The Secretary General intends to “strengthen the collection of information by asking all parts of the United Nations system to report to him more regularly on such cases”, as well as making use of existing staff in order to take up the issue within the United Nations system and with member states.

The report cites cases of reprisals across many regions which range from; harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado and solitary confinement, travel bans, charges and sentencing, sometimes to lengthy prison terms, acts of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including physical attacks and sexual abuse, denial of access to medical attention in detention, to, in extreme cases, death.

Social media is reported to be used often as a tool for the intimidation of human rights defenders and NGOs.

On 13 June, at the opening of the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, the President of the Human Rights Council, Choi Kyonglim, addressed threats and reprisals. He underlined the importance of following up on these threats to enable civil society’s active participation at the Human Rights Council. He referred to a death threat received on Twitter by HRHF’s head of advocacy, Florian Irminger during the 31st session of the Council.

NGOs urge action following threats at the Council

Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at HRHF, received a death threat during the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council. Evidence strongly suggests that a diplomat working for the Russian Federation in Geneva and attending the Human Rights Council made this threat. HRHF urges UN action against this threat, and calls for an end to reprisals against all human rights defenders.

“HRHF takes this threat and the climate of increased reprisals against human rights defenders seriously, and we welcome the action taken by the president of the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, each individual State of the United Nations must hold their representatives responsible for acting in line with the States responsibility to protect human rights defenders, in international fora and at home” said Maria Dahle, Executive Director of HRHF. “This death threat – delivered at the very UN institution mandated to address such reprisals – by a representative of the Russian Federation, should at least lead to the concerned diplomat being suspended from work at the Human Rights Council.”

The President of the Human Rights Council also told that the ambassador of the respective mission recognised that the threat originated from one in his delegation and that the employee had been reprimanded. Still, at the opening of the 32nd session of the Council, the Russian diplomat was attending, continuing his work on human rights.

“This is unacceptable. Just like any State, the Russian Federation has the responsibility to protect and promote human rights. States should suspend diplomats, who have evidently conducted smear campaigns and made threats against human rights defenders, from continuing their work at the Human Rights Council. If no action is taken, it reflects a lack of commitment to human rights and should not be tolerated by the international community,“ said Maria Dahle.

Five international NGOs underlined the seriousness of the threat and called on the Human Rights Council, in a letter (can be downloaded on the right side) sent Monday 6 June, “to ensure that this case of reprisal is fully and promptly investigated and effectively remedied.” These five organisations were Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights, and World Organisation against Torture. 

They stated: “We are extremely concerned about the threatening nature of the message. We believe this issue must be treated with utmost seriousness.”

On Thursday 24 March 2016, during the adoption of the resolution on human rights defenders, an account sent a tweet directly to Florian Irminger, the tweet contained a disturbing graphic and was accompanied by a written threat on his life.

The account of the individual making this threat, which is now closed, included a succession of tweets and a photo that show the individual was closely monitoring the debate and vote on the Russian-led amendments to the human rights defenders resolution.

Based on investigations by Human Rights House Foundation, the evidence strongly suggests that the twitter account from which the death threat originated belongs to an accredited representative of the Russian Federation, working at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office in Geneva. HRHF is known for raising the deteriorating human rights situation in the Russian Federation and has done so systematically at the Human Rights Council.

The threat came at the exact moment when Russia was presenting amendments against the resolution on the protection of human rights defenders at the Human Rights Council. It then voted against the resolution. Russia also voted against the resolution on human rights defenders adopted in Autumn 2015 by the UN General Assembly in which the Assembly stated that communication technologies and social media should not be used to intimidate human rights defenders.

The President of the Human Rights Council also addressed this trend in his speech at the opening, urging everyone to protect and promote human rights, online and offline. 

This is not the first time HRHF has faced reprisals for its work at international fora. Members of Human Rights House Azerbaijan were threatened by Azeri diplomats at OSCE events, and in 2011 the speaker of the Azeri parliament called for a strong reaction against Azeri human rights defenders speaking out at the Council of Europe.



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Kaja Haldorsen
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