October 2, 2023
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has expressed grave concerns over reported incidents of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society activists by state and non-state actors for cooperation with the UN.
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris on September 28 presented a report titled ‘Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights‘, which provided that over 220 individuals and 25 organizations across 40 states have been subjected to legal proceedings, travel bans, threats, and even imprisonment for their cooperation with the UN, its representatives and human rights mechanisms.
The Human Rights Council issued its condemnation for all such acts of intimidation and reprisal, both by governments and non-state actors. Additionally, the Council has invited the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to report annually on alleged reprisals, along with recommendations on how to address this concerning issue.
The Council determined that all forms of reprisals and retaliation documented in the report aim to deter future cooperation and participation with the United Nations and its entities.
Allegations concerning Pakistan
The report documented the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) following its engagement in the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Pakistan. In July 2022, CSJ submitted a joint report regarding the situation of minority and religious groups in Pakistan, which drew significant attention. Subsequently, the organization faced backlash from government-affiliated media outlets and non-state actors.
The Lahore Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms added to the pressure by issuing notices to CSJ regarding its periodic registration renewal. These notices referred to CSJ’s UPR report and claimed that the organization had exceeded its mandate. Despite CSJ’s efforts to seek relief through the Lahore High Court (LHC), the hearing for the restraining order against the Registrar’s Office has been postponed indefinitely.
Furthermore, in a separate case, Mr. Fazal ur Rehman Afridi, a prominent human rights defender and president of the Institut de recherche et d’études stratégiques de Khyber (IRESK), has been in exile since 2009.
Recent developments have seen the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights calling for investigations into the alleged existence of a “kill list,” which reportedly includes Afridi’s name. This list is believed to have been published by the spokesperson of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and which targets individuals defending the rights of the Pashtun minority and reporting on gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances.
These cases and the broader trend of reprisals against human rights defenders have raised serious concerns within the international community about Pakistan’s commitment to protecting human rights and ensuring the safety of those who seek to advance them.
Pakistan’s government has yet to respond to these allegations, but the international spotlight is firmly fixed on the country as the United Nations and human rights organizations call for greater protection of those who work to promote and safeguard human rights within its borders.