Cases of intimidation and retaliation against victims, civil society and activists who cooperate with the United Nations are on the rise, a new report from the UN Human Rights Office reveals.
The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent.
Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists.
“Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us. This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said.
The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year. It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations.
“Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
“A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.”
He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations. However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur.”
Urgent action needed to protect Vietnamese workers trafficked to Serbia
Urgent action is required to assist and protect some 400 Vietnamese migrant workers who were allegedly trafficked to Serbia, experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said on Friday.
Eight companies, including Vietnamese labour recruitment agencies and Chinese construction firms registered in Serbia, have reportedly been implicated in serious human rights abuses, they said, citing information received.
The experts have written to the businesses and are also in contact with authorities in the three countries.
“We are deeply concerned that these migrant workers may have been trafficked for purposes of forced labour, and have been living and working in appalling conditions in Serbia, at serious risk to their lives and health,” they said in a statement.
They were also disturbed by allegations that civil society groups wanting to assist the workers have not been allowed access to them.
The experts urged the Governments of Serbia, Viet Nam and China to ensure that businesses based in their territory, or operating under their jurisdiction, respect the human rights of all workers.
“This includes not only the businesses who rely on migrant labour but also labour recruitment agencies,” they said.
Duty to protect
Regulation and monitoring of labour recruitment agencies is also critical to effectively prevent trafficking for the purposes of forced labour, they added.
The experts reminded governments of their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses.
Countries must also take appropriate steps to ensure victims have access to justice and effective remedies, and to ensure ongoing assistance and protection, including against forced return.
They also highlighted the obligations of businesses to exercise due diligence in ensuring that the rights of all workers are protected, without discrimination, recognising the particular needs and rights of migrant workers.
The eight human rights experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, located in Geneva.
They monitor and report on specific issues of global concern, which include trafficking in persons, contemporary forms of slavery, the human rights of migrants, and implementation of UN principles on business and human rights.
The experts operate in their individual capacity and are neither UN staff nor are they paid for their work.
UNRWA condemns demolition of Palestinian home in East Jerusalem
The UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Thursday urged Israeli to immediately halt all evictions and demolitions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, after an entire family was forced out of their long-term home the previous day.
Israeli police evicted the Salhiyya family from their two adjacent houses, according to news reports, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem early on Wednesday, and later tore down the structures – a move which UNRWA’s West Bank field office has condemned.
Staff who visited the scene on Thursday morning observed the total destruction of the property, with school bags, clothes and family photos still partially visible beneath the rubble.
Against international law
“Under international humanitarian law, the forcible transfer of protected persons, as well as the destruction of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons by Israel, as the occupying power, is strictly forbidden, except where such measures would be rendered absolutely necessary by imperative military reasons, or for the security of the population under occupation,” the agency said.
The 15-member Salhiyya family, who include an older woman and young child, had been living in Sheikh Jarrah for nearly 40 years, according to UNRWA.
The neigbourhood and tensions surrounding evictions, and attempted evictions, was at the heart of brutal fighting that erupted last year in Gaza, between Israel and the militant group, Hamas.
Arrests and injuries
Israeli forces raided the two Salhiyya houses on the property, at 3am on Wednesday, while the family was sleeping.
In a matter of hours the homes, as well as their possessions, were destroyed, UNRWA said, adding that Israeli forces injured several family members during the eviction operations.
The head of the family, Mahmoud Salhiyya, along with other relatives, was also arrested. Mr. Salhiyya had threatened to set himself on fire two days ago after Israeli forces demolished his business, located next door.
Other families at risk
UNRWA stated that sadly, cases like the Salhiyya’s are not unique as scores of Palestine refugee families in different areas of Sheikh Jarrah alone – over 200 persons, many of them children – currently face imminent threat of eviction.
Across East Jerusalem, an estimated 218 Palestinian households are at risk of displacement by the Israeli authorities, the agency said, citing 2020 data from the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.
These households comprise some 970 people, including 424 children.
UNRWA called on the Israeli authorities to abide by international law and, as the occupying power, to ensure the protection of Palestine refugees and civilians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
“All individuals have a right to safe and secure housing and to live in peace and dignity,” said the agency.
Agencies call for release of seriously ill child
In another development in the region, UNRWA and two other UN agencies are calling for the immediate release of a seriously ill Palestinian child detained in Israel.
Amal Nakhleh, now 18, has been held without charge for more than a year, a measure known as administrative detention. He has a rare neuromuscular disorder, according to media reports.
“Neither Amal nor his lawyers or family have been informed of the reasons for his arrest and detention. Amal suffers from a severe autoimmune disease that requires continuous medical treatment and monitoring,” they said.
Not an isolated case
The UN agencies called for his “immediate and unconditional release”, in line with international human rights law.
This is not an isolated case, they added, as currently at least three Palestinians are in administrative detention who were under age 18 when they were first detained.
“We echo the calls of the UN Secretary-General who in his Report on Children and Armed Conflict has, every year since 2015, urges Israel to end the administrative detention of children. This practice deprives children of their liberty and must immediately end.”
UNRWA seeks $1.6 billion to support Palestinian refugees in 2022
The UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Tuesday appealed for $1.6 billion to support its lifesaving work this year amid acute regional crises and chronic funding shortfalls.
UNRWA provides services and programmes, including education, health and food assistance, to more than five million Palestinians across the Middle East.
The 2022 budget proposal includes additional emergency funding to address humanitarian needs arising from crises in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon.
‘Indispensable’ to stability
Philippe Lazzarini, the agency’s Commissioner-General, said budget shortfalls pose a serious threat to its ability to maintain operations.
“The international community recognizes the lifesaving role of UNRWA and its indispensable contribution to stability in the Middle East. It also recognizes how cost-efficient and agile UNRWA is. In 2022, that recognition must be supported by the adequate level of funding to meet this critical moment for Palestine refugees,” he said.
The budget proposal comes as UNRWA confronts chronic funding gaps as needs keep rising.
Distress and despair
It is estimated that 2.3 million Palestinian refugees are living in poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten health and livelihoods.
Distress and despair have become the norm among Palestinian refugees, according to UNRWA. Many, particularly in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, report that they are ready to use any means to try to migrate outside of the region.
Breaking the cycle
UNRWA has committed to investing in comprehensive programmatic reform and modernization to meet needs in an even more cost-effective and efficient manner.
The agency said that being fully-funded across its full range of services, will assist its efforts towards breaking the cycle of despair among Palestinian refugees through measures such as providing some $31.2 million in microfinance loans and carrying out vital structural improvements to refugee camps.
“The amount that UNRWA is requesting for 2022 will directly contribute to the wellbeing of Palestine refugees, to efforts to combat and contain COVID-19 and to regional stability,” said Mr. Lazzarini. urging donors to step up.
“The international community must give UNRWA sufficient and predictable funding so we may continue to provide Palestine refugees with a sense of security and normality they deserve.”
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