U.N. decries “shameful” reprisals on rights activists in 38 countries

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Human rights activists with images of people who went missing during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, attend a march and protest ahead of the anniversary of the country's 1973 military coup on September 11, in Santiago, Chile September 9, 2018. (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)

GENEVA — The United Nations listed 38 “shameful” countries including China and Russia on Wednesday which it said had carried out reprisals or intimidation against people cooperating with it on human rights, through killings, torture and arbitrary arrests.

The annual report from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also included allegations of ill-treatment, surveillance, criminalization, and public stigmatization campaigns targeting victims and human rights defenders.

“The world owes it to those brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information to and engage with the United Nations, to ensure their right to participate is respected,” Guterres wrote.

“Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.”

The 38 countries included 29 countries with new cases, and 19 with ongoing or continuing cases.

The new cases were in Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Myanmar, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.

Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation or security, it said.

“(There is a) disturbing trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by states as justification for blocking access by communities and civil society organisations to the United Nations,” the report said.

Women cooperating with the U.N. had reported threats of rape and being subject to online smear campaigns, and U.N. staff often encountered people who were too afraid to speak to them, even at U.N. headquarters in New York and Geneva.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, who will present the report to the Human Rights Council next week, said in a statement that the cases in the report were the tip of the iceberg.

“We are also increasingly seeing legal, political and administrative hurdles used to intimidate – and silence – civil society,” he said.

Some of the countries listed are current members of the Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution last year reaffirming that everyone – individually or in association with others – had a right to unhindered communication with the U.N. — Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Matthew Mpoke Bigg