Coordination Committee of Special Procedures: Attacks against UN human rights experts must cease

OHCHR

Independent UN human rights experts have faced unacceptable acts of intimidation, threats as well as personal attacks for carrying out their mandates to protect and promote human rights, according to a committee of experts that coordinates and facilitates their work.

The Coordination Committee** of Special Procedures, comprising six independent experts, issued a statement today, denouncing verbal attacks, derogatory social media campaigns and aggressive and offensive statements by State officials and civil society, at a time when Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups appointed by the UN Human Rights Council form the vanguard of the human rights response to emerging crises and challenges.

“We are shocked by the vilification, threats and personal attacks faced by UN Special Procedures experts who bring courage and dedication to their work to spotlight human rights violations and atrocities all over the world,” the Coordination Committee said.

“These attacks have included unfounded allegations of misuse of resources and claims of bias and unprofessional conduct intended to damage reputations, on social media, during UN meetings and even when experts are on official country visits,” the Committee said.

Personal attacks have coalesced around certain flashpoints and contexts and manifest when the experts are particularly vocal in crisis or emergency situations, the Committee noted.

“Our colleagues addressing the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel face severe targeting in social media, and baseless accusations that question their integrity and motivations,” the Committee said. “Similarly, mandate holders working on gender-related issues and female mandate holders are subjected to gender-based targeting through the use of sexist threats, language, and demeaning images.”

“Raising political divisive and sensitive subjects or bringing new issues to the table is very much part of the work of Special Procedures mandate holders, and this may give rise to robust debate and diverse viewpoints,” the Committee said, calling for disagreements to be evidence-based and expressed in a respectful and constructive way.

“A threshold is breached when criticism is not directed at the work of an independent expert, but veers into disparaging personal remarks,” it said.

The Committee also pointed to instances when personal information including residential addresses and telephone numbers had been published on social media – a malicious practice known as “doxxing.”

“The publishing of experts’ private data without their consent has exposed them to unacceptable security risks. Threats against family members of mandate holders are a further means of intimidation that creates serious physical and mental insecurities that reverberate beyond the experts,” the Committee said.

Being subject to scrutiny and criticism is inherent to the role of a Special Procedures expert, the Committee noted. “However, personal attacks, threats and intimidation against their family members is an unacceptable personal burden for the experts.”

“We are gravely concerned by the conduct of certain States and non-governmental organisations undermining important mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council. Attacking UN human rights experts in this way undermines the credibility and authority of the Council that appointed them and of the UN human rights ecosystem as a whole,” the Committee said.

“These attacks impact not only the experts concerned, but also reverberate and have a damaging effect on the Special Procedures mechanism itself, which is the largest body of independent human rights experts in the UN system.”

“Now more than ever we call for the full support and solidarity of all stakeholders, in particular States, to allow human rights experts to discharge their mandates in a safe and enabling environment, and to uphold their independence and legitimacy.”

“We count on the continued support of the President of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to condemn personal attacks against Special Procedures experts in the strongest terms and call for personal attacks and threats against the experts to cease immediately,” the Committee said.

Special Procedures include individual experts known as Special Rapporteurs or Independent Experts or a team of experts known as Working Groups – all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, when it decides that a thematic human rights area or a specific country needs specialist, expert-led monitoring, fact-finding and response. The experts are independent and do not receive remuneration for their work – a vital component of their capacity for independence and addressing politically sensitive human rights issues facing the world.

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