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Reprisals, intimidation rise vs human rights supporters — UN

By Pia Lee-Brago

MANILA, Philippines — Reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups, including Filipinos, seeking to cooperate with the UN in its protection of human rights have increased over the past years, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said. 

 “The freedom to engage with the UN is a basic exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights of all, and must be respected and protected,” the OHCHR said. “When those engaging with the UN face intimidation, threats, imprisonment and worse for doing so, we all lose, and the credibility of the UN is damaged.”

Reprisals and intimidation, OHCHR said, take on the forms of travel bans, threats and harassment, including by officials, smear campaigns, surveillance, introduction of restrictive legislation, physical attack, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, denial of access to medical attention and even death.  

“The UN as a whole has a collective responsibility to stop and prevent these reprehensible acts,” OHCHR said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed alarm over this development.

He noted that “such acts undermine the effectiveness and credibility of the UN and are an attack on the organization itself” and that “these courageous individuals are often our only eyes and ears in extremely tough environments – we owe them our best possible support.” 

Guterres has urged Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, to address the reprisals and intimidation by building on and complementing efforts of member-states and other stakeholders.

Multiple actors are now engaged in responding to reprisals within the UN system, including OHCHR, the Human Rights Council, special procedures and treaty bodies. But Guterres said more needs to be done to enhance prevention and respond to all cases of reprisal and give the issue the attention it deserves.

Guterres also announced his intention to strengthen the collection of information on such abuses by asking all parts of the UN system to report more regularly on such cases and encouraging them to take appropriate measures. 


Gilmour, as Assistant Secretary-General, engages the UN system, member-states and other stakeholders and advises Guterres and the High Commissioner how to ensure UN action for prevention of, protection against, investigation into and accountability for reprisals.

In expanding and strengthening the UN’s response to reprisals across the organization, Gilmour intends to:

• Develop and implement a more comprehensive system for preventing and addressing intimidation and reprisals throughout the UN system, including by improving and coordinating response by all UN actors;

• Enhance high-level engagement on reprisals, including on how to prevent reprisals from occurring and ensuring action on urgent cases and ensure appropriate action when reprisals occur. A constructive dialogue with all stakeholders will be pursued, in particular with member-states and civil society; and

• Ensure cooperation with all actors involved. Recognizing and welcoming ongoing activities by various actors on reprisals, Gilmour’s work will be integrated into, complement and strengthen efforts already underway.

HR advocates in the Philippines

Meanwhile, Gilmour revealed that human rights advocates in the Philippines are under attack with sweeping threats. The government labelling them as terrorists is symptomatic of worrying regional trends, he said.

Gilmour added that human rights advocates in different countries are also increasingly threatened, attacked and silenced with a clear message that “no one is immune and many advocates across the region will be unable to operate freely and without fear of retaliation.”

He recently met with a group of human rights defenders from South and Southeast Asia whose status was made worse by speaking out or by simply sharing information with the UN.

Gilmour said hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process as well as environmental activists and human rights defenders have been labeled as “terrorists” by the government, threatening the security of these individuals. Some have fled the Philippines, he claimed. 

He added that the UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extrajudicial killings.

Source: Philippine Star

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