The practice of releasing to the Chinese government the names of Chinese dissidents about to travel to sessions of the UN Human Rights Council continues to cause distress in the NGO community.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP), which represents Emma Reilly, the whistleblower who first discovered and attempted to stop the practice, deplores the defensive response of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). GAP also deplores the response to Ms. Reilly of OHCHR, when she protested the retaliation to which she has been subjected since disclosing this practice.
OHCHR refused to protect Ms. Reilly from abuse and harassment, saying that she was not a whistleblower because what she disclosed was not misconduct. In other words, OHCHR defended its managers’ abuse of Ms. Reilly by saying that they were entitled to harass her because her disclosure did not constitute the exposure of misconduct: there is no rule at the UN against informing repressive governments (particularly China, which is a major donor to the voluntary funds of OHCHR) about their citizens’ plans to reveal human rights violations at the Human Rights Council sessions.
On Ms. Reilly’s behalf, GAP wrote to the Secretary General to object. We argue that this is like saying there is no rule against throwing people out windows at the UN: if a manager is guilty of defenestration, it is not misconduct. The reason there is no rule prohibiting certain vicious and injurious practices is because, in most organizations, there is an assumption that staff members do not recklessly endanger their colleagues.
We hardly need to point out that this is not the first time OHCHR, under the current High Commissioner, has retaliated against staff members trying to protect human rights. OHCHR tried to force Anders Kompass to resign after he informed French law enforcement that its troops were sexually abusing children in the Central African Republic. When Miranda Brown tried to defend Kompass, she was suddenly transferred to Fiji, where she could not go due to a service-incurred health problem. Subsequently her contract was not renewed.
Introduction by Bea Edwards
The Emma Reilly saga can be found here:
GENEVA, May 24, 2017 – The U.N. human rights office dangerously handed over to China the names of four human rights activists slated to attend a Human Rights Council session, and has a practice of doing so, alleges Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, in a letter of complaint sent today to U.N. human rights chief Zeid Hussein.
The complaint, which cites numerous breaches of the UN Charter and other rules, was filed by UN Watch director Hillel Neuer on the eve of his appearance tomorrow before a U.S. Senate hearing that will assess U.S. policy toward the UNHRC, and the related Office of the High Commissioner.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, copied on the letter, will deliver a closely-watched speech to the council in June, as the administration is considering whether to pull out of the 47-nation body.
UN Watch’s letter comes in response to a February 2, 2017 press release from the U.N. human rights office that defended its apparent policy of providing names of human rights activists to requesting governments, particularly China, who “regularly ask the UN Human Rights Office” whether “particular NGO delegates are attending the forthcoming session.”
Zeid’s office then “confirms” this information. Its release gave a litany of excuses justifying the hand-over of activist names to China’s authoritarian regime.
Neuer questioned the U.N’s use of the word “confirm,” which makes its conduct “appear innocuous” and minimizes the policy’s “potential grave consequences for the human rights defenders.”
U.N. Punished Whistleblower Emma Reilly for Opposing Disclosures to China
Emma Reilly, the NGO liaison for the human rights office when the disclosures began, fiercely opposed the practice, arguing it placed human rights activists at risk and was not sanctioned by existing rules or practices.
The U.N. retaliated against Reilly for speaking out, with “harassment, exclusion and abuse of authority,” according to the Government Accountability Project.
Citing to Reilly’s leaked Ethics Office Memo, UN Watch notes that in China’s case, “the bottom line is that your office did not confirm information already in China’s possession, but it provided China with new information knowing that China intended to use it to harass the human rights activists.”
China Harassed Activist Ti-Anna Wang, Brought by UN Watch
UN Watch is especially concerned about this issue because one of its speakers, Ti-Anna Wang, was threatened by China during the March 2014 Human Rights Council session.
Advance disclosure to governments of the names of dissidents attending a U.N. session endangers the human rights activists. “No political dissidents should be subjected to harassment or intimidation for traveling to Geneva to campaign for human rights at the UN,” wrote Neuer.
UN Watch’s letter cites several provisions of the U.N. Charter and Staff Regulations, the Human Rights Office’s staff rules and the Code of Conduct for International Civil Servants which would be violated by the practice.
The human rights group urged High Commissioner Zeid to uphold the mandate of his office “to promote and protect all human rights,” and to “immediately stop this practice which has the potential to severely harm human rights defenders.”
UN Watch expressed the hope that Ambassador Haley will raise the improper disclosures, and the case of whistleblower Emma Reilly, when she visits the council next month.