Acts of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with the treaty bodies
General context and definition of acts of intimidation and reprisals
Everyone, in particular victims of human rights violations and civil society actors, has the right to have unhindered access to and communicate with international bodies, including UN human rights treaty bodies, without any fear of intimation and form of reprisals. Civil society and victims bring crucial information and testimonies to the treaty bodies and provide treaty body experts with contextual information making their work more meaningful. States have a primary responsibility to prevent and refrain from acts of intimidation and reprisals. States also have an obligation to protect individuals against reprisals, and investigate and provide effective remedies to victims of reprisals.
Over the past few years, acts of intimidation of reprisals against those who cooperate, seek to cooperate or cooperated with treaty bodies have increased. Persons in detention are, amongst those, especially at risk of such reprisals. These acts take many forms, ranging from smear campaigns, travel bans, threats, fines, arbitrary arrests, lengthy prison sentences to ill treatment and torture. Victims and their family members as well as civil society could face such forms of reprisals for submitting information to the treaty bodies in the context of the review of State parties, providing information on individual cases of human rights violation, or during country visits, including to places of detention.
Below are some examples of cases of intimidation and reprisals from recent years. However, reprisals comes in different forms and therefore, if individuals believe they are at the risk of or targeted by intimidation or reprisal for engaging with treaty body, cases should be reported to respective treaty body.
- Human rights defenders are subjected to travel bans to prevent them from travelling to Geneva to meet a treaty body in the context of a consideration of a report submitted by a country
- Detainees face sanctions, ill-treatment or even torture after meeting with an UN Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) delegation during a country visit to provide information on treatment and conditions of detention
- Authorities arrest and detain a human rights defender who travelled to Geneva to attend UN treaty body consideration of a report of a particular country on the ground that the individual’s participation “endangered national security”
- A group of non- governmental organizations (NGOs) contributes to the preparation and submission of a joint report to a treaty body. Subsequently, they are subjected to administrative inspections and judicial investigations
- Authorities issue an arrest warrant against a person on terrorism charges, who had sought to provide information to a treaty body in relation to a review of the report submitted by a country
- Human rights lawyers are disbarred allegedly for having submitted information to a treaty body in the context of the review of a report of a country
- Authorities target individuals and their families after a treaty body makes public a
Decision/ View on their case finding violation of their rights.
For more details, see
Secretary-General reports based on Human Rights Council resolution 12/2, on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the fields of human rights.
What have treaty bodies done to address acts of intimidation and reprisals?
Treaty bodies have consistently reaffirmed that the free engagement of individuals and groups with the treaty bodies is critical to their efficiency and effectiveness and have repeatedly raised their concerns about the acts of intimidation and reprisals collectively and individually.
Due to increasing attention to the instances of intimidation and reprisals and the growing urgency to strengthen protection and bring coherence to treaty body responses to persons and groups at risk of or targeted by intimidation or reprisals, the Chairs of the treaty bodies endorsed the Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals (‘San Jose Guidelines’) during their annual meeting in 2015. The San Jose Guidelines provide practical guidance to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of treaty body action to prevent and address reprisals. It sets out six underlying general principles and provide a range of possible operation measures to address and prevent reprisals.
Most treaty bodies have endorsed the
San José Guidelines and are addressing cases of intimidation and reprisals within that framework. In addition, the Committee against Torture, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have guidelines or information on how to report reprisals posted on their web pages.
All treaty bodies have appointed
focal points/ rapporteurs to handle reprisals. The San Jose Guidelines comprehensively and explicitly set out the functions of the focal points/rapporteurs: 1) ensure consistence across treaty body system; 2) receive and assess allegations of acts of intimidation; 3) determine the most appropriate course of action; 4) be part of a network of focal points/ rapporteurs on reprisals to share information, facilitate supportive action, and align approaches; and 5) compile information on good practices.
How does a Treaty Body respond to allegations of intimidation and reprisals?
Treaty bodies vary in how they respond when faced with allegations of intimidation and reprisals. Some pursue both confidential and public actions, such as meeting with Permanent Missions, sending communications to States, raising the case with United Nations Special Procedures, the High Commissioner and raising the case in concluding observations, press releases, reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, or during their interactive dialogues with countries. All these options are carefully considered on a case by case basis, with the informed and free consent of the persons concerned and respecting the principles of “do-no-harm”, confidentiality, safety and security.
The San José Guidelines also sets out preventive measures, including specific steps such as allowing confidential submissions from individuals and groups, having closed meetings with stakeholders, and reminding State parties of their obligation to prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidation or reprisals against those who cooperate with the treaty bodies. Awareness-raising initiatives are another way for the treaty bodies to reaffirm the importance of cooperation with all stakeholders and disseminating information about the San José Guidelines.
How can you report an act of intimidation or reprisal against individual or groups who seek to, have communicated, or cooperated with the UN treaty bodies?
You can submit allegations of intimidation and reprisals to the respective treaty body through the focal point or rapporteur by writing to the Committee specific email below.
Human Rights Committee
Mr. Bamariam Koita
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Committee against Torture
(art. 13, 19, 20 and 22 of the Convention)
Ms. Ana Racu
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
To be appointed at its 102nd session (November 2020)
Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women
Ms. Acosta Vargas (alternate)
Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture
Mr. Satyabhooshun Domah
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Ms Renate Winter
Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and members of their families
Ms. Myriam Poussi (Burkina) and Mr. Pablo Cesar Garcia Saenz (Guatemala)
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Mr. Robert Martin
Ms. Rosemary Kayess
Committee on Enforced Disappearances
Please include the following information when you report reprisal cases to individual treaty bodies.
- Describe what happened, to whom, where, and when
- Explain the engagement / interaction of the alleged victim(s) with the treaty body in question, and broader context if needed (history of engagement, previous incidents, etc)
- Describe the alleged perpetrator
- Indicate whether the incident/ situation has been brought to the attention of the national/ local authorities (police or else), and if not, why not
- Indicate whether the case is being shared with the treaty body in question for action or for information only
- Seek informed consent from the alleged victim(s) and indicate in the submission that they are aware that the information is being shared with the treaty body, that they agree to it, and that they understand the implications, in particular if action is requested