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'Over 220 people, 25 orgs face threats for cooperating with UN on human rights'

Over 220 individuals and 25 organisations in 40 countries including Bangladesh faced threats and retaliation from State and non-State actors for cooperating with the UN on human rights.

The information is in the UN Secretary-General's report on reprisals presented today, which covers the period from May 1, 2022 to April 30, 2023.

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Human rights defenders and other civil society actors are increasingly under surveillance and continue to face legal proceedings, travel bans and threats, and be given prison sentences for cooperating with the UN and the UN's human mechanisms.

"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 her presentation today to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Among the growing trends noted in the report is the increase in people either 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 one-third in last year's report. And most people who reported facing reprisals for their cooperation with the Security Council and its peace operations, as well as with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues did so on the condition of anonymity.

A second trend was the increasing surveillance of those who cooperate or attempt to cooperate with the UN, being reported in half of the countries named in the report. An increase in physical surveillance by State actors was also noted, likely linked to the return to in-person forms of engagement with the UN.

Third, almost forty-five per cent of the countries in the report continued to apply or enact new laws and regulations concerning civil society, counter-terrorism and national security, which punish, deter or hinder cooperation with the UN and its human rights mechanism.

These legislative frameworks represent severe obstacles to long-standing human rights partners of the UN worldwide, and were used to outlaw some of them, raid their offices, and question, threaten or try their staff.

Finally, the specificity and severity of acts of reprisals against women and girls, which constitute half of the victims in this year's report, was once again identified with concern.

Most of them are human rights defenders and civil society representatives targeted for their cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and peace operations, but there is also a significant number of judicial officers and lawyers subjected to reprisals for their cooperation with the UN in search of accountability and remedy.

"We have a duty to those who put their trust in us," said Brands 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 organization and its human rights mechanisms."

The 40 States referred to in the report are:

Algeria, Afghanistan, Andorra, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, the Russian Federation, South Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Yemen, and the State of Palestine.

The full report, entitled 'Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights' (A/HRC/54/61), including extensive annexes detailing cases country by country, can be accessed online.