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Human rights defenders face harsh reprisals for partnering with UN

Among the growing trends noted in the report was the increase in people choosing not to cooperate with the UN due to concerns for their safety, or only doing so if kept anonymous.

Victims and witnesses in two-thirds of the States listed in the report requested anonymous reporting of reprisals, compared with just a third last year.

The increased surveillance of those who cooperate or attempt to cooperate with the UN was reported in half of the countries listed.

An increase in physical surveillance by State actors was also noted, likely linked to a return to in-person forms of UN engagement.

‘Shrinking civic space’

Notably, almost 45 per cent of the countries listed in the report continue to apply or enact new laws and regulations which punish, deter, or hinder cooperation with the UN. These legislative frameworks represent severe obstacles to long-standing human rights partners of the UN.

“A global context of shrinking civic space is making it increasingly difficult to properly document, report and respond to cases of reprisals, which means that the number is likely much higher,” said Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, in Thursday’s presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Women and girls

The severity of reprisals against women and girls, which constitute half of the victims in this year’s report, was once again identified as a particular concern.

Most of these women were human rights defenders targeted for their cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and peace operations, but there were also a significant number of judicial officers and lawyers.

“We have a duty to those who put their trust in us,” said Ms. Kehris. 

“That is why at the UN, we are determined to live up to our collective responsibility to prevent and address intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the organisation and its human rights mechanisms.” 

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