Acts of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with the Special Procedures


Special procedures accords the highest priority to addressing acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations in the field of human rights.

In this regard, special procedures have stepped up their response to this unacceptable practice.

Special Procedures framework for action on reprisals

Special procedures rely on a variety of actions, confidential and public, for addressing cases of intimidation and reprisals. These include:

  • raising cases of reprisals during meetings with Government officials,
  • sending communications to States and other stakeholders,
  • raising cases of reprisals with United Nations representatives in the field and at headquarters, including the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner, the Assistant Secretary General, and the President of the Human Rights Council,
  • raising cases of reprisals in public statements, press releases, reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, or during their interactive dialogues with these two bodies.

The framework for action is aimed at enhancing and systematizing  the response of the special procedures system to this phenomenon.

What are reprisals?

Based on Human Rights Council resolutions 12/2, 24/24 and 36/21, acts of intimidation and reprisal are defined as:

All acts of intimidation or reprisal against those who:

  1. Seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, or who have provided testimony or information to them;
  2. Avail or have availed themselves of procedures established under the auspices of the United Nations for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and all those who have provided legal or other assistance to them for this purpose;
  3. Submit or have submitted communications under procedures established by human rights instruments, and all those who have provided legal or other assistance to them for this purpose;
  4. Are relatives of victims of human rights violations or of those who have provided legal or other assistance to victims.

Based on this definition, reprisals may concern not only human rights defenders and civil society, but affect any individual cooperating with the special procedures, including individuals or groups that met with mandate holders, including during their country visits, submitted information to special procedures or provided legal or other assistance, relatives of victims of human rights violations and staff of national human rights institutions or national preventative mechanisms.

Role of Mandate holders

  • When addressing cases of alleged acts of intimidation or reprisal, as in all other cases, mandate holders are guided by the principle of do no harm.
  • Depending on the specificities of the case, action can include contacting relevant authorities, sending communications, issuing press releases, referring to the case in their reports, and informing the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Assistant Secretary-General and/or the President of the Human Rights Council.
  • Mandate holders inform the Coordination Committee focal point on reprisals with a view to facilitate coordinated responses.
  • When necessary, mandate holders may seek the cooperation with other human rights mechanisms at the international or regional level, including through cross-referencing.

Role of Coordination Committee of Special Procedures

  • The Coordination Committee will appoint a focal point on reprisals among its members on an annual basis.
  • The Coordination Committee will keep a comprehensive record of all cases of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups cooperating with special procedures.
  • The Coordination Committee will continue to raise the issue of reprisals systematically within the United Nations system, inter alia with the President of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General.
  • When necessary and in consultation with the mandate holder(s) concerned, the Coordination Committee may take additional action such as contacting the State or stakeholder concerned, issuing a press statement, etc.

Special Procedures system

  • The Annual Report of special procedures contains a section on reprisals which reflect the main concerns of, and actions taken by, the special procedures system during the reporting period.
  • Special procedures have used all opportunities to reaffirm the crucial importance of cooperation with all stakeholders concerned in the discharge of their mandate and of ensuring that such cooperation can take place freely and safely.
  • Special procedures have consistently called for the designation of a senior representative on reprisals within the UN system. They therefore welcomed the designation in October 2016 of the Assistant Secretary General (ASG) on human rights to lead UN efforts to put an end to intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights. Special procedures cooperate closely with the ASG to ensure a unified United Nations wide response to acts of intimidation and reprisal.
  • Special procedures regularly review their response to acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who cooperate with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, in particular special procedures and may revise the established framework as necessary.

Secretary General Reports

The UN Secretary-General produces yearly reports based on HRC resolution 12/2, on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the fields of human rights.

Access the Secretary General reports

Others involved