Women for Justice Afghanistan joined several international organisations to strengthen UN's response to acts of intimidation and reprisal against human rights defenders. Our joint letter is as follows:
Dear Madame High Commissioner,
We, the undersigned human rights organizations, appreciate the OHCHR’s efforts to strengthen the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), including through the letters sent on your behalf to the Foreign Ministers after each UPR adoption. With respect to this, we write to propose further measures to strengthen your Office’s response to acts of intimidation and reprisal.
Without a safe and enabling environment, civil society organisations and human rights defenders are impeded from playing their vital role in monitoring and assisting States in their implementation of recommendations from UN human rights mechanisms, including the UPR, Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies.
The Human Rights Council has reaffirmed the right of all individuals and associations to unhindered access to international and regional bodies. The UN Secretary-General has acknowledged that partnership with civil society is critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and has urged all States to hold accountable those who carry out acts of reprisals. We consider that UN bodies and mechanisms should be explicit in their condemnation of acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who seek to cooperate with them.
We welcome the fact that you have raised concern specifically on reprisals related to UN engagement have mentioned by name detained human rights defenders in your letters to the Foreign Ministers of China and the UAE, in which you have called for their release. In light of this good practice, we urge you to adopt the same approach in your letters to Foreign Ministers of other countries, including by naming individuals where you have obtained their consent.
We also encourage you to consider systematically including specific recommendations in relation to acts of intimidation and reprisal in your letters to each State, a practice that has been recommended in the Secretary General’s annual reprisals reports. We encourage you to call on States where acts of intimidation or reprisal have been reported to:
● Investigate and ensure that any allegations of such acts, whether perpetrated by State or non-State actors, be subject to a full, independent and impartial investigation, and ensure that perpetrators be held accountable and victims be provided with effective remedies;
● Cooperate fully, substantively and promptly with the UN’s human rights mechanisms and bodies in cases of alleged intimidation or reprisals, including by providing good faith undertakings to prevent and investigate cases, and to report back to the relevant body or mechanism — including the Human Rights Council, its Special Procedures, the General Assembly and the Assistant Secretary-General — as to investigative, protective, prosecutorial and remedial steps taken; and
● Develop and implement a comprehensive suite of measures to ensure that all persons are able to exercise, individually or in association with others, the right of unhindered access to, and communication with, international human rights bodies and mechanisms, and ensure protection from any form of intimidation or reprisal associated with such cooperation, including by:
(a) adopting legislative provisions that specifically enshrine this right and prohibit intimidation or reprisals; and
(b) reviewing and repealing legislative provisions that may hinder, restrict or impair the enjoyment of this right.
Finally, we urge your Office to systematically include a new table on acts of intimidation and reprisal based on the Secretary-General’s annual reprisals reports in the Annex Table for the UN Compilation reports of the UPR, under Section II ‘Cooperation with human rights mechanisms and bodies.’
We stand ready to work with you and your staff to ensure that civil society can contribute effectively and safely to the work of the United Nations.
1. International Service for Human Rights
2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
3. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
4. International Commission of Jurists
5. Defenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
6. Center for Reproductive Rights
7. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
8. Child Rights Connect
9. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
10. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
11. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
12. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
13. Human Rights Watch
14. Amnesty International
15. COC Nederland
16. Women for Justice, Afghanistan
17. Women’s Rights and Health Project, Nigeria
18. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
19. Al Haq – Palestine
20. Save the Children
21. Human Rights Defenders Network-SL
22. Conectas Direitos Humanos
23. Aula Abierta- Venezuela
24. Defence for Children International
UPR Branch, OHCHR
Civic Space Unit, OHCHR
Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General
Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders