UN decries ‘shameful’ reprisals on human rights activists in 38 countries, including PHL

United Nations Human Rights Council

Manila, Philippines – The United Nations listed 38 “shameful” countries including China and Russia which it said had carried out reprisals or intimidation against people cooperating with it on human rights through killings, torture and arbitrary arrests.

The annual report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also included allegations of ill treatment, surveillance, criminalization and public stigmatization campaigns targeting victims and human rights defenders.

“The world owes it to those brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information to and engage with the United Nations, to ensure their right to participate is respected,” Guterres wrote.

“Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.”

The 38 countries included 29 countries with new cases, and 19 with ongoing or continuing cases.

The new cases were in Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation or security, it said.

“[There is a] disturbing trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by states as justification for blocking access by communities and civil society organizations to the United Nations,” the report said.

Philippines

In its entry on the Philippines, the report cited “defamatory and intimidating public statements” directed at members of the Commission on Human Rights, including chairperson Chito Gascon; and the threat in the House last year to give the CHR a budget of only P1,000.

“The Commission has received threats of being defunded or abolished and has been vilified in the media as a hindrance to the implementation of government policies,” the report said. “When commissioners travel for work purposes they are reportedly monitored, which has affected their engagement with the United Nations.”

The report also cited the detention of Senator Leila De Lima on drug charges.

De Lima, one of the staunchest critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies, has also “been subject to intimidation, threats and judicial harassment in connection with her criticism of government policies surrounding the war on drugs, such as the extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and drug users and President Duterte’s proposal to reinstate the death penalty,” said the report.

The report also noted the Department of Justice’s petition in February to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist” organizations.

“The petition includes a list of over 600 individuals who are labelled as de facto ‘terrorists’,” the report said. “It is reported that among these are least 80 recognized human rights defenders, indigenous peoples’ representatives, and representatives of community-based organizations. This is the first time the Human Security Act of 2007 has been used against numerous activists.

“A number of these individuals have been long-standing partners of the United Nations who believe their inclusion on this list is in part due to their international advocacy with the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, the universal periodic review, the treaty bodies, and the special procedures.”

The report added, “Several indigenous peoples’ representatives and human rights defenders advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Philippines are on this list.”

The UN added that in May, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights “expressed concern that placing these individuals on a ‘terrorist’ list may constitute a reprisal for their engagement with the United Nations human rights system.”

According to the report, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination “urged the Government to remove indigenous leaders and human rights defenders, including incumbent and former United Nations special procedures mandate holders from the petition list, and recommended that the Government adopt effective measures to prevent acts of violence against indigenous peoples, defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples and other human rights defenders. It requested the Philippines to provide information no later than 16 July 2018…On 8 June 2018, five special procedures mandate holders raised their concerns…At the time of writing there had been no response from the Government.”

China disputes report

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, asked about the report on Thursday, said it “seriously did not accord with the facts” and that China had made “solemn representations” to the United Nations.

“China is a country with rule of law,” Geng said. “Anyone who uses the name of human rights to divide the nation, to challenge our political system or create social instability will be punished in accordance with the law.”

Women cooperating with the UN had reported threats of rape and being subject to online smear campaigns, and UN staff often encountered people who were too afraid to speak to them, the report said, even at UN headquarters in New York and Geneva.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, who will present the report to the Human Rights Council next week, said in a statement that the cases in the report were the tip of the iceberg.

“We are also increasingly seeing legal, political and administrative hurdles used to intimidate—and silence—civil society,” he said.

Some of the countries listed are current members of the Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution last year reaffirming that everyone—individually or in association with others—had a right to unhindered communication with the UN.

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