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UN Rights Body Should Take Action on Reprisals

Interactive Dialogue with Assistant UN Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour on the Secretary-General’s Report on Reprisals

Human Rights Watch welcomes the first Interactive Dialogue with the ASG and his latest report. We are deeply concerned about cases of reprisals committed in the reporting period, including by three countries that have appeared in every single report by the ASG, reflecting the broader situation of civil society on the ground, and on which this Council has remained largely silent.

In Bahrain, the report details cases of defenders who have faced criminal and terrorism-related charges, including family members of Sayed Al-Wadaei, Ebtesam Al-Alsaegh, and Nabeel Rajab; the arbitrary detention, sexual assault and torture of targeted individuals; and the sweeping travel bans on around 20 individuals, preventing them from participating at the Council between June 2017 and June 2018. These reprisals are taking place within the context of the alarming human rights situation in Bahrain, where since January alone, courts have stripped the citizenship of at least 232 citizens including for peaceful opposition, and where severe restrictions on free speech and assembly persist.

In China, the report notes that various activists, defenders and lawyers have reportedly been subjected to travel bans, surveillance, detention, ill-treatment and torture for their efforts to engage with the UN. In July, democracy activist and dissident Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years in prison – his advocacy using UN human rights treaties was cited in the criminal indictment against him. of Reprisals for cooperating with UN mechanisms have discouraged mainland NGOs from making submissions to the UN in their own names. These reprisals take place against the backdrop of a significant tightening of top-down control over civil society, the internet, the media and academia, including the forcible disappearance and unfair trials of defenders.

We are also concerned about ongoing cases of reprisals by Egypt. Ebrahim Metwally was arrested in September 2017 en route to meeting with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and remains in solitary confinement. Hanane Othman, who had documented cases for the Working Group, remains in pre-trial detention, reportedly under inhuman conditions. These reprisals are not surprising given Egypt’s ongoing use of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent; prosecution of and travel bans on defenders, including the continuing prosecutions in Case 173 of 2011 in which many of the country’s leading rights activists are being investigated on trumped-up charges, and where at least 28 of them are on travel bans and could be imprisoned at any moment; the mass trials of thousands of civilians by military courts; and new restrictive NGO and internet legislation.

Each of these states are either sitting Council members or candidate countries. We urge the Bureau and the Council to take immediate action to raise and follow up on specific cases of reprisals, and call upon all delegations to ensure that these cases are systematically addressed under item 5.  

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