A recent report by the International Service for Human Rights has revealed that almost half of the countries serving on the 47-member UN Human Rights Council were responsible for reprisals against human rights activists, lawyers and members of civil society that collaborated with UN bodies regarding rights abuses. These activists were targeted through acts of defamation, violent attacks, torture, arrests, travel restrictions and damage to private property. The 709 cases of reprisals from 2010 to 2020 also included actions of prevention and intimidation of activists attending UN council meetings, violating Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The study has rightly called out nation states such as India, Israel, the Philippines, Egypt, Venezuela, Bahrain, and the US for trying to prevent civil society members and activists from reporting on rights violations and abuses, ironically, by further violating the rights of these defenders. Other than violating national laws, these reprisals are also a violation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which “recognises the right of human rights defenders to protection from reprisals for their communication or cooperation, or attempted communication or cooperation, with the UN’s human rights bodies”. An important aspect to note is that self-censorship by rights defenders for fear of reprisal has spared many countries from being named in the list. Yet, the UN cannot discount this and must act to ensure transparency of human rights records.
The study has also called out senior UN officials for not addressing the issue in public, which could add to the pressure on the respective governments. As all other UN bodies, it seems that the HRC also only functions along the lines of realism and nationalism, where nation states are busy strengthening their fort walls against criticism by suppressing dissenting voices, while pointing fingers at others – that too either because the country happens to be a rival or because their representative took a personal interest in the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2021.