International: Measures needed for HRDs cooperating with the UN

WHRD Coalition

On 10 March 2010, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Amnesty International, and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), in collaboration with the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD-IC), organised a side event entitled Cooperation with UN Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms: Challenges Faced by WHRDs and HRDs.

The main aims of the side event are to discuss cases of reprisals against WHRDs and HRDs cooperating with the UN, any of its human rights mechanisms, and other parts of the UN Secretariat (e.g. human rights components of peacekeeping missions, human rights advisers to the UN country teams, etc.), and to discuss recommendations on how to prevent the occurrence of such intimidation and reprisals against WHRDs and HRDs and the hampering of access to the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in any way.

There were four speakers during the event, including Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Ms. Rosin Drury Tully of Peace Brigades International- Colombia (PBI) discussed the key challenges faced by WHRDs in Colombia. The key points Ms. Tully shared included intimidation and death threats directed not only to the WHRDs themselves, but also to their family. WHRDs in Colombia, as in other parts of the world, also face the criminalization and stigmatization of their activities, which may lead to implications such as them or their groups being declared military targets or losing sources of funding essential to continue their work. Ms. Tully stressed that WHRDs, while they face the same challenges and risks faced by male HRDs, face additional risks because of who they are and what they do.

Mr. Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights discussed the reprisal he faced from the government of Bahrain after engaging in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. He also discussed what his colleagues at the national level face when they work with the UN on the human rights issues in their country. He said that it was a crime under the law for anyone to talk abroad about ‘problems’ within Bahrain.  In several cases, the government of Bahrain persuaded neighbouring countries to bar Bahraini HRDs from entering their countries. Mr. Rajab said the situation of HRDs in Bahrain has deteriorated after the state became a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

Mr. Peter Splinter from Amnesty International discussed options for addressing the intimidation and reprisals against persons cooperating with the UN and its mechanisms. He explained that intimidation and reprisal are faced not only by HRDs but by other people who engage with these mechanisms.  He stressed that more often than not, governments would deny that reprisals take place.  However, when they do take place, Mr. Splinter emphasized that these reprisals should be exposed.  He also encouraged special procedure mandate holders to report on reprisals that come to their attention and that they should have a system to monitor cases of reprisals. He stressed that reprisals should be taken seriously as they are a direct affront to the UN and the Human Rights Council. In addressing the issue of reprisals, he believes that the UN should strive towards exposing these cases, urge governments to investigate these reprisals, and ensure that victims are afforded the proper remedies.

After the discussions by the three speakers, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya gave her views and comments on the issues raised. She said that special procedure mandate holders, when they go on country visits, should take into consideration protection measures needed for people they will be talking to on the ground. She also encouraged WHRDs and HRDs to help prepare mandate holders for these country visits by giving input on the political context of the country so that they could better prepare or consider what protection measures to take. She also spoke about the significant role of networks when it comes to supplying the UN with information on human rights violations. She said that networks help protect the individuals who are the sources of information from being identified and targeted for reprisals. She highlighted that WHRDs and HRDs in the country need to think about ‘preventive measures’ and more innovative way to communicate with mandate holders. One of the protection measures she recommended is to raise national issues at the international level and give them ‘visibility’, which may afford some protection from reprisals as well.

During the open forum, several issues were raised from the floor, including the stigmatization by the Sri Lankan government of WHRDs and HRDs in the country, and the reprisals faced by staff of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) who cooperated with Mr. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, during his official visit to the country.  The event was attended by 45 participants from state delegations and representatives of non-governmental organizations.