cases anonymously out of fear of reprisals.
“Despite positive developments, including pledges and shared commitments by Member States against reprisals, this report once again shows the extent to which people are pursued and persecuted for raising human rights concerns with the UN. And we know that, shocking though this number is, many cases of reprisals are not even reported,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris.
The surveillance of individuals and groups who cooperate with the UN continued to be reported in all regions with growing evidence of online surveillance and cyberattacks, the report says. The massive digital shift accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic also increased challenges relating to cyber-security, privacy, and access to online spaces.
Another concerning global trend is the use and impact of restrictive legislation that prevents and punishes cooperation with the UN, resulting in some cases of people being sentenced to long prison terms or placed under house arrest. There were recurring and similar allegations of intimidation reported in a number of countries, which could indicate a pattern.
Another global trend is self-censorship, choosing not to cooperate with the UN or doing so anonymously amid concerns for their safety. Increased surveillance and monitoring, as well as the fear of criminal liability, have created what the report terms a “chilling effect” of silence, stopping people from cooperating further with the UN and deterring others from doing so.
As in previous years, the report shows that intimidation and reprisals disproportionally affect certain populations and groups, including representatives of indigenous peoples, minorities or those who work on environment and climate change issues, as well as people who may suffer discrimination based on age, sexual orientation and gender.
“The risks affecting women victims, as well as women human rights defenders and peace builders, who share testimony and cooperate with the UN remain daunting. We will continue to work to ensure that all can safely engage with the UN,” Brands Kehris stressed as she presented the report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The 42 States referred to in the report (which covers the period from 1 May 2021 to 30 April 2022) are: Afghanistan, Andorra, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, State of Palestine, Thailand, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Viet Nam, and Yemen.